14 Unique Monkeys you Cannot Miss in Colombia

Colombia is one of the countries with the largest diversity of monkeys. It is ranked as the sixth country in the world, and the third in the region after Brazil and Peru. Such diversity is associated to Colombia’s geographic location and topography.

Colombian primate species, aka Colombian monkeys,  are a good example of Neotropical monkeys, since we have representatives of the three families recognized for the American continent: Cebidae, Pithecidae and Atelidae. The department with the largest number of species is Cauca, since it includes Andean, Chocó and Amazonian Piedemont areas, each of these regions usually has some particular species.

Below you will know and discover some of the most unique monkeys that you can find in Colombia.

Discovering the endemic monkeys of Colombia

Brumback’s night monkey – Aotus brumbacki

Brumback’s Night Monkey – Aotus brumbacki

Where to find it: Arauca, Boyacá, Casanare, Cundinamarca, Meta, Vichada

Conservation status: Vulnerable

Habitat: inhabits at low altitudes in Colombian Eastern Plains, usually in dense forest, fragmented forest, gallery forest and riparian forest.

It is also found in a small part of Apure State, Venezuela. Its western range extends from the foothills of the Eastern Cordillera between the Arauca River to the north and the Guaviare River to the south.

They are nocturnal animals, being mainly active on full moon nights. During the day they take refuge mainly in tree hollows to rest. They are monogamous and congregate in groups of 3 to 5 individuals.

Hernández-Camacho’s night monkey – Aotus jorgehernandezi

Where to find it:  Habitat: Quindio and Risaralda, it is possible that it occurs in Tatamá Natural National Park.

Conservation status: Data deficient.

Habitat: dense forest, fragmented forest, gallery and riparian forest and secondary or transitional vegetation.

It is a nocturnal species, first described in 2007 by Thomas Defler and Marta Bueno, two of the most important primatologists of Colombia.

This monkey has a gray neck and a white spot over each eye, separated by a black band. The skin on the chest, belly, lower arms and lower wrists is thick and black.

Gray-handed night monkey – Aotus griseimembra

Where to find it:  Sinú River, including the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and the Magdalena River, Cauca River and Sao Jorge River valleys. It can be found in the border with Venezuela near to Maracaibo.

Conservation status: Vulnerable.

Habitat: tropical dry forest. It is arboreal and nocturnal.

This little monkey eats fruits, flowers, leaves, nectar, and insects. A curious fact of this monkey is that it is monogamous, and communicates visually. Also, male and female are identical. The Gray-handed night monkey is an important dispersor of seeds and are also potential pollinators for trees, and it is used by scientists as a model because it is resistant to VIH-1.

The hair on the back of the hands and feet is the color of light coffee with darker hair tips, a key distinguishing feature from other A. lemurinus subspecies.

Varied white-fronted capuchin – Cebus versicolor

Where to find it:  Middle and high Magdalena Valley.

Habitat: Lowland moist forest and palm swamps in the Río Magdalena Valley of northern Colombia

Conservation status: Endangered.

It was classified as a subspecies of the white-fronted capuchin (C. albifrons) but genetic analysis revealed it to be a separate species.

Santa Marta white-fronted capuchin – Cebus malitiousus

Where to find it:  Magdalena

Conservation status: Endangered

Habitat: The habitat where this species can be seen is in Mosaic of crops with natural spaces Gallery and riparian forest.

This primate is a medium-sized monkey, is characterized by a color that is rather dark brown over almost the entire body with yellowish shoulders.

It is omnivorous, feeding mainly on fruits, invertebrates, other plant parts and sometimes small vertebrates.

Colombian black-handed titi – Cheracebus medemi

Where to find it:  Putumayo and Caquetá.

Conservation status: Vulnerable.

Habitat: Inhabits tropical rainforest in southern Colombia, and this is one of the species most affected by climate change. They live in family groups and are monogamous.

The Colombian black-handed titi is territorial, and vocalizes loudly when couples from other groups enter their own territory.

Their diet consists mainly of fruits. To a lesser degree they also eat other parts of plants and insects.

Ornate titi – Plecturocebus ornatus

Where to find it:  Caquetá.

Conservation status: Critically endangered.

Habitat: This species can be seen in the following habitats: Dense forest, fragmented forest Secondary or transitional vegetation Mosaic of crops, pastures and natural spaces Gallery and riparian forest.

It is a miniature monkey with a graceful red beard, discovered in the Colombian jungle. Its fur is grayish-brown, it does not have a white band on its forehead and is the size of an average domestic cat.

They have one offspring per year and, when the offspring arrive, the parents usually force the eldest of the offspring to leave the group, to concentrate their attention on the newborn. Family groups of this species stay together in groups of up to four individuals.

Caqueta Tití – Plecturocebus caquetensis

The Caquetá Titi Monkey (Plecturocebus caquetensis) (Illustration: Stephen D. Nash)

Where to find it:  Caquetá.

Conservation status: Critically endangered.

Habitat: It usually inhabits the humid forests between the Caquetá and Orteguaza rivers, in the northwestern Amazon, southern Colombia.

