Tanzania is known for its unique and enchanting flora and fauna. Everyone knows the famous big five and all the other amazing animals that you can see and experience during a safari. These include, of course, numerous species of monkeys, such as baboons, chimpanzees and colobus monkeys. However, there is also a relatively unknown primate species in Tanzania that probably very few people have heard of. This is because two teams of researchers first tracked it down in the mountains of Tanzania in 2005. A lucky coincidence.

Threatened with extinction

This new and hitherto little-studied species is called the highland mangabey or Lophocebus kipunji. The first rumours about this shy species came from locals. They also gave the tree dwellers the name Kipunji. They were spotted at two locations around 350 kilometres apart – Mount Rungwe in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania and Ndundulu in the Udzungwa Mountains. At that time, fewer than 1000 specimens were discovered, meaning that the climbing artists were already threatened with extinction.

Unique call

The animals are 90 centimetres tall, with an equally long tail, weigh 10 to 16 kilograms and live high up in the trees. Their fur is usually grey-brown or reddish-brown and relatively long. The forearms are darker, the hands and feet are black and the belly and the back half of the tail are white in colour. The Kipunji’s trademark is the long tuft of hair on its head and the elongated whiskers. Equally unique is their loud and deep call, which resembles a horn call. Researchers describe the eyelids of these shy tree dwellers as unusual, as they are a similar dark colour to their face. Their thick fur protects them from the cold to which they are exposed in their habitat at around 2000 metres.

Completely new species of monkey

The discovery was so special because no other group of animals has been as well researched as the monkeys. At first, scientists thought the monkeys were relatives of mangabeys and categorised them in the genus Lophocebus. Only later and after several investigations did they realise that this was a completely new genus of monkeys. At the same time, it was the first time in more than 80 years that scientists had discovered a new genus of monkey in Africa. Finally, it also needed a name. Mount Rungwe, where the monkeys were observed for the first time, served as the eponym. Thus the genus Rungwecebus and the scientific name Rungwecebus kipunji were born.

Protecting biodiversity

Conservationists wanted to help the monkeys, which live in packs and in treetops. In addition to their natural enemies (such as eagles and leopards), humans were also causing problems for the shy tree artists. On the one hand, the forests in which they lived were cut down and, on the other, the monkeys were hunted for their meat.

Scientists emphasised the need to protect the endangered animals and their habitat. They suggested that the Udzungwa Mountains National Park should be expanded. In their opinion, the Udzungwa Mountains are probably the most important place in Africa for the conservation of primate diversity.

The discovery attracted international attention, gained political support and attracted funding, so that the WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) set up a holistic long-term conservation programme with government and community partners.

The programme worked. As reported in a 2022 publication in the International Journal of Primatology, the most recent census found that the Kipunji population in the Southern Highlands increased by 65 per cent in the last 13 years, expanding its range by almost a fifth. Meanwhile, signs of human disturbance have decreased by 81 per cent. The total population of the kipunji was estimated at around 1970 individuals in 2022. Despite the considerable increase, thanks to the intensive conservation efforts of the WCS and its partners, the species is still classified as endangered by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). It is therefore important to keep at it and continue to work for the welfare of the animals.

With Afromaxx into the Udzungwa Mountains

Conclusion – the “rediscovery” of the Kipunji monkeys shows how much there is still to learn about the remote areas of Tanzania and Africa in general.

For example, that the national park now harbours six registered primate species. These include the Sanje mangabey and the Iringa red marmoset, which are found nowhere else in the world. You can also discover elephants, more than 400 bird species and numerous unusual animals, such as the grey-faced proboscis dog.

In addition to wildlife watching, the Udzungwa Mountains are also a paradise for hikers. The national park has no tarmac roads, can only be explored on foot and offers numerous circular and hiking trails. In addition to the animal and botanical beauties, the park offers another scenic attraction: the Sanje Waterfall. Located in the dense rainforest, it plunges 170 metres down into the wooded valley. Afromaxx offers you a guided and unforgettable tour into the mountains, which are often referred to as the “Galapagos Islands of Africa”. Let us inspire you and contact us. We will create a customised trip to suit your ideas.