The Zanzibar red colobus, Piliocolobus kirkii, population on Zanzibar, represents a population of red colobus that is believed to have been isolated on the island after sea levels rose toward the end of the Pleistocene epoch.

Furthermore, it is suggested through mitochondrial analysis, that phylogenetic groups within the red colobus have been genetically isolated from another since the Pliocene.

Examining cranial morphology has shown that P. kirkii has diverged from mainland Piliocolobus to its own species. It has experienced an acceleration in morphological evolution of size which is suggested to be the result of insularity on the island and environmental pressures such as competition, habitat, predation and/or resource availability.

There has been no evidence for population bottleneck in the species.

The smaller cranium of P. kirkii in contrast to the mainland colobus monkey, is consistent with Foster’s rule (also known as the island rule) in which the original (larger) animal becomes smaller over time when there are limited resources.

Males tend to have pedomorphic traits which include a shorter face, large orbits and an enlarged neurocranium . It is not certain how long ago and where this evolutionary change occurred.

Through molecular analyses, it is indicated that P. kirkii is more closely related to the Udzungwa red colobus (P. gordonorum) compared to other red colobus species.

This analysis has also placed the divergence of P. kirkii from its sister species P. godronorum at about 600,000 years ago, which actually allows for an older evolutionary age compared to the previous assumption that it had become its own species around the last glacial period. The species has been reclassified twice; it was previously in the genus Colobus, and more recently in the genus  Procolobus and then the genus Piliocolobus.

An alternative common name is Kirk’s red colobus after Sir John Kirk (1832–1922), the  British Resident of Zanzibar who first brought it to the attention of  zoological science.

The Island of Zanzibar is one of the World’s most exotic locations. The lush foliage and abundant wildlife are two of the primary elements that make this Africa region as unique as it is.

One of the rarest and most beautiful species on the island is the red colobus Monkey which is one of the most popular attractions for tourists visiting this amazing part of the world.

Zanzibar is the only place on the planet where this endangered species can be found.

Despite the slaughter of these rare animals at the hands of mankind, they are surprisingly indifferent to tourists who visit the forests in which they live. Some of them get so close to the human visitors that they can actually reach out and touch them.

The monkeys themselves are somewhat colorful in appearance. They have a grey underbelly and rust-colored coat on their backs and heads.

Whereas most species of monkeys use their tails as extra limbs  for swinging and climbing, this particular species is one of the only ones that use its tail strictly for balance.

Red colobus monkey are elegant. Long tufts of hair frame their small faces and adults are cloaked in a red shawl of fur that turns fiery in sunlight.

Their hands are unusually; somewhere along the evolutionary line they lost their thumbs, leaving them with four long fingers and a small nub in place of a thumb.

They are vegetarians, only eating green forest fruit and young leaves high in cellulose, and they do not drink. Family groups are large and amazingly peaceable-unfazed by cameras and fearless around tourists.

Babies have the same cute grey and white mop-tops but won’t get their full color until they are adults. The family group is also remarkably quiet and they are not in any hurry to move away from us.

For a short while, the troopare joined by some of their noisy neighbors, the much smaller, chunkier, smoky-grey Sykes’ monkeys with their long black tails twitching nervously around branches.

Their family group is quite small and they soon pass away into the rainforest canopy.

Eventually, the red colobus colony decides today’s viewing is over and they relocate into the deeper forest where they rapidly blend into the dappled sunlight, their presence only given away by swaying branches as they hunt for food.

No one really knows how large the red colobus monkey population is, but a tour guide says it’s about 2000 because they they have not been surveyed for  while and anecdotal evidence suggests the jozani population is stable.

But the uncomfortable fact remains that their future is in some doubt. Land around the park is surrounded by a few villages whose inhabitants need timber and food, so this pocket is under considerable strain.

There are also mangrove swamps that edge the park. Mangroves are complex ecosystems and inside the dim canopy with its scuttling mud crabs.

The seeds are naturally weighted to fall the the right way up and fingers crossed, I’m hoping my seed has sprouted and is flourishing somewhere in Jozan Chwaka National Park helping to feed the next generation of forest dwellers.


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