Animal of the Month
July 2018

Name: Kipunji (A.K.A. Highland Mangabey)

Class: Mammmalia
Order: Primates
Suborder: Haplorhini
Infraorder: Simiiformes
Family: Cercopithecidae
Subfamily: Cercopithecinae
Tribe: Papionini
Genus: Rungwecebus
Species: R. kipunji

Size: approx. 35-37 inches long (no estimate for females yet)
Weight: Males approx. 22-35 lbs. (no estimate for females yet).

Characteristics: Long hair, long whiskers surrounding the face, small brown eyes, big nose, long thin tail, four limbs with opposing thumbs.
Color: Pale brown to reddish brown.
Behavior: Arboreal.

Preferred Habitat: Montane and submontane forests.
Range: Southern Tanzania, exclusively on Mt. Livingstone, Mt. Rungwe and the Udzungwa Mountains..
Diet: Unknown
Lifespan: Unknown


In our world of high-speed Internet, airplane travel and GPS, it's easy to forget just how big the world is. Even though we have charted and mapped much of the Earth's surface, scientists still discover new species in the wild! The kipunji is one such animal. Documented by two expeditions in 2003 and 2004, the kipunji was officially unveiled to the world in 2005 as an animal new to science. It lives in the mountains of southern Tanzania.

The kipunji was originally thought to be a specific species of mangabey monkey and was first named the highland mangabey. Scientists classed it under the genus Lophocebus. Further research however has shown that these primates are more closely related to baboons. In fact, they are so different that they were given their own new genus. This was the first African monkey to be given a new genus in 83 years! Thus the monkey was named Rungwecebus kipunji, and is simply called the kipunji for its common name.

Unfortunately, there is still very little that we know about this species. Much of their anatomy and genetics was learned from a dead individual that scientists discovered. Very few people have actually observed them in the wild; much of their behavior, reproduction and even their diet remains unknown. We know that they are an arboreal species, meaning they spend most of their time in trees. One feature that sets them apart from other monkeys is that they make unique "honk-bark" calls. They have long hair that can be light brown or reddish-brown. Their long hair is thought to be an adaptation to keep them warm at night.

As of this writing the kipunji was officially made known to science thirteen years ago. And yet, already the IUCN has classed this species as critically endangered. Much of their forest habitats are degraded, fragmenting their already small populations. This is largely due to logging, charcoal production, irresponsible re-source extraction and hunting. This severe deforestation puts many species, in-cluding the kipunji, at risk of extinction.

We may not know much about the kipunji, but there are efforts underway to save it. All known kipunji populations exist within protected areas in Tanzania. Most of the conservation projects aimed at preserving the kipunji are currently focused on restoring the montane forests of Mt. Rungwe where about 45% of the species lives. The Wildlife Conservation Society has also chosen the kipunji as a "flagship species" for their Southern Highlands Conservation Program, which serves to educate the public and monitor the threatened species. Lastly, the kipunji has been listed on CITES Appendix II, which strictly limits trade of this animal. With a lot of work and a little luck, the kipunji will be safeguarded and scientists will one day better understand this amazing animal.

To learn more about the Wildlife Conservation Society's fight to save the kipunji and other animals of Tanzania, follow this link:

WCS: Tanzania Program, Kipunji Page


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