West African Monkey Declared Extinct

By Cat Lazaroff

NEW YORK, New York, September 12, 2000 (ENS) - For the first time in two centuries, one of our closest cousins has gone extinct. New research shows that an African monkey has recently died out, and suggests that many more species are likely to follow.

While conservationists feared that up to a million species would be extinct by the year 2000, there has been little evidence to support this prediction - until now. The biologists that have documented the loss of Miss Waldron’s red colobus monkey say it may herald an oncoming wave of extinctions.

red colobus

The last confirmed sighting of a Miss Waldron's red colobus was more than 20 years ago (Photo Illustration by F.W. Frohawk, courtesy Conservation International)
"The extinction of Miss Waldron's red colobus may be the first obvious manisfestation of an extinction spasm that will soon affect other large animals," said John Oates of Hunter College/City University of New York in New York City and his colleagues, who published this work in the October issue of the journal "Conservation Biology."

This is the first documented extinction since 1800 of an anthropoid primate - a class of animals that includes apes and monkeys.

Named for the companion of the collector who discovered this subspecies in 1933, Miss Waldron's red colobus was restricted to parts of Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire. This red and black monkey had been threatened by habitat destruction and hunting at least since the 1950s, and was listed as endangered in 1988.

There are about a dozen subspecies of red colobus monkey, all of which use their long limbs and tails to travel through the tropical forest canopy gathering leaves, their primary food.

Oates and his colleagues have two lines of evidence to show that Miss Waldron's red colobus is extinct. First, they have found no firm records that the monkey has been sighted in Ghana or Cote d'Ivoire since 1978. Second, between 1993 and 1999 the researchers surveyed 19 forest areas where this monkey was known to have lived, but they neither saw nor heard any red colobus.

When present, these monkeys are easy to find because they are large, brightly colored, call to each other frequently, and typically live in groups of 20 or more.

"Even if a few do survive somewhere, they are probably functionally extinct as it seems unlikely that there is a sufficiently large surviving population, and red colobus never survive long in captivity," says Oates.

The researchers also found that the forest sites surveyed had few other anthropoid primates, particularly large species such as the white thighed black and white colobus and the white naped mangabey. Larger monkeys like the colobus, which can weigh up to 20 pounds, are hunted more often than smaller varieties.

The researchers found spent shotgun shells and other evidence of recent hunting at each site.

bush meat

Poacher's bag of one trap night in a remote forest area (forêt classée de Mabi) in South-East Ivory Coast includes a giant forest rat and a brush-tailed porcupine. (Photo courtesy T. Hofmann / H.H. Roth / H. Ellenberg)
Much of the forest inhabited by these animals has been fragmented by logging and road construction. The remaining isolated islands of forest can be easily penetrated by hunters, who shoot and trap monkeys and other animals for the bush meat market.

The use of and trade in meat from wild animals, called bush meat, is one of the greatest direct causes of the decline of wild animal populations in many parts of Africa, according to a recent survey of seven east and southern African countries.

The bush meat report was released last month by TRAFFIC, which is the wildlife trade monitoring arm of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and The World Conservation Union (IUCN).

Without stronger protection against poaching, the researchers predict that other large monkeys, including the five other red colobus subspecies listed as severely threatened, are likely to follow Miss Waldron's red colobus into extinction.

In January, conservation groups released a listing of 25 species of monkeys, apes, gibbons, lemurs and other primates that could soon become extinct. In some cases, only a few hundred individuals survive, said the report by Conservation International and the Primate Specialist Group of IUCN, the World Conservation Union's Species Survival Commission.

Miss Waldron's red colobus monkey was on that list.