Miss Waldron's Red Colobus

10th July 2010

The probable extinction of Miss Waldron's Red Colobus monkey is the first documented extinction of an anthropoid (ape or monkey) primate since 1800. The disappearance of Miss Waldron's Red Colobus monkey may be the first obvious sign that an extinction wave will soon wipe out other large mammals. In December 1933, Willoughby P. Lowe, a collector for British museums found a new species of monkeys in Western Africa which he shot eight specimens of for the museum's collection. The new species was named Miss Waldron's Red Colobus after Miss F. Waldron, one of his travelling companions an employee of the British museums. Scientists actually disagree on the species of supspecies status of this monkey.

This west-African red-and-black colobus monkey was restricted to parts of Ghana and Ivory Coast. The species had a limited distribution between two rivers in both countries and it could only survive in high-canopy rainforest. No photographs of a living individual of this species is known to exist, and it is only known by descriptions, and drawings made by scientists. It is a small monkey (roughly 1m) with a small head for its frame; it is mostly black but with a pattern of bright red fur on its forehead and thighs, which distinguishes it from other Red Colobus monkeys.

Miss Waldron's Red Colobus monkeys apparently formed large family groups of 20 or more, relying on the many eyes and ears of the troop to detect potential dangers. It is a social and highly vocal animal, frequently communicating with others using loud calls, shrieks and chattering. Fruit, seeds and foliage provide the primary food source of Miss Waldron's Red Colobus.

Like its cousin species, the Western Red Colobus, Miss Waldron's Red Colobus is probably hunted and eaten by larger carnivores , including Common Chimpanzees (specifically Western Chimpanzees ,Pan troglodytes verus , in the range of P. b. waldronae), leopards, pythons, eagles and ...humans.

Indeed, Miss Waldron's Red Colobus has been frequently (and illegally) poached for bushmeat, with little interference by local governments. Habitat destruction also played a role in its decline. Logging is, notably to blame with the roads used by logging companies opening up forests to settlements and allowing hunters to access previously remote areas.

Miss Waldron's Red Colobus was recognised as endangered but it proved so sensitive to habitat alteration that scientists could not replicate its diet and had no success with attempts to breed it in captivity. Miss Waldron's Red Colobus monkeys were last officially sighted in 1978 when one individual was spotted in the rainforest of Ghana. The species was listed as endangered in 1988.

A team of Anthropologists for the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York, led by Hunter College anthropologist, John Oates, failed to find Miss Waldron's Red Colobus monkey, in the six years they spent surveying 19 forest areas in Ghana and Ivory Coast between 1993 and 1999. They neither saw nor heard any red colobus monkey. In 2000, the Miss Waldron's Red Colobus monkey was declared extinct and The New York Times, CNN, and others announced its end which was published officially by scientists in the October issue of Conservation Biology in 2000. Hunting by humans was thought to be be the main reason for the extinction.

The Primate Specialist Group agreed at the time that the available evidence suggested that this species was probably extinct, but they argued that it did not fulfil the IUCN criteria for extinction, which is: "there is no reasonable doubt that its last individual has died." Miss Waldron's Red Colobus thus remained on the IUCN Critically Endangered list.

However, primatologist W. Scott McGraw from Ohio State University has been collecting evidence of the monkey's continued existence during his expeditions to Ivory Coast over the past several years. McGraw relies on Ivorian hunters he knows to tell him about sightings of Miss Waldron's red colobus, in return for a reward.

Though the primatologist has never personally sighted Miss Waldron's Red Colobus monkeys in his 10 years of research, in 2001, he was given a black monkey tail. Two black-tailed monkey species inhabit the country's southwestern forests, so that scientists had to use DNA testing to prove that the tail did belong to a red colobus monkey. The hunter who gave McGraw the tail claimed he had shot the monkey the previous year.
In 2002, an Ivorian hunter gave McGraw a piece of reddish monkey skin believed to be from a Miss Waldron's Red Colobus. The man told McGraw that this monkey had been traveling with a pack of black and white colobus monkeys, and that he hadn't seen any other monkeys in the group with reddish markings. The skin is now framed and hangs on the wall in McGraw's Columbus office.

That same year, McGraw received from an associate in Africa a photograph of what appeared to be an adult Miss Waldron's Red Colobus which, unfortunately had been killed. Experts who have examined the photograph attest to its likely authenticity; this would be the only known photo of this monkey. McGraw has not been to Ivory Coast since the winter of 2002. While the country's civil war ended July 2003, political tensions remain high.

With this new evidence suggesting that Miss Waldron's Red Colobus could still exist as a relic population in the Ehy Forest near the mouth of the Tano River into Ehy Lagoon, at the border between Ivory Coast and Ghana, McGraw and his colleagues tryed to organize a conservation program in Ivory Coast to help save animals that are near extinction. New field studies were undertaken.

Through a partnership of Conservation des Espèces et des Populations Animales (CEPA) and the Centre Suisse de Recherches Scientifiques en Côte d’Ivoire (CSRS), Kone and his colleagues surveyed 14 forest reserves in Côte d’Ivoire between 2004 and 2006, including Isles Ehotiles National Park. They failed to spot any Miss Waldron’s Red Colobus, and only claimed hearing a single vocalization in Ehotiles in 2006.

The forest adjacent to the Ehy Lagoon has not been surveyed since 2002, when no red colobus were found. However, the Ehy forest seems to be the only place in Côte d’Ivoire where a relic population of Miss Waldron’s red colobus might survive. The forest is under heavy poaching pressure from Ivorian and Ghanaian hunters, and it is being logged, but Kone and his colleagues have begun an awareness and education campaign in the villages there. Their plans are to build a community-based conservation system centered on the eight villages surrounding the lagoon. A thorough survey of the forest is urgently needed

Surveys conducted in Ghana in 2006 support earlier suspicions that this monkey is almost certainly extinct in that country. If any animals have managed to survive, the numbers must be very small and it will take heroic efforts to preserve them. Other red colobus are endangered, including three other forms in West Africa: Pennant’s red colobus (Procolobus pennantii pennantii ) of Bioko Island, Preuss’s red colobus ( P. p. preussi ) of Cameroon, and the Niger River Delta red colobus ( P. p. epieni ). In addition, Bouvier’s red colobus ( P. p. bouvieri ) from the Congo Republic has not been seen by scientists for at least 30 years.

"The plight of these monkeys highlights threats faced by red colobus generally; they have patchy distributions, have suffered extensive habitat degradation and are particularly vulnerable to hunters. Implementation of a red colobus action plan should be a high conservation priority in Africa" s, say Oats and McGraw.

Hunting is illegal in Ivory Coast, but the laws aren't enforced, McGraw said. Bush meat has become something of a delicacy, and many people living in the country's remote areas hunt to eat or sell the meat. Add to that a loss of about 85 percent of the country's original forest cover, and the outlook for Miss Waldron's Red Colobus doesn't seem very promising. "When most of the forest is destroyed and the human population skyrockets and the most remote villages get shotguns, we can't expect to have a good number of these primates around," said McGraw, who is also an associate professor of evolution, ecology and organismal biology. "But if this monkey is extinct, then something has gone very, very wrong, as primates are pretty resilient.[...] Its extinction may represent the beginning of a wave of extinctions which will make their way across this part of Africa," McGraw said. "There could be a cascade of disappearances, including all of those animals that are dependent on high-canopy forests. Since there's very little canopy area left, this list could include forest elephants, leopards, chimpanzees, and so on."