SARChI Chair University of Venda

The University of Venda based South African Research Chair in Biodiversity and Change in the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve is a vibrant hub for biodiversity science, training and conservation application in the Southern African Development Community – a body of established and emerging researchers, postgraduate and postdoctoral candidates. The Research Chair, co-hosted by the Centre for Invasion Biology at the University of Stellenbosch, is funded by the Department of Science and Technology and administered by the National Research Foundation.

Research

This study investigates several different aspects important for the long-term preservation of samango monkeys (Cercopithecus albogularis) and their forest habitat in the greater Soutpansberg area (including the Blouberg and the Makgabeng Plateau) in Limpopo. Until now most of the larger/population scale samango research in South Africa was done in the 1990’s and early 2000’s in KwaZulu Natal. In light of the samangos conservation status and the intense pressure on their forest habitat it is important to assess populations across the country. So far, no data is available on the distribution, population and conservation status of samango monkeys in our area. I aim to create a holistic and replicable data set using an array of different scientific methods which will help to generate conservation and management recommendations suited specifically to the species and its habitat in the Limpopo Province.

My work includes:

  • mapping the current distribution of  forest patches in the study area
  • analysing historical change of forests cover in the recent past (last 100 years) as well as during the Holocene and Pleistocene
  • surveys to determine the present distribution of samangos
  • population censuses to estimate the current population size and density
  • interviews in the form of a standardized questionnaire to identify threats to and conflicts with samangos
  • genetic analysis using microsatellite DNA extracted from faecal samples to determine relatedness between individuals, how genetically variable populations in different fragments are, the degree of inbreeding, genetic drift and isolation and to resolve the subspecies status of samangos in the study area.

About the samango monkey and their forest habitat

Distribution

Current distribution of samango monkeys in South Africa (IUCN 2014, modified).

Current distribution of samango monkeys in South Africa (IUCN 2014, modified).

The samango monkey (Cercopithecus albogularis or dulu in TshiVenda, meaning quiet/calm) is South Africa’s only exclusively forest dwelling primate and represents the southernmost extent of the range of arboreal guenons in sub-Saharan Africa. The samango is one of five primate species found in South Africa next to the chacma baboon (Papio ursinus), the vervet monkey (Chlorocebus aethiops) and the greater (Otolemur crassicaudatus) as well as the lesser bush baby (Galago moholi). Their present distribution within the country is closely correlated with the distribution of Indian Ocean coastal belt, Scarp and Afromontane forests – from the northern most population in the Soutpansberg forests in Limpopo to the southern most populations in the Amatola forests in the Eastern Cape.

Conservation Status

Northern Mistbelt Forests in the western Soutpansberg

Northern Mistbelt Forests in the western Soutpansberg

South African forests are characterised by a highly fragmented distribution and are the countries smallest (comprising 0.4 % of the national surface area), most fragmented and most vulnerable biome. Thus, the samango, being a forest restricted species, is listed as vulnerable in the Red Data Book of the Mammals of South Africa (2004).

 Appearance

Samango monkeys show sexual dimorphism with males being larger and heavier (average 9.3 kg) than females (average 4.9 kg), having longer canines and more pronounced colour contrasts between the arms and body. Samangos and vervet monkeys are sometimes confused, however a closer look reveals several differences between the two. Samango monkeys have a grey face, black arms, grey fur on the body with a yellow wash on the back and puffy hair on the cheeks whereas vervet monkeys have a black face, grey arms and legs, a slight green shine to the fur and the males have a conspicuous blue scrotum. Vervet monkeys are generally smaller in body size and have shorter, less shaggy fur compared to samango monkeys.

Male samango monkey showing its large canines.

Male samango monkey showing its large canines.

 

Female vervet monkeys.

Female vervet monkeys.

 Ecology & Behaviour

Samango monkeys are highly gregarious and troops typically consist of 20 individuals with one adult, dominant male. The core of samango societies is formed by related adult females and their offspring with females never leaving their birth group and territory. Male samango monkeys, however, are evicted from their birth troop as soon as they reach sexual maturity at about 6 years of age. Young males then disperse either solitary or in bachelor groups of 2-3 to find a new troop of females and overthrow the resident troop male. Male troop tenure is limited to between 0.4-3.5 years.

Samango monkeys are highly gregarious and aboreal

Samango monkeys are highly gregarious and aboreal

Samangos are seasonal breeders with births peaking in the warm wet season from November to February. After a gestation period of about 140 days females typically give birth to a single young which is nursed for up to 2 years.

Juvenile samango monkey being groomed by its mother.

Juvenile samango monkey being groomed by its mother.

Samango monkeys are diurnal and spend the night high up in the canopy of large trees. They usually have several sleeping trees within their home range which are used on a regular basis. While active at daytime they spend a large proportion of their time feeding and foraging for food. About 50% of their diet consists of fruit, the rest is made up by leaves, flowers, buds, shoots and also insects. When not feeding or foraging samangos engage in a range of social activities such as grooming and playing.

Female samango monkey eating figs of Ficus sur.

Female samango monkey eating figs of Ficus sur.

Their natural predators are leopards, crowned and black eagles and pythons.

 Leopard (Panthera pardus).

Leopard (Panthera pardus).

Crowned eagle (Stephanoaetus coronatus).

Crowned eagle (Stephanoaetus coronatus).

Southern African rock python (Python natalensis).

Southern African rock python (Python natalensis).

Staff

  • Bibi Linden Bibi Linden