The samango monkey is South Africa’s only exclusively forest-dwelling primate. South African forests are highly fragmented and form the country’s smallest biome (ecological community), covering only about 0.1% of the country. Loss and fragmentation of habitat is the greatest threat to primates worldwide and also to samango monkey populations in South Africa.
Samango monkeys play a role as seed dispersers and so contribute to the biodiversity and survival of the forests they inhabit. This project contributes to ongoing research to guide the conservation and management of samango monkeys, specifically in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, and to help us understand better the status of the habitats in which they survive.
There are three sub-species of samango monkey in Africa as a whole. The subspecies Cercopithecus mitis labiatus, the subject of this study, occurs in forested areas of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands and south-westwards to parts of the Eastern Cape. It is endemic (restricted) to this region. Its population has declined by over 30% in the last 27 years and it is classed as an endangered species.
Habitat fragmentation has an influence on diet, social group size, dispersal and the exchange of genes between different population groups. Samango groups that are isolated from other populations because they are unable to move between forest patches, may exhibit a reduction in genetic diversity (inbreeding).
Research by Dr Mike Lawes of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Forest Biodiversity Programme suggests that samango monkeys are not able to disperse from their restricted forest patches and that their future survival as a species is far from certain.
Further research, including the work of this project, is vital for the conservation of samangos and their habitats. A crucial aspect of forest conservation is the maintenance of gene flow across different population groups, requiring corridors that enable both seed dispersers and pollinators to travel between the remaining fragments of forest.
The vervet monkey is much paler in colour than the samango monkey
In southern Africa, a second subspecies of samango monkey, Cercopithecus mitis erythrarchus, occurs from northern KwaZulu-Natal (north of the Umfolozi River) through eastern and northern South Africa to Zimbabwe and Mozambique in a fragmented range in Afromontane or Coastal forests. Samangos are one of the only five wild primates in South Africa, the others being the chacma baboon, the vervet monkey, the greater bushbaby, and the lesser bushbaby.
A samango monkey in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands