Monday, March 9, 2015

Practically all first time and returning visitors to the “wild” African continent want to go on safari to see the Big 5. Who wouldn’t? The African lion, African elephant, African leopard, black/white rhinoceros and the Cape buffalo are certainly something to behold. However, there are some lesser-known creatures, in addition to the friendly humans you will encounter, that are just as interesting. Take for instance the Colobus monkey a type of Old World Monkey found in parts of west central and east Africa.

No thumbs up for this intriguing character

The word “Colobus” has its etymological origins in the Greek word for “mutilated”. This is because unlike other monkeys, these chaps have no thumbs or reduced thumb digits. Interestingly, in spite of what might appear to be a mutation or defect, having no thumbs has no impact on our hairy friend’s ability to leap from tree to tree, which he does with great agility. In fact, Colobus are primarily tree dwellers and hang about mostly in Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Chad.

Never jump without a parachute

There are several sub species of Colobus all of which share certain characteristics. These include having no thumbs, fringes of hair around the face and an exceedingly long tail with a tuft on the end. A Colobus can grow three to five feet in height with its tail being as long as its head and trunk combined. And this is where things get really interesting.

The Colobus seldom comes down from his preferred tree canopy habitat except when food supplies are limited. When he does, he uses his ample tail tuft and shoulder hair (a mantle of sorts) to balance and act as a kind of parachute as he takes short leaping movements to the ground.

Looks like a monkey, sounds like a lion

While not quite as ferocious sounding, the Colobus is known for its dawn roar, a type of long-distance call to stress territorial boundaries. Colobus monkeys also use various animated facial expressions, vocal sounds and body postures to communicate and initiate copulation. Polygynous tribes consist usually of six to ten members, sometimes more or less, with a dominant male, females and offspring.

The cow-monkey connection

Colobus monkeys are diurnal and spent at least half the day resting
and most of the night moving about and foraging for food. Feeding on leaves, seeds, fruit and sometimes insects too their digestive system is similar to that of a cow. They have a multi-chamber stomach, for digesting large quantities of leaves. In fact, the Colobus is the only monkey that has this specialised digestive system.

So, by all means do come and experience the Big 5 but don’t discount the lesser known, equally fascinating creatures that make up the rich wildlife for which Africa is famous.

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