Sooty mangabey (Cercocebus atys)

Sooty mangabey on branch
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Sooty mangabey fact file

Sooty mangabey description

GenusCercocebus (1)

Mangabeys are medium-sized monkeys of Africa, all noted for their tails which are longer than their bodies (4). In keeping with its name, the sooty mangabey (Cercocebus atys) has smoky-grey fur with lighter underparts and slightly darker hands and feet (2). It has a fairly long muzzle bearing whiskers (2) (5), and the bare facial skin is dark grey or mottled, except for the upper eyelids which are strikingly white. Flashes of these conspicuous eyelids, in combination with a variety of facial expressions, are used to communicate (2). Two subspecies are recognised: Cercocebus atys atys and Cercocebus atys lunulatus, the white-naped mangabey. As its name suggests, the white-naped mangabey has a prominent collar of white fur (2). More often heard than seen (2), the sooty mangabey has a rather broad vocal repertoire, including grunts and twitters which are frequently heard when foraging or during social interactions, and screams and growls given during aggressive and defensive situations (6).

Cercocebus torquatus atys.
Male head-body length: 47 – 67 cm (2)
Female head-body length: 45 – 60 cm (2)
Tail length: 40 – 80 cm (2)
Male weight: 7 – 12 kg (2)
Female weight: 4.5 – 7 kg (2)

Sooty mangabey biology

A rather terrestrial species, the sooty mangabey spends the majority of its time on the forest floor, although it will also climb up into the trees (7). On the forest floor, the sooty mangabey forages primarily for fruit; its large, strong incisor teeth enable it to eat not only the sweet flesh, but also the hard kernels and nuts (4). However, it will also consume many parts of plants found growing in swamps and the seeds of grasses, and will frequently raid farms, including rice paddies, where it feeds on crops causing significant damage (2).

Mangabeys typically live in large groups, each containing several adult males (4). In captivity, young were born at any time of the year, but births were more common between October and March (9), after a gestation period of around six months (4).


Sooty mangabey range

The sooty mangabey occurs in West Africa. C. a. atys is found in southern Guinea, east to the River Sassandra in Côte d'Ivoire, while the Endangered white-naped mangabey (C. a. lunulatus) occurs in just a few remaining forest patches between the River Sassandra, Côte d'Ivoire and the River Volta, Ghana (2) (7), and in Burkina Faso (8).


Sooty mangabey habitat

The sooty mangabey occurs in a broad range of habitats, including primary and secondary forests (2), swamp and agricultural areas (7).


Sooty mangabey status

The sooty mangabey is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3). Subspecies: Cercocebus atys atys is classified as Near Threatened (NT) and Cercocebus atys lunulatus (the white-naped mangabey or white-collared mangabey) is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Sooty mangabey threats

Whilst the subspecies Cercocebus atys atys, like many other primates, is impacted by both hunting and habitat loss (2), it is still widespread and is therefore not currently considered to be threatened with extinction (1). However, the outlook for the white-naped mangabey (subspecies C. a. lunulatus), is far grimmer, as hunting and habitat loss has forced this monkey into just a few remaining patches of forest (7). Forests in parts of the sooty mangabey’s range have been reduced to less than ten percent of their original size, and as the forests become smaller and more fragmented, previously inaccessible areas are opened up, increasing hunting pressure on the remaining monkey populations (7). Unfortunately, the ground-foraging habits of the sooty mangabey make it highly susceptible to being caught in traps laid on the forest floor, and in many agricultural areas, this primate is treated as a pest due to the damage it can do to crops (2).


Sooty mangabey conservation

The sooty mangabey occurs in a number of protected areas, such as Taï National Park in Côte d'Ivoire (6), as does the white-naped mangabey, which can be found in several parks and reserves including Yoyo Forest Reserve in Ghana and the Marahoué National Park in Côte d'Ivoire (7). To protect this Endangered subspecies from extinction, it has been recommended that those forests containing the remaining populations should be elevated to National Park status, in combination with the instigation of regular patrols to deter hunters (7). Sadly, a lack of local support is said to hinder conservation efforts, and recent civil conflict adds to the difficulties in carrying out conservation work in this region (7).

In 2001, a group of European zoos decided to collaborate under the name of West African Primate Conservation Action (WAPCA), with the aim of securing the future of both the white-naped mangabey and the Roloway monkey (Ceropithecus diana roloway) which inhabits the same region. WAPCA runs a centre in Ghana, which helps breed both monkeys as part of an international breeding programme, in addition to undertaking research and raising awareness in local communities (10).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

For further information on the conservation of the white-naped managabey see:


  • West African Primate Conservation Action (WAPCA):


This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:



The state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
Primary forest is forest that has remained undisturbed for a long time and has reached a mature condition.
Secondary forest
Forest that has re-grown after a major disturbance, such as fire or timber harvest, but has not yet reached the mature state of primary forest.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.


  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2009)
  2. Kingdon, J. (1997) The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. Academic Press Ltd, London.
  3. CITES (December, 2007)
  4. Macdonald, D.W. (2006) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Nowak, R.M. (1999) Walker's Mammals of the World. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
  6. Range, F. and Fischer, J. (2004) Vocal repertoire of sooty mangabeys (Cercocebus torquatus atys) in the Taï National Park. Ethology, 110: 301 - 321.
  7. Mittermeier, R.A., Valldares-Pádua, C., Rylands, A.B., Eudey, A.A., Butynski, T.M., Ganzhorn, J.U., Kormos, R., Aguiar, J.M. and Walker, S. (2005) Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates 2004-2006. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.
  8. Galat, G. and Galat-Luong, A. (2006) Hope for the survival of the Critically Endangered white-naped mangabey Cercocebus atys lunulatus: a new primate species for Burkina Faso. Oryx, 40(3): 255 - 257.
  9. Gust, D.A., Busse, C.D. and Gordon, T.P. (1990) Reproductive parameters in the sooty mangabey (Cercocebus torquatus atys). American Journal of Primatology, 22: 241 - 250.
  10. West African Primate Conservation Action (August, 2008)

Image credit

Sooty mangabey on branch  
Sooty mangabey on branch

© Nick Gordon /

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