Image: McGraw and monkey skin
Jay Laprete  /  AP
Scott McGraw, associate professor of anthropology at Ohio State University, sits in his office with a Miss Waldron's red colobus monkey skin. The skin is one piece of evidence that a population of Miss Waldron's red colobus monkeys is still surviving.
updated 2/6/2004 5:07:18 PM ET 2004-02-06T22:07:18

A species of monkey thought likely to be extinct may still be swinging through the trees in Africa, according to an anthropologist.

The Miss Waldron’s red colobus monkey was declared likely extinct in 2000 by a team that included W. Scott McGraw, an assistant professor of anthropology at Ohio State University. None had been seen since 1978, but McGraw said Wednesday he has evidence the species survives.

Two years ago, McGraw retrieved the skin of a monkey a hunter killed in Ivory Coast that had the markings of the red colobus, he said. The pelt had the species’ typical black hair on its back with reddish fur on its forehead and thighs, along with freshly dried blood.

Recently, he received a photo from an associate in Africa that shows a dead red colobus. McGraw is convinced the photo is genuine, he said.

The monkey grows to a height of about 3 feet (1 meter), with a head that is small for its frame. It eats fruit, seeds and foliage and emits a loud shriek. The species is believed to be named for the companion of its discoverer. There are about 18 species of red colobus.

Expedition planned
The Miss Waldron’s species was the victim of farmers who removed much of the monkeys’ forest habitat and hunters who ate or sold their meat, McGraw said. He has made several trips to Ivory Coast and plans to return to the war-torn nation next summer.

McGraw has heard of sightings by hunters and other locals but has yet to see one himself.

“It’s in the extreme southeast corner of Ivory Coast,” McGraw said. “It is smack dab in the middle of the (colobus’) historical distribution. All the hunters we talk to say the forests are crawling with them. This is the frustrating part.”

Survivors hanging on
John Oates, an anthropology professor at Hunter College in New York City, also was part of the team that declared the species likely to be extinct. He said McGraw’s findings do not surprise him.

“We didn’t dismiss the possibility that a few hung on somewhere,” Oates said. “But no one’s managed to see one jumping around in the trees.”

The researchers’ work in 2000 suggested that the red colobus could have been the first species of primates to disappear in 200 years and warned that other species could soon become extinct unless deforestation and hunting were managed. Ivory Coast forbids hunting, but the ban is not strongly enforced, McGraw said.

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