Kipunji

Kipunji Monkey Photo
©Tim Davenport

The kipunji is a large, forest-dwelling primate discovered by WCS scientists in southern Tanzania in 2003. Initially assumed to be a mangabey—a species of monkey found only in Africa—subsequent DNA analysis revealed that the kipunji is an entirely new genus of primate. WCS derived its scientific name  from the mountain on which it was found, Mount Rungwe. The kipunji is critically endangered, with a total population of only about 1,100 and a range smaller than 20 square miles.

Kipunjis lives in montane forests in two isolated regions. In the Southern Highlands, they are found in Mt. Rungwe Nature Reserve and the Livingstone forest of Kitulo National Park, and in the Udzungwa Mountains, they live in the Kilombero Nature Reserve. The two Southern Highland locations are linked by the narrow Bujingijila Corridor, which has been severely degraded by logging.

Kipunjis are diurnal and arboreal, rarely coming to the ground. Social animals, they live in groups of 20 to 36 individuals. Their diet consists of at least 120 species of plants as well as fungi, lichen, insects, and other invertebrates. They are not territorial and the two-square-mile home range of one group may often overlap with other groups. The main predators are humans, crowned eagles, and leopards.

Fast Facts

Scientific NameRungwecebus kipunji
  • The kipunji was the first new African primate genus to be discovered since 1923.
  • Kipunjis tend to be vocal, with at least 12 unique calls identified.
  • They are wary of humans, and males often exhibit a head-shaking behavior and make a call referred to as a “honk-bark” to warn intruders away.
  • Kipunjis often associate with black-and-white colobus, and Sykes’s monkeys—a behavior that may provide safety in numbers when evading predators.

Challenges

The kipunji faces a number of significant threats, including habitat loss through logging and charcoal production, habitat fragmentation, and illegal hunting. Many subpopulations are small and isolated, and are unlikely to be viable in the long-term without conservation interventions. Kipunjis prefer steep-sided gullies and valley edges, and avoid ridges and open areas. The monkeys occasionally enter adjacent farmlands to feed on maize and the leaves of sweet potatoes and beans. Local farmers may kill the offending kipunjis and hunt them for food.

WCS Responds

WCS has worked in Tanzania’s Southern Highlands since 2000, when we launched the Southern Highlands Conservation Program. Since discovering the kipunji in 2003, WCS routinely monitors the population and its conservation status, and continues to study its ecology and behavior daily. WCS is investing in the protection and restoration of all Southern Highland habitats and was responsible for the designation of both Kitulo National Park and Mt. Rungwe Nature Reserve. We also conduct environmental education workshops for local communities to help foster respect for all wildlife in the region.

From the Newsroom

Primate ParadiseJuly 16, 2013

Tanzania is home to 27 species of primates—a third of which are found nowhere else on Earth. A new conservation plan would create “Priority Primate Areas” to protect the baboons, colobus, and others, along with their habitats.

An Investment in Stripes and RibbitsFebruary 9, 2012

In a big boost for wildlife, 23 new species conservation projects will receive funding from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the World Bank, and the Global Environment Facility.

New Monkey Faces Old ThreatsAugust 7, 2008

Poaching and illegal logging have driven Tanzania’s kipunji monkey, discovered just three years ago, to the brink of extinction in its tiny forest home.

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