Pair of baby colobus monkeys join Gladys Porter Zoo collection

A colobus baby monkey holds on to an adult colobus monkey at Gladys Porter Zoo Thursday. (Miguel Roberts | The Brownsville Herald)

There’s a little more monkeying around at Gladys Porter Zoo this holiday season.

It became home to two baby colobus monkeys this fall, with one born Oct. 3 and the other Nov. 9. They are on display in the Small World area of the zoo, where an outdoor expansion of their enclosure is underway.

Colobus monkeys are native to Central and East Africa and are considered a threatened species because they are hunted for meat and for their pelts, the zoo’s Mammals Curator Walter DuPree said. He explained Gladys Porter Zoo is part of conservation efforts to increase the colobus monkey population and eventually release some back into the wild with strong genetic diversity.

“Like all the animals, their habitats are shrinking … so there is pressure on the population,” he said.

Baby colobus monkeys are born completely white and develop their striking white-tipped black fur after about six months.  

Cindy Stones, the Small World associate curator, said that in addition to the babies, there are five adult colobus monkeys on display and three adult colobus monkeys not on display. The zoo is looking for new homes for those three males, DuPree explained, because the dominant male doesn’t accept them and because they are needed to spread genetic diversity elsewhere.

Small World alone has 18 species of animals, Stones said, so people can see plenty even if they can’t travel far.

“Small World, people look at this as just a place to pet goats, but it’s a wonderful education area. We do want people to understand that,” DuPree said. “As we grow the area, as we try to rebuild Small World, we’ll try to make it bigger and better with more opportunities and things to do.”

When the exhibit expansion is completed in 2019, the colobus monkeys will be able to travel between their indoor area and the outdoor enclosure via a sky walk. DuPree said the expansion will also include a heater so the monkeys can stay outside even in rainy or cold weather.

“They’ll probably have twice the area, and it’ll definitely be like sitting outside,” Stones said. “Their whole view of the world will change.”

“It’ll enrich their lives and give them more mental stimulation,” DuPree added.

While colobus monkeys are not yet at the stage of being released back into the wild, DuPree said conservation efforts work. One example is the release of 100 scimitar-horned oryx, antelope-like species, into Chad after they had nearly been hunted to extinction.

“What saved them was zoos and private individuals,” he said.