Magnificent Mandrills

If you thought that monkeys only came in neutral shades like black and brown, think again. The mandrill, a type of monkey native to Africa, boasts brilliantly colored streaks of red, blue, yellow and other bold shades. It’s not only the most colorful monkey; it’s one of the most colorful mammals anywhere in the world.

Where They Live

Mandrills are rainforest dwellers. They’re found only in equatorial Africa, with their typical range located between the Sanaga River and the Congo River. They generally live on the ground, hunting for seeds, fruits, insects and small animals to eat. However, mandrills are also good tree climbers and will usually select a new tree each night when it’s time for sleep. They might take snacks with them to bed though — mandrills have cheek pouches they can use for storing food for later.

The Scoop on Mandrill Troops

Like other primates, mandrills live in social groups called troops. They’re known to be elusive and shy, seldom interacting with others outside their troop. However, they don’t get too lonely. Their troops can grow quite large since they’re usually headed by a dominant male and include several females and their offspring. A troop of at least a dozen is common, but troops also sometimes travel together to form mega-troops with hundreds of mandrills in them. As you can imagine, groups this large tend to be pretty noisy, since mandrills communicate with a variety of grunts, screams, and roars while they’re out hunting and traveling. Mandrills also have very large canine teeth, which they display as a form of communication and also for self-defense. When they show these impressive teeth, it might look a little scary to a person, but that is typically a friendly gesture to another mandrill.

Life of a Mandrill

In addition to being the most vibrantly colored monkey, mandrills are also the largest monkey species. They boast extremely long and muscular arms that help them move around on the ground. By the time they’re nine years old, adult males can be 3-feet long and weigh up to 77 pounds. That’s when the colorful markings on and around their faces and rumps will appear. Check out some shots of their amazing colors in this video:

When it comes to mandrill mating, the more colorful a male is, the more appealing the females will find him. Since the top males in a troop sire almost all of the offspring, a mandrill’s coloration can be very important. Streaks of vibrant crimson, violet, and gold on the face and buttocks are not uncommon in the most colorful males. Females, however, are smaller, usually only weighing around 29 pounds, and don’t typically develop the bold colors that the males do. However, females choose which males to socialize and breed with, giving them some control over the dynamics of the troop.

Female mandrills usually give birth to only one baby at a time. Baby mandrills hang on tightly to mom as she forages in the forest or climbs up to the treetops. Mandrill moms are patient, caring for their offspring until her next mandrill baby is born.

Mandrills in Pop Culture

A mandrill is featured in one of the most beloved films of all time — Disney’s The Lion King. The shaman Rafiki, who helps Simba fulfill his destiny, is a mandrill, though he is mistakenly identified in the film as a baboon. A baby mandrill named after the character was born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom park in 2011.

Mandrills Are Vulnerable

Unfortunately, mandrills are considered a vulnerable species. Their range in Africa is becoming more limited over time as rainforest is torn down to accommodate spreading farmland and cities. In addition, mandrills are often hunted for bushmeat. Some Africans consider mandrill meat to be a delicacy. Though there are some protected areas where mandrills can thrive, many agree that a more comprehensive conservation policy is needed.