Africa, near the equator


Tropical rain forests and wetlands

Marvelous mangabeys

Mangabeys are some of the most rare and endangered monkeys on Earth. These large forest dwellers are found only in Africa. They look somewhat like guenons but are bigger. Local people call some of them "the ones with the thin waist" or "four-eyed monkeys," because some mangabey species have bright white eyelids.

Taxonomists have put mangabeys into two separate genera based on physical differences: white-eyelid mangabeys (Cercocebus species) and crested mangabeys (Lophocebus species) which have dark skin and eyelids and crests of hair on their heads. In 2006, a third genera was added: Rungwecebus, for the highland mangabey, which is the first new primate genus in 83 years.

White-eyelid mangabeys are most closely related to mandrills and drills, and the males are much larger than the females. Crested mangabeys are more closely related to baboons and geladas, and both males and females are about the same size.

All mangabeys have a tail that is longer than their body, providing balance for them as they scamper through the rain forest canopy.

Good looks

Mangabeys can be golden brown, gray, dark brown, or a soft black, depending on the species or subspecies, usually with a lighter color on the underbelly. Youngsters are generally darker than the adults. White-collared mangabeys have reddish hair on their head, a "beard" on each cheek, and white hair that wraps around their neck like a collar (hence the name!). Black mangabeys have long, grayish brown whiskers that almost cover their ears and a high crest on their head—a pointy hairdo!

The mangabey was named for what Europeans thought was their homeland. The first shipment of these primates was labeled as coming from Mangabe, a port in Madagascar, but there are no mangabeys native to Madagascar.
The white-eyelid mangabey’s genus name “Cerocebus” means "tail monkey" in Greek; the crested mangabey’s genus name “Lophocebus” means "crest monkey."

Sooty mangabeys were the first mangabey residents in the San Diego Zoo’s early years in the 1920s. Gray-cheeked and cherry-headed mangabeys were added in the 1930s, and we celebrated the birth of our first sooty mangabey in 1933 and the birth of the first gray-cheeked mangabey in the US in 1936. Black-crested mangabeys were added in 1960, and our first golden-bellied mangabey arrived in 1991.

Today, the Zoo is home to northern black-crested mangabeys. They can be seen living with colobus monkeys along the Monkey Trail in Lost Forest.

Like so many other rain forest inhabitants, mangabey species face many pressures including (over)hunting and habitat loss. Many mangabey populations are severely limited in population size and areas of inhabited forest. Along with other large primates such as chimpanzees and gorillas, these monkeys are among the first of the larger mammals to disappear from forests close to human settlements.

People continue to destroy mangabey habitat by logging the trees in their forest homes and hunting the monkeys illegally for bushmeat. And because mangabeys are such fruit lovers, they tend to raid fruit plantations and are often killed as pests.

The Tana River crested mangabey Cercocebus galeritus and the Sanje mangabey Cercocebus sanjei are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, while the black crested mangabey Lophocebus aterminus ssp. is listed as near threatened.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums has a Species Survival Plan (SSP) for mangabeys which helps to maintain genetic diversity in zoo populations; the SSP works with various zoos to help them care for these primates. San Diego Zoo Global is involved in the SSP effort to protect these forest monkeys from extinction.

You can help us bring mangabeys 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.