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Treetop cameras capture first known video of a wild roloway monkey

  • Treetop cameras in Côte d’Ivoire’s Tanoé-Ehy forest recently captured the first known video of a wild roloway monkey, a critically endangered species that spends most of its time high up in trees.
  • There are only about 300 roloway monkeys left in the wild, and 36 individuals living in captivity, so conservation efforts are paramount to preserve the species, according to experts.
  • Conservationists are also hoping to capture video of the critically endangered Miss Waldron’s red colobus monkey, which hasn’t been spotted in 42 years.

When conservationists set up treetop cameras in Côte d’Ivoire’s Tanoé-Ehy forest, they hoped to get video of the elusive Miss Waldron’s red colobus monkey (Piliocolobus waldroni), a critically endangered species that hasn’t been spotted in 42 years. But instead, another rare, arboreal primate presented itself: the roloway monkey (Cercopithecus roloway).

This is actually the first time a wild roloway monkey has ever been captured on video, according to Global Wildlife Conservation, the group that supported the camera trap project, along with the Swiss Center for Scientific Research in Côte d’Ivoire, Florida Atlantic University, and a number of other institutions and organizations.

“You cannot follow the monkeys in such forests and must be very lucky if you want to snap them when you meet them before they flee,” Inza Koné, general director of the Swiss Center for Scientific Research in Côte d’Ivoire and leader of a Tanoé-Ehy community-based conservation project, told Mongabay in an email. “That’s why camera trapping appeared as the best way to get some footage from the wild. Until recently, most photos of the monkey were from captivity.”

In a few short video clips, two different roloway monkeys are seen climbing along the branches of an ewuliké tree, searching for insects to eat.

“We frequently encountered or heard the calls of this monkey in the forest,” André Koffi, a researcher at the Swiss Center for Scientific Research in Côte d’Ivoire who was directly involved with the camera trap project, told Mongabay in an email. “Our big surprise is that we don’t have as many … videos of this monkey. We firmly believe that the next checking of the cameras will give us many [more] videos of the Roloway monkey.”

One of the roloway monkeys captured by tree cameras in Côte d’Ivoire’s Tanoé-Ehy forest. Image provided by Global Wildlife Conservation.

Roloway monkeys, part of a genus known as guenons, used to live across southern Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, but hunting and trapping greatly reduced the species’ range. Now these animals primarily live in the Tanoé-Ehy forest in southeast Côte d’Ivoire, with a “much smaller population” in the Kwabré forest in Ghana, said Koné, adding that a “couple of individuals” may also survive in the central coastal region of Côte d’Ivoire.

The roloway monkey is listed by the IUCN as a critically endangered species, with fewer than 2,000 individuals left in the wild, according to a 2019 assessment. A more recent survey conducted by the Swiss Center for Scientific Research in Côte d’Ivoire calculates that only about 300 individuals are left in the wild, Koné said.

There are also 36 roloway monkeys living in zoos around the world, said Koné, who described these captive populations as “very small and fragile,” with the individuals requiring a high level of care. All of these zoos are members of the EAZA Ex situ programme (EEP), which aims to maintain captive populations to help reinstate wild populations, according to Koné.

A long-tailed pangolin climbing a tree in Côte d’Ivoire’s Tanoé-Ehy forest. Image provided by Global Wildlife Conservation.

“They already sent one male back to Ghana [to the] Endangered Primate Breeding Center,” Koné said, “and are about to send back a female to offer an opportunity for them to breed.”

There are also mounting efforts to protect the roloway monkey in the Tanoé-Ehy forest through research, education, community engagement, surveillance and habitat preservation, Koné said.

“We are about to lose Miss Waldron’s red colobus because it is getting obvious that we might find a couple of surviving individuals, not a viable population,” Koné said. “If we do not anticipate, roloway guenons might be among the next monkeys … driven to extinction.”

Besides the roloway monkey, the treetop cameras captured many other species, including the Lowe’s mona monkey (Cercopithecus lowei), the white-crested hornbill (Horizocerus albocristatus), the long-tailed pangolin (Phataginus tetradactyla), the critically endangered white-thighed colobus (Colobus vellerosus), and the endangered white-naped mangabey (Cercocebus lunulatus).

Conservationists are also holding out hope of finding the Miss Waldron’s red colobus monkey, either through camera trapping or via eDNA techniques, which can help identify the presence of a species through soil and water samples.

“We plan to make a survey by pirogue [canoe] in search of Miss Waldron in the rainy season, which begins now and will reach its maximum in the month of September,” Koffi said.

“Tropical mammals in general are hard to study, but the arboreal ones add so much complexity,” Daniel Alempijevic, a graduate student at Florida Atlantic University who was involved in the camera trap project, said in a statement. “These canopy camera trap surveys are opening up a new world to us, and may ultimately be the key to finding Miss Waldron’s red colobus. But Miss Waldron’s or not, so far this has been an exceptional survey reinforcing just how important Tanoé-Ehy Forest is as a last refuge for some of these species.”

Banner image caption: A roloway monkey at Cerza Zoo in France. Image by Damian Entwistle / Flickr.

Elizabeth Claire Alberts is a staff writer for Mongabay. Follow her on Twitter @ECAlberts.

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