Bouvier's Red Colobus Monkey: the Inspiration Behind Wahea

Lieven Devreese and Gaël Elie Gnondo Gobolo/Ntokou-Pikounda National Park, DRC

    "“Is she a pet?” Amanda asked.

     “We don’t have pets here, and I can’t imagine Wahea being called that.”  Analei giggled.  “She’s called a Bouvier’s Red Colobus monkey on the surface.  Scientists from your surface world deemed them extinct fifty years ago. As you’ll see, they’re very much alive in the subterranean cities.”

    “I can’t wait to meet her!”

    “Let me forewarn you. She’s quite a character!”  Analei laughed."

-Cherie Ruffo, Amanda Fisher & the Source Crystals

Lieven Devreese and Gaël Elie Gnondo Gobolo/Ntokou-Pikounda National Park, DRC

    "A small monkey with red and white fur and black-hooded eyes suddenly swung down from a nearby tree onto Analei’s shoulder. “There you are, Wahea! What have you been up to? No good I’m guessing.” Analei smiled and hugged the little monkey, who returned the hug and stared at the newcomers over her shoulder.

    “This is my friend, Wahea,” Analei explained. The two-and-a-half-foot monkey jumped to the ground, looking at them curiously.

    “Cool! I’ve always wanted to see a monkey up close. You’re so cute!” Sam said, picking up the monkey. Wahea was surprised by the sudden movement and screamed, slapping Sam across the face. Danny and Amanda couldn’t help themselves and laughed.

-Cherie Ruffo, Amanda Fisher & the Source Crystals

Lieven Devreese and Gaël Elie Gnondo Gobolo/Ntokou-Pikounda National Park, DRC

Lieven Devreese and Gaël Elie Gnondo Gobolo/Ntokou-Pikounda National Park, DRC

    "“I’ve never seen a monkey like her before,” Danny said.

    “She’s a Bouvier’s Red Colobus monkey from the jungles of the Congo. The last time they were seen on the surface was about fifty years ago. They’re not extinct in the third dimension, just well-hidden. They have no fear of humans, so they were hunted almost to extinction,” Analei explained, stroking Wahea while the monkey snuggled closer to her."

-Cherie Ruffo, Amanda Fisher & the Source Crystals

Giacomo Brazza, courtesy Archivio Storico Capitolino and Lieven Devreese

Bouvier's Red Colobus Monkey:

The Inspiration Behind Wahea


    The story of the Bouvier’s red colobus monkey is mostly still a mystery. Long thought extinct, it’s been rediscovered in the Republic of the Congo, but is still in grave danger. Photographed for the first time in 2015, very little is known about the tendencies of the monkey, and it took a three month expedition by scientists to rediscover them.

“Extremely little is known about Bouvier’s red colobus.” -National Geographic

    The Bouvier’s is a fairly small species of colobus monkey with brownish-red fur and a patch of black to chocolate brown fur on its head. A black brow-band reaches from the eyes to the temple. It’s chin and whiskers are white and around its eyes are pink rings. Their faces vary from light to dark, with light lips and noses. The Bouvier’s tail is long and dark at the root, turning brownish red and its underside is paler in color.

    They live and travel in large groups and do not seem to fear humans. This lack of fear could easily lead to their demise, as it makes them an easy target for hunters. Instead of fleeing or hiding as most monkeys do, the Bouvier’s red colobus is more curious than its relatives. They watch hunters and scientists alike from their perch in the trees, occasionally acting aggressively, but often just curious.

““When talking to the local people, we learned there is an active trade of bush meat using the rivers as highways. When the forests are not inundated, only a couple of months a year, commercial hunters shoot whatever they can and empty the forest,” Devreese says. Local people claim they don’t like the taste of red colobus, but most meat is smoked and transported to city markets. Hunting is traditionally part of the Central African culture, but the population increase in the cities, the relatively higher purchasing power of some urban dwellers and the easy availability of firearms, has altered the scale of the trade, putting an enormous pressure on wildlife. The team found an even more disturbing discovery. “Huge dug-out canoes loaded with deep freezers and generators go up the river to collect meat from the most remote villages and hunting camps,” Devreese explains.” -Lieven Devreese

    Another major threat to the Bouvier’s red colobus, also known as Piliocolobus bouvieri, is habitat degradation. Through logging, their population has been decimated. They live in swampy forests along the right bank of the Congo River between the mouths of the rivers Alima, Oubangui and Likouala-aux-Herbes. This area is difficult, if not impossible to access except by boat along the river, making it difficult for scientists to study them. However, this difficulty also slows hunters and loggers, and can possibly be attributed to their survival. Even still, the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) has listed the monkey as Critically Endangered. This has made the study of the monkey’s genetic disposition almost impossibl

Devreese and his assistant collected fecal samples from Bouvier’s red colobus and hope to conduct the first genetic tests on the monkeys.” -Jeremy Hance, Mongabay


    We don’t know much about the history of the Bouvier’s monkey. In 1884, Giacomo Savorgnan di Brazza, the sibling of a famous explorer, shot two between the villages of Bonga and Mongo in the Congo, stuffing them and bringing them back to Europe. Before 2015, the only known photographs of the species were of these two deceased specimens, on display at the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris.

