Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) scientists in southern Tanzania in 2003 discovered the kipunji, a large, forest-dwelling monkey. Initially, they assumed what they found was a mangabey, a monkey found only in Africa. Research revealed that it was a new and different species. WCS named it for the mountain where scientists found it, Mount Rungwe. The kipunji only has a total population of about 1,100 and a small range of 20 square miles.
The kipunji is a medium-sized monkey with a long tail. It has a unique coat, long, upright chest and loud call. It has light to reddish-brown fur and darker lower legs, black feet and hands, and a creamy-white stomach and tail. Its black face frames elongated cheek whiskers along with a crest of long, erect hair on the top of its head.
Kipunjis live in mountain forests, in the Southern Highlands, in Mt. Rungwe Nature Reserve and Kitulo National Park’s Livingstone forest and in the Udzungwa Mountains. Their range includes the Kilombero Nature Reserve. Logging in the narrow Bujingijila Corridor between the two forests has seriously degraded it. Kipunjis choose steep-sided gullies and valley edges, and stay away from open areas and ridges.
Kipunjis sleep at night and live mainly in the trees, rarely coming to the ground. They live together in groups of 20 to 36 monkeys. They do not fight for their trees, and their two-square-mile range may often encroach on other groups. Kipunjis are loud, having at least twelve different calls. They fear man. Males shake their heads and “honk-bark” to alert intruders to stay away. They share their habitat with colobus and Sykes’s monkeys.
Fungi, lichen, insects, other invertebrates, and nearly 120 species of plants make up the kipunji’s diet.
Humans, leopards and crowned eagles are its main predators. This endangered monkey faces key threats that impact its survival. Logging and charcoal production remove the trees that the monkey needs to inhabit. Hunters also kill them because the monkeys steal maize, sweet potato leaves and beans from their farms. “The kipunji is hanging on by the thinnest of threads,” said Dr. Tim Davenport, Tanzania country director for WCS. “We must do all we can to safeguard this extremely rare and little understood species while there is still time.”
The kipunji faces extinction after just three years of their discovery. The monkey is the first one that scientists discovered since 1943. The monkey is much like a baboon.