Colobus Monkey

Colobus Monkey

[ Colobus guereza ]

Quick Facts


BODY LENGTH: 20 to 24 inches
TAIL LENGTH: 23 to 28 inches

male: 19 to 31 pounds; female: 14 to 22 pounds

WILD DIET: young leaves, old leaves, floral buds, fruits, and seeds
ZOO DIET: high-fiber chow, lettuce, spinach, parsley, carrots, sweet potatoes, and alfalfa
DISTRIBUTION:  fairly common in Equatorial Africa, ranging from Eastern Nigeria to Tanzania
HABITAT: dry to moist forest, secondary forests, and forests along rivers, in lowlands and highlands



Majestic and Mellow

A dramatic presentation
What is black and white, weighs about thirty pounds, and lives in trees? No, it is not a giant, arboreal skunkit’s a colobus monkey! One of the most distinctive of all primates, the colobus’ dramatic coloration is a beautiful sight against the deep green background of central Africa’s rain forests. They have long, thick hair, with a cape-like trim of white for a dramatic appearance. Finishing the look is a two-foot-plus long tail, ending in a fluffy tip of white.

Quality over quantity
Colobus monkeys eat lots and lots of leaves. More than 80% of their diet consists of leaves that are tough and not very nutritious and presumably not-so-tasty. But colobus monkeys also eat fruit, a sweet and nutrient-rich food source that makes up about 15% of their diet. Why only 15%? Because there’s a downside to eating fruit in the forestit’s seasonal and hard to find at times. Not so for leaves, which are available year round in the rain forest. Colobus monkeys have adapted to eating this fibrous food, but they have to eat great quantities to meet their dietary needs.

Special stomachs
Munching mouthfuls of leaves is no easy chew. Colobus monkeys have well-developed molars that grind plant matter into a pulp. Then the monkeys’ three-chambered stomach takes over, fermenting the chewed leaves and breaking down the tough cellulose into useable energy. The stomach of a colobus is huge, holding a volume equal to that of a quarter of an adult’s body weight.

Sittin’ around
Colobus monkeys digest their food sort of like cows do...very slowly. Because they eat such large amounts at a time and take so long to process their stomach contents, colobus monkeys are not very active. When they are not eating, they are digesting. A troop of colobus monkeys spend lots of time sleeping or sunning in trees, their long white tails dangling below. With a laid-back lifestyle like this, they are among the least aggressive of all primates

Look mom, no thumbs (almost)
Think of trying to climb a treeor doing anything for that matterwithout your thumbs. Black and white colobus monkeys get around pretty well in trees, but they do it with practically no thumbs at all. The small bump-like digit that passes for a thumb provides little help in gripping branches. How do the colobus monkeys do it? When they need to jump from branch to branch, they use their four full-sized fingers to form a hook that helps them move about.

Go ahead and jump
Colobus monkeys are great leapers. Territorial males make tremendous leaps as part of a display to ward off other males. They can leap big gaps, from tree to tree, usually by launching themselves from a high limb on one tree to a lower limb on another. When predators threaten, colobus monkeys drop out of sight into the underbrush below, sometimes from a height of more than forty feet!

Colobus monkeys at Brookfield Zoo
A troop of colobus monkeys share Tropic World: Africa with other primates from the equatorial forests of Africa. Look high up and to the left among the cliffs and trees.

Get Involved

Conservation Fund of the Chicago Zoological Society