Its body measures between 35 cm in length and its tail 61 cm, weighs between 800 and 1400 g. Their body fur is abundant and reddish on the neck; the end of the tail is black with white tips.

They are monogamous and form small groups of 3 to 6 and preferably 4 individuals.

White-footed tamarin – Saguinus leucopus 

Where to find it:  Confined to restricted forest patches in the Magdalena River valley towards the center and north of Colombia, particularly in the departments of Antioquia, Bolívar and Tolima; between 0 to 1600 m.a.s.l.

Conservation status: Vulnerable

Habitat: This primate is found in dry tropical, humid tropical, very humid tropical and very humid premontane forest (under the Holdridge scheme). This species uses different types of habitat: primary forest and secondary forest with several years of regeneration, preferably using primary forest.

The White-footed tamarin is very similar in appearance to the cotton-top tamarin, from which it is separated by the Atrato. Its average weight is 440 grams. These primates are diurnal and arboreal, active and agile. They move constantly and quickly between trees, and can jump up to four meters between them.

The back is pale silvery brown, or yellowish white variegated with brown. The face is almost naked with some thin white hairs. The forehead is whitish, as well as the area from the crown of the head to the ears.

Groups range in size from 2 to 15 individuals.

Cotton-top tamarin – Saguinus oedipus

Cotton-top tamarin – Saguinus oedipus

Where to find it: Atlántico, Bolivar, Sucre, Córdoba, Antioquia.

Conservation status: Critically endangered.

Habitat: Found only in the northern region of Colombia in tropical dry forests.

Squirrel-sized, they also have white chests and bellies, while their backs and tails are covered with long black and brown fur. They have claw-like nails, which are essential for jumping from one tree to another.

They feed through the middle layer of the canopy in search of the fruits and insects that make up much of their diet. The Cotton-top tamarin form social family groups that include breeding parents, their adult offspring and even unrelated adults that have migrated into the group.

Interesting Endemic subspecies

Colombian woolly monkey – Lagothrix lagothricha lugens

Where to find it:  Amazonia and Orinoquia Regions.

Conservation status: Critically endangered

Habitat: it can be found in dense forest, fragmented forest and open forest.

It is a large species among the New World monkeys. The body length ranges between 45 and 55 cm, the tail is longer than the body and measures between 60 and 65 cm; the average weight is between 7 to 10 kg, larger males can have a muscular body, with well-developed arms and tails. They are obligate frugivores, completing their diet with immature leaves, their main function in the forest is the dispersion of seeds.

They usually live in groups of 20 to 24 individuals, for their rest periods they look for tall trees to sleep 25 to 30 meters high.

Hernández-Camacho’s Black-mantled Tamarin – Leontocebus nigricollis hernandezi

Where to find it: Amazonas, Caquetá, Cauca, Cauca, Huila, Meta, Nariño, Putumayo

Conservation status: Least concern

Habitat: Found in a wide variety of habitats: secondary vegetation, isolated patches of forest, seasonally flooded forest and inland non-flooded forest up to an altitude of approximately 500 meters above sea level.

Head-body length ranges from 175 to 270 mm, while its tail reaches 250 to 383 mm; it weighs between 338 and 436 g. Females are slightly heavier than females. Females are slightly heavier than males. Their diet is based on insects and fruits.

Colombian squirrel monkey – Saimiri cassiquiarensis albigena

Where to find it:  Amazonia and Upper Orinoco

Conservation status: Least concern

Habitat: It is one of the best known monkeys in Colombia due to its wide distribution, its adaptability to highly disturbed or urban environments.

The body with the head reaches 25 to 37 cm in length in the male and up to 34 cm in the female; the tail is 38 to 45 cm long in the male and up to 43 cm in the female; it weighs between 550 and 1,200 gr.

Their diet is based on insects and ripe fruits, so they spend most of the day moving among the branches in search of food, they are social and arboreal animals, and rarely travel on the ground. Females give birth to 1 or 2 young after a gestation period, which lasts between 150 to 170 days.

Varied Capuchin – Cebus versicolor cesarea

Where to find it:  Cesar, Magdalena, Bolivar, Santander, Boyacá, Caldas, and Cundinamarca.

Conservation status: Critically endangered.

Habitat: it inhabits mosaics of crops with natural spaces, gallery and riparian forest, and dense forest. It is an arboreal and diurnal animal, however, they come down to the ground more often than most New World monkeys.

They feed on many types of food including fruits, plant material, invertebrates and in some cases small vertebrates. They are medium-sized animals weighing between 1.5Kg and 4Kg, with an average adult length between 33.5cm and 45.3cm (excluding the tail), with the male being about 27% larger than the female.

What Can be Done to Conserve Primates in Colombia?

Half of Colombia’s primates are at some level of threat to their survival and little effort is being invested to protect them. This situation is serious, considering the decisions that need to be made for the future of primates, which are an extremely important part of Colombia’s forest ecosystems.

The Atlas of primate biodiversity published by the Humboldt Institute tells us that the loss of the distribution area of endemic primates is a recurrent pattern in the country, some of them have lost between 8 and 68% of their potential and natural distribution.

Avoiding the destruction of forests and minimizing hunting