    Between the late 1800s and early 1900s, several other specimens arrived in museums, but the only people who knew anything about the monkey were those living in the swampy forests of the Congo. In 1887, Alphonse Tremeau de Rochebrune was the first to describe them in Faune de Senegambie, and until 2007, they were considered a subspecies of Pennant’s colobus, also critically endangered.

“No individuals had been seen in the wild since the 1970s and was thought to have lost at least 80% of its population since then, due to hunting and habitat loss.” -Wikipedia

    In the 2000s, F. Petter and F. Vincent reported possible sightings of the species south of where they had previously been found, but no confirmation was made. In 2007, Colin Groves reclassified Piliocolobus to a full genus, its own species, although others still believe it to be a subspecies of Procolobus. Also in 2007, and again in 2014, the Wildlife Conservation Society documented the Bouvier’s red colobus in surveys inside a new National Park, but listed them only as “red colobus.” It was in 2008 that the IUCN reassessed the status of the Bouvier’s red colobus and classified them as critically endangered, including that they could also be “possibly extinct.”

“For years, research groups called for an expedition to find out if Bouvier’s red colobus still survived in the forests of the Republic of Congo.” -Jeremy Hance, Mongabay

    Finally, in 2015 Lieven Devreese, an independent researcher from Belgium, set off on a three month expedition to the Congo to find the Bouvier’s red colobus. Only 27 and having already studied other primates in Africa, he was a perfect fit to begin the excursion. He teamed up with a local from the village of Bomassa, Gael Elie Gnondo Gobolo, 25, who had researched and worked in the National Park for his Bachelor thesis.

    Through crowdfunding and donations, including support from the Wildlife Conservation Society, they were able to start the expedition. The first step was to meet with local people, starting in Owando, to learn what they knew about the monkeys: their behavior, calls, and where they had been seen. Locals were already well aware of the monkey’s existence. At times, the strange biologists with all of their equipment were met with suspicion. Able to speak their language, their skepticism, even deep in the forest, was usually soon abated.

    They hired a dugout canoe in Makoua and got on the Likouala River, the only way to travel through the dense swamp forests. High water levels and waist-deep mud made the grounds not easily accessible.

“The tricky Congolese terrain, which is rife with swamps and rivers, may have contributed to the long wait for the world’s first photo of the species.” -National Geographic

    With the help of local guides, they soon entered the new Ntokou-Pikounda National Park. Just created in 2013 with help from the Wildlife Conservation Society, this 1,765 square-mile park is one of the richest in the area, home to thousands of western gorillas, and almost a thousand chimpanzees and elephants. As a new park without enough funding to hire rangers to enforce a hunting ban or for development, it is still in need of much support.

    They made their first sighting of the monkey in the new National Park, the first confirmed sighting in four decades, on the Bokiba River. On March 3, 2016, the explorers announced their find to the world, and then in April revealed the first ever photograph of a Bouvier’s red colobus, a mother and her baby.

“The Bouvier’s red colobus monkey had never been photographed until now.” -National Geographic

    Although the Bouvier’s red colobus was found in a protected National Park, they are not safe from threats. Logging and destruction of its habitat will be curtailed here, but the monkey is still at risk from hunters until active protection and monitoring have been instated. Some areas, away from rivers, are too dense for even hunters to manage, and may be the reason the species survives today. In addition, the sale of monkey meat has decreased in popularity because of the perceived risk of contracting Ebola. Much still needs to be accomplished before this rare and unique species can thrive.

How Can I Help?

  1. Do not participate in the hunting of any endangered species.

  2. Do not partake in the sale of any meat or parts of any endangered species.

  3. Recycle and buy sustainable products.

  4. Learn about endangered species in your area.

  5. Donate to the new National Park to increase the protection from hunters or

  6. Visit the park to help.

  7. Donate to the Wildlife Conservation Society, who helps fund expeditions and is currently working to protect the Bouvier’s and many other species.

By Nicole LeBoeuf