Red Colobus monkeys (Piliocolobus spp.) are the most threatened group of primates in Africa. They are facing an extinction crisis requiring urgent, targeted, and coordinated action. These beautiful, leaf-eating monkeys are unique to the forests of sub-Saharan Africa, where they range from Senegal on the Atlantic coast to the island of Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean.
There are 18 taxa of red colobus monkeys across the forested belt of Africa. All are threatened with extinction and 14 are either Endangered or Critically Endangered.
Their distribution covers over 85% of Africa’s primate species. Each forested bioregion of Africa is represented by its endemic red colobus. They are first large mammal to be extirpated from an area due to hunting as they are slow, large-bodied, and conspicuous; they are usually one of the first species to disappear in disturbed habitats and early indicators of the decline of a healthy ecosystem. They are a 'Cinderella species' i.e. are physically attractive to humans yet not promoted as a flagship species. Focusing conservation efforts on red colobus and elevating them to a flagship will protect countless other species inhabiting the same areas.
More than half of Red Colobus forms are Endangered or Critically Endangered, and one has possibly been hunted to extinction already. This may represent the first primate extinction in the last 500 years. Despite the threats red colobus faces across their range, they are unknown to most people; only a few populations have been studied in detail. It is therefore critical that conservation measures using the best sustainability approaches be implemented across their range to avoid further declines and extinctions of red colobus monkeys, other underlying species and habitats.