Colours of Wildlife: Red-Capped Mangabey

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Red-Capped Mangabey

Willem is a wildlife artist based in South Africa. He says "My aim is simply to express the beauty and wonder that is in Nature, and to heighten people's appreciation of plants, animals and the wilderness. Not everything I paint is African! Though I've never been there, I'm also fascinated by Asia and I've done paintings of Asian rhinos and birds as well. I may in future do some of European, Australian and American species too. I'm fascinated by wild things from all over the world! I mainly paint in watercolours. . . but actually many media including 'digital' paintings with the computer!"

Mangabey by Willem

Everything's better with monkeys! This one's a Red-Capped Mangabey, also sometimes called a Collared Mangabey, Cercocebus torquatus. The scientific name means 'collared tail-monkey'. The 'collar' is a ring of white from the cheek region around the back of the head; the tail is self-evident. This monkey frequently holds its long, white-tipped tail tilted forward over its head. It lives in moist, equatorial rainforest around the Bight of Biafra, from the Cross River in Nigeria to the mouth of the Congo. This monkey reaches about 1.25 m/4' in overall length, more than half of which is the tail, and a bodyweight of 12.5 kg/27.5 lbs. Females are slightly smaller than males, but otherwise similar.

So What's a Mangabey Anyway?

Mangabeys are exclusively African monkeys, related to baboons as well as to smaller monkeys like vervets. In Afrikaans we call them 'Kongo-ape', 'Congo monkeys'. All species live in moist, tropical forests, from Senegal in the west to Kenya in the East. They are all quite social, living in troops with several adult males and females. Compared to the smaller forest-living monkeys called guenons, they spend more time on the ground, but not as much as baboons, and they can climb very well. Mangabeys have cheek pouches, which they can quickly cram full of food while foraging – much in the style of chipmunks and hamsters – and then carry off to eat in peace in a safe place later. They also have strong cheek teeth for cracking nuts and chewing tough fruits and other plant food. These monkeys are predominantly vegetarian. About ten or eleven species of mangabey are recognized, the most recent of which, the Kipunji, was discovered in mountain forests in Tanzania in . Not only is it a new species, but a new genus, being significantly different from all other mangabey species. It thus represents the most recent new genus discovered in the primate order.

The red-capped mangabey is one of the most distinctively marked and coloured of the species. It has several striking visual features. Its long, white-tipped tail is perhaps the strongest visual signal, being waved over the monkey's head most of the time. The red cap of short, neat head hair is vivid from close-up, as are its white cheeks. From the cheek region, a line runs alongside its body along which the fur is parted, much like a part in a human's head hair. The belly, throat and the undersides of the arms and legs are white, while the upper side of its body is dark grey. The face and muzzle is black, but the upper eyelids are light pink. The eyes therefore also stand out as visual signals, the eyelids being especially prominent if the monkey closes or half-closes its eyes, or looks downward.

Most African monkeys have bright colours and/or strikingly bold patterns. Many also have interestingly arranged patches or tracts of fur. These are very important signalling features. Monkeys all have very good eyesight, including full colour vision, which is limited in most other mammalian groups. They use their vivid visual features to keep track of each other as they move through the forest, and also to signal mood, dominance, subservience and other attitudes to each other.

But monkeys also have great hearing, and use loud calls for additional communication. Red-capped mangabeys have various calls: alarm barks, cackles, whoops and more. They will augment alarm calls by noisily shaking leafy branches.

As far as monkeys go, red-capped mangabeys are not particularly aggressive. Each troop typically has several adult males in it. The troop moves through the forest to forage, preferring moist forest such as along riverbanks or in swampy places, but ranging into drier areas in the dry season. These mangabeys eat mainly fruits and nuts, but also the stems and roots of plants of the undergrowth. The troop will change its foraging focus and behaviour from time to time, and the territories of different mangabey troops often overlap.

Conflict with Humans

Unfortunately this is one species that has not coped well with the burgeoning human population in equatorial Africa. They need pristine, tall forest, and today people cut down more and more of this forest to make way for farms. And even where the forest is left to remain, human hunters go in to shoot, among many other things, these and other monkeys to sell on the many bushmeat markets. Clever and alert as they are, these monkeys have still declined alarmingly and is currently considered as vulnerable, meaning if the decline persists, they'll go onto the endangered list.

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