Close up of a mangabey monkey's face as he chews on a piece of food
Some Endangered

Mangabey

  • CLASS: Mammalia
  • ORDER: Primates
  • FAMILY: Cercophithecidae
  • GENUS: Cercocebus; Lophocebus
  • SPECIES: 13

ABOUT

A close up of a golden-belied mangabey's face as it looks left
The long tail of the golden-bellied mangabey, like other Old World monkeys, is not prehensile.

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. 

A northern black-crested mangabey peers into a log green canister filled with snacks
A black crested mangabey, native to the forests of central Africa, examines an enrichment puzzle.

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

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!

Mangabeys have some interesting ways of communicating with each other. It's often hard to see one another in the dense forest canopy, so sound is very important. In fact, mangabeys can be very noisy! A special throat sac gives them a booming voice. The sac is larger in the adult male—he can make shrieking alarm calls to alert others to danger, and he barks, twitters, and grunts to let other mangabey groups in the area know where his is so they don't accidentally intrude. The adult females often join in with a loud chorus. 

Adult male mangabeys also make a sound that biologists call a whoop-gobble. The whoop gets the attention of other mangabeys in the area; the gobble tells everyone who and where he is. This unique call may be heard for a distance of up to 1,000 yards (1 kilometer).

White is an important color when you need to get your point across. White-collared mangabeys use movements of their white-tipped tails to express themselves. White hair on the underside of the chin helps make other facial gestures more noticeable. For white-eyelid mangabeys, batting their eyelids and raising their eyebrows can have a whole range of meanings. Making these facial expressions and flashing their white eyelids against their darker fur help get the message across. Flashing eyelids can mean "warning—watch your step!"

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HABITAT AND DIET

Golden-belied mangabey sits on a tree branch.
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.

Like most monkeys, mangabeys are very much at home in trees, spending most of their time there. However, white-eyelid mangabeys are also comfortable on the ground, traveling on their hands and feet between patches of forest or to forage in the leaf litter for tasty food items. In some areas of the forest, the ground is swampy, but that’s not a problem for mangabeys. Webbing between their fingers and toes helps these amazing monkeys swim! 

All mangabeys are excellent jumpers, and gray-cheeked mangabeys and white-collared mangabeys have a tail that is strong enough to hook onto branches as they leap about the forest canopy.

Mangabeys are mainly fruit eaters, although they can also eat leaves, nuts, seeds, insects, and spiders. Powerful teeth and jaws help them crack hard nut shells or bite into thick-skinned fruits. Mangabeys also tear bark from trees using their teeth and hands to find bugs and spiders hiding underneath. Large cheek pouches act like a shopping cart: mangabeys fill their pouches with food until full! The biggest meal of the day for mangabeys is breakfast, and they start foraging for food in the early morning, often before the sun comes up. 

Like many monkey species, mangabeys lick nectar from flowers, moving from tree to tree for this sweet feast, earning them status as pollinators as well as seed dispersers.

At the San Diego Zoo, the mangabeys are offered low-starch, high-fiber biscuits, assorted fruits (such as apples, grapes, melons), vegetables (green beans, corn, eggplant), and greens (cabbage, lettuce, kale). Enrichment treats can include raisins, popcorn, and peanuts.

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FAMILY LIFE

A golden-bellied mangabey grooms another's back
Mangabeys, like this one grooming another golden-bellied mangabey's back, move through the forest by day, traveling in troops.

Mangabeys live in groups, called troops, of about 10 to 40 individuals, depending on the species and the availability of food and habitat. There is usually one adult male that acts as leader and the troop's defender, but sometimes the larger troops have two or three adult males that split off with their own family units to forage for food. 

When a male becomes sexually mature, he leaves his troop to find another one to join. If he can't find one, he lives alone until he does; single males do not form all-male groups. When there is plenty of food available, mangabey troops often gather together for a while and even exchange troop members.

Much like baboons, a female mangabey's buttocks swell when she is ready to breed. This is her visual signal to the adult males. A single infant is born with soft fur, and its eyes are open. Its instinct to grasp onto its mother is so strong that it often grabs at the mother's hair with its hands as it's being born! Newborns cling to the mother's belly; older infants often ride on her back. Young are weaned when 7 to 10 months old, but stay near their mother until she gives birth to a new sibling. Mature females stay with their troop, but males leave the group when they are about five years old.

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AT THE ZOO

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.

CONSERVATION

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.

Save Wildlife. Help us keep this and other species from disappearing forever.

LIFE SPAN

Up to 30 years

YOUNG

Gestation: 5.5 to 6 months

Number of young at birth: Usually 1; twins are rare

Weight at birth: 18 to 21 ounces (500 to 600 grams)

SIZE

Length: 16 to 29 inches (40 to 73 centimeters), depending on species

Weight: Females - 9 to 18 pounds (4 to 8 kilograms); males - 13 to 31 pounds (6 to 14 kilograms), depending on species

Tail length: 18 to 39 inches (45 to 100 centimeters), depending on species

FUN FACTS

The white-eyelid mangabey’s genus name “Cerocebus” means "tail monkey" in Greek; the crested mangabey’s genus name “Lophocebus” means "crest monkey."

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