Black colobus (Colobus satanas)

Bioko black colobus monkey in rainforest
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Black colobus fact file

Black colobus description

GenusColobus (1)

The black colobus is one of the most threatened primate species in Africa (3). It is a large, heavily built monkey, with a glossy black coat and longer hair around the face and shoulders (2) (4). The hairs on its crown are semi-erect and point forward on the forehead (2). A unique feature of all Colobus monkeys is the reduced thumbs, in fact Colobus means ‘docked’ in Greek. As they leap through the forest habitat, the vulnerability of the thumb to injury is thought to outweigh the advantages of retention (2). Unlike all other species from the Colobus genus, in which the infant is born with a pure white coat, black colobus infants have brown coats (3).

Colobo Negro.
Head-body length: 58 – 72 cm (2)
Tail length: 60 – 97 cm (2)
6 – 11 kg (2)

Black colobus biology

The black colobus is a tree-dwelling monkey that lives in small troops of 6 to 15 individuals, including one or more adult male (4). The majority of the diet consists of seeds and unripe fruits, but the black colobus also consumes leaves (6), as all colobus monkeys possess an unusual stomach that enables them to digest leaves more efficiently than other primates (2). The distinct high-pitched roar of the colobus can be heard across the forest as dawn breaks (3), and groups can also be heard calling to each other as they prepare to move or as they arrange their night-time sleeping positions (2).


Black colobus range

Occurs in central-western Africa. There are two subspecies of the black colobus. The Gabon, or ‘mainland’, black colobus (C. s. anthracinus) occurs in Equatorial Guinea, east and south-west Cameroon, and Gabon, as far inland as Lope National Park. It may also occur in west Congo. The Bioko black colobus (C. s. satanas) is found only on Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea (1) (5).


Black colobus habitat

The black colobus inhabits dense primary rainforest, as well as mature secondary rainforest, montane and swamp forest, and may also occasionally be found in coastal sand dunes and wooded meadows (4) (5).


Black colobus status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1). Colobus satanas satanas (Bioko black colobus) is classified as Endangered (EN) and Colobus satanas anthracinus (Gabon black colobus) is classified as Vulnerable (VU) (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Black colobus threats

Numbers of black colobus monkeys are declining, the result of both hunting and habitat destruction (3). The black colobus is a popular target for hunters, and is widely hunted with shotguns or bows and arrows (6). On Bioko Island, where bushmeat is a vital source of protein and cash for the locals, surveys indicate that the black colobus is becoming scarcer and is probably being hunted to dangerously low numbers (7). The black colobus appears to be more sensitive to habitat disturbance than other Colobus species and is rare or absent in forests that have been logged (3). This has resulted in the black colobus disappearing from many areas (8). Even protected areas in which the black colobus occurs are not safe from habitat degradation; for example, the Gamba Reserve complex is being impacted by unsustainable logging, agriculture and oil exploration (3) (9).


Black colobus conservation

The Gabon black colobus occurs in a number of protected areas, including Dja and Douala-Edea Reserves in Cameroon, Lopé National Park, Gabon, Monte Alen National Park in Equatorial Guinea, and the Gamba Reserve complex in Gabon (3) (5) (10) (11). The Bioko black colobus population is found entirely within two protected areas on Bioko Island, Pico Basile National Park and the Gran Caldera and Southern Highlands Scientific Reserve. However, these areas may offer little actual protection (5), and the subspecies is reported to have undergone the largest decline of all primates on the island, now being rare outside the Gran Caldera (1) (12). In 1986, the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group compiled an Action Plan for African Primate Conservation in which a number of measures were outlined for the conservation of the black colobus. This plan was revised and the conservation recommendations reviewed in a 1996 publication. Further actions suggested included continued efforts to survey and develop the Dja Reserve and fully protect a core area of the Lopé Reserve. In addition, it was recommended that a management plan was developed for the Gamba Reserve complex, which included measures to reduce the impact of oil exploration occurring in the area (3). Working with local people in Bioko Island to find alternatives to bushmeat is also an urgent priority (7), to ensure the continued survival of the endangered Bioko black colobus.

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

Find out more

For further information on conservation on Bioko Island see:




Authenticated (26/03/09) by Matthew Richardson, primatologist and author.



The meat derived from wildlife of African forests, or ‘bush’.
Montane forest
Forest occurring in the montane zone, a zone of cool upland slopes below the tree line dominated by large evergreen trees.
Primary rainforest
Rainforest that has remained undisturbed for a long time and has reached a mature condition.
Secondary rainforest
Rainforest 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 (March, 2009)
  2. Brandon-Jones, D. (2006) Colobus and Leaf Monkeys. In: Macdonald, D.W. (Ed) The Encylopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  3. Oates, J.F. (1996) African Primates: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
  4. Stuart, C. and Stuart, T. (1997) Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  5. Richardson, M. (2009) Pers. comm.
  6. Kingdon, J. (1997) The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. Academic Press, London.
  7. Fa, J.E., Yuste, J.E.G. and Castelo, R. (2000) Bushmeat markets on Bioko Island as a measure of hunting pressure. Conservation Biology, 14(6): 1602 - 1613.
  8. Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program. (2006) Monkeys in trouble: the rapidly deteriorating conservation status of the monkeys on Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea. Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program, Bioko.
  9. Thibault, M. and Blaney, S. (2003) The oil industry as an underlying factor in the bushmeat crisis in central Africa. Conservation Biology, 17(6): 1807 - 1813.
  10. Brugière, D. (1998) Population size of the black colobus monkey Colobus satanas and the impact of logging in the Lopé Reserve, Central Gabon. Biological Conservation, 86: 15 - 20.
  11. UNEP-WCMC: Ecosystem and Relict Cultural Landscape of Lopé-Okanda, Gabon (March, 2009)
  12. Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program (October, 2007)

Image credit

Bioko black colobus monkey in rainforest  
Bioko black colobus monkey in rainforest

© Tim Laman /

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