Sub-Saharan equatorial Africa


Wetlands, bamboo and montane forest, and rain forests from sea level to mountains

Cheeky fellows

Guenon (GWEN non) is the name for a group of medium-sized monkeys that have long back legs, a rounded head, a long tail that helps them balance while moving through the trees, and large cheek pouches. The word guenon comes from the French word for monkey. Monkeys in the guenon group are some of the most colorful, graceful, and lively in Africa.

Guenons are best known for their striking color patterns, such as hip stripes, brow bands, or a white nose spot or band. Facial adornments can also include a throat ruff, beard, or mustache. They use their cheek pouches to store extra food as they forage. The pouches can hold almost as much as their stomach can!

The goods on guenons

Guenons come from western and central Africa, were they live in different types of forests. Like many Old World monkeys, guenons have a pad of tough skin and underlying tissue that cushions their rear end for sitting. Most guenon species are arboreal, living in the tropical forests and woodlands. But some spend a greater part of their time on the ground and are found in forested mountain areas.

The first scientific symposium devoted to guenons took place in 1985.
There are natural hybrid zones where some guenon species have been found to breed with other guenon species. More research is needed to confirm whether this has always happened or is a result of modern-day pressures caused by loss of habitat.
If you hear a guenon sneeze, it's probably the "sneeze call" that guenons pass through the group as an alarm.
The lesula is the newest guenon species to be cataloged. The first individual was “discovered” by scientists in 2007.

The San Diego Zoo’s primate collection began when our founder, Dr. Harry Wegeforth, went to the East Coast in 1923 and purchased pairs of several species from dealers. Our first guenons were lesser spot-nosed monkeys and Sykes monkeys received in an exchange with a German zoo in 1929, and a Schmidt’s red-tailed monkey came in 1930. L’Hoest’s and owl-faced monkeys were added to collection in 1960, with a young pair of the latter as gifts from the Leopoldville Zoo in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The San Diego Zoo was the first facility in the world to welcome a Diana monkey birth and the first in the United States to have a L’Hoest’s monkey baby.

Today, the Zoo is home to five guenon species. They can be found in various enclosures in the Zoo’s Lost Forest. Lesser spot-nosed monkey Sassy is diabetic. Trained to accept daily insulin shots, she lives with fellow lesser spot-nosed monkeys Rachel and Lester.

The rest of our guenons share their enclosures with other species. For example, Wolf’s monkey siblings Dru and Amara live with two pygmy hippos, Elgon and Francesca. Amara and Dru love to hop atop a hippo’s back for a free ride or swim underwater right alongside them, which is unusual for a monkey.

Red-tailed monkeys live with Allen’s swamp monkeys and spot-necked otters live in one enclosure, while just across the path you’ll find red-tailed monkeys and with swamp monkeys with red river hogs, a forest buffalo, and a spot-necked otter. There’s never a dull moment in these mixed-species groups!

As logging roads open a way into the forests of equatorial Africa, guenons are one of the primary targets being hunted by humans for the illegal bushmeat trade. Often, guenon mothers are killed and their babies kept as pets. Dryad monkeys Cercopithecus dryas are at critical risk, the Preuss’s monkey Cercopithecus preussi is endangered, and others are vulnerable.

You can help us bring guenon and other primate species back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.