Geographic Distribution and Habitat
Lowe’s monkeys (Cercopithecus lowei) are native to the Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire) and Ghana. They live in both protected and unprotected areas, with home ranges estimated between 1.5 and 40 hectares (3–98 acres).
Lowe’s monkeys, also called Lowe’s guenons or Lowe’s mona monkeys, are terrestrial and can be found in tropical forest environments like lowland forests, gallery forests, mangroves, and forest-savanna mosaic regions. The monkeys have also been observed in secondary forests, farmland, and farmbush.
The taxonomy of Lowe’s monkey is controversially debated among researchers. In the mid to late 20th century, they were thought to be a subspecies of the Cercopithecus campbelli within the C. mona group, or Campbell’s mona monkey. In the 1990s and early 2000s, researchers then classified the Lowe’s monkey as a full species within the Cercopithecus mona superspecies. A few years later, they were believed to be a distinct subspecies of C. campbelli. Analyses have not been used to test the extent of the species’ differences.
Size, Weight, and Lifespan
Lowe’s monkeys have not been studied as extensively as other primates in Western Africa, but we can learn from related species, like Campbell’s mona monkeys (Cercopithecus campbelli).
Campbell’s mona monkeys grow between 16 and 21 in (32–53 cm) with tail lengths nearly double their body size: 26–35 in (67–90 cm) long. Their average weight ranges from 9 to 11 lbs (4–11 kgs) with females on the lighter side and males on the heavier side. They can live long lives, sometimes up to the age of 30.
Environmental disturbance or environmental pollution originating in human activity.
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Lowe’s monkeys are small primates with long arms, legs, and tails. Their coats are an arrangement of colors, with white at the neck and down to their belly and arms. Their faces are black with white or pink coloring around their mouths. The rest of their coat resembles a gradient of yellow, white, and brown with a black rear.
Lowe’s monkeys are frugivores (fruit-eaters) and folivores (leaf-eaters) with a diverse diet. Monkeys at the Duasidan Monkey Sanctuary in Ghana feed on the seeds, leaves, and buds of 13 types of plant species, as well as invertebrates and anthropogenic food when available. Their diet changes seasonally; during the dry season they eat more buds, and during the wet season they enjoy more fruits.
Lowe’s monkeys forage through both the forests and garbage dumps. They rely on anthropogenic foods—such as livestock, garbage, and domestic fruits—for a considerable amount of their diet. It accounts for 34% of their food source during the wet season, and 41% during the dry season.
Behavior and Lifestyle
Lowe’s monkeys spend most of their time in the lower and middle layers of the forests. They are diurnal (active during daylight hours) and choose to stay close to home rather than migrating seasonally.
Like Campbell’s mona monkeys, Lowe’s monkeys are active and agile. In a study of the monkey’s activity levels, researchers found that Lowe’s monkeys spend the same amount of time traveling during both the wet and dry seasons.
Lowe’s monkeys eat up to 13 different types of plant species. They eat a diet of buds and seeds in the dry season and fruit in the wet season.
Lowe’s monkeys live in small groups and the number of monkeys varies. Researchers observed groups varying from 6 to 16 monkeys in Adiopodoumé, Côte d’Ivoire. In Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary, Ghana, the average group size was 17. Like other mona monkeys, their groups are probably composed of one male and multiple females, although all-male bachelor groups and multi-male and multi-female groups are likely as well.
The monkeys at the Duasidan Monkey Sanctuary in Ghana interact with their human neighbors in their daily lives. The locals leave their garbage, like food scraps, at the edge of the sanctuary, which has become a substantial part of the monkeys’ diets. In the community, humans and Lowe’s monkeys have had a peaceful relationship for over 120 years; hurting or killing a monkey is taboo.
One study found that Lowe’s monkeys spend more time feeding during the dry season than the wet season, and they spend more time resting during the wet season than the dry season.
While research on this primate has not extensively covered communication, Lowe’s monkeys are thought to have similar communication patterns as Campbell’s mona monkeys—a very vocal close relative. Females physically and vocally communicate with other females, and they have a larger range of vocalizations than males.
Males vocalize less than females, but will use calls to warn their group of predators. One of the most striking vocalizations is a low-frequency call followed by high-frequency hacks made by adult males.
Groups of Lowe’s monkeys consist of a single male and multiple females, and they practice a polygynous mating system. Looking at related species, these monkeys likely have a 5 to 6 month gestation period. Babies are weaned at about a year of age, and a mother can reproduce again when her older child is about 2 years old. Sexual maturity occurs anywhere between 2 and 5 years of age, and the generation length is about 12 years. It is unknown what role the male plays in child rearing, but because of the group structure, he likely does not play a significant role in parenting.
Lowe’s monkeys eat seeds and fruit, making them vital to seed dispersal across their habitats. Like their close relative the Campbell’s mona monkey, Lowe’s monkeys are likely prey for leopards (Panthera pardus), crowned hawk-eagles (Stephanoaetus coronatus), and Western chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus).
The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists Lowe’s monkeys as Vulnerable (IUCN, 2019), appearing on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. In the last 27 years (roughly three generations), their population had declined by at least 30% with less than 10,000 mature individuals remaining.
What is the cause for the extreme population decline? The greatest threat to the Lowe’s monkey is from hunting as food for personal consumption and for the bushmeat trade. Their loud vocalizations make them an easy target for hunters. A 2017 market survey indicated that Lowe’s monkeys and West Africa pottos are the two top primate species found in bushmeat markets in Côte d’Ivoire, largely due to loss of other species. The monkeys are also captured as pets.
Lowe’s monkeys are also threatened by forest loss and fragmentation for conversion for agriculture. Other factors include residential and commercial development, energy production, and mining. As their declining home ranges face dire threats, Lowe’s monkeys now survive mainly in protected areas.
Lowe’s monkeys are listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and on Class B of the African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. There is little to no law enforcement against hunting Lowe’s monkeys, even in protected areas. However, populations have remained stable in several well-protected areas and sanctuaries in Western Africa. Surveys have shown that conservations efforts have been effective in Kakum National Park in Ghana.
Written by Maria DICesare, June 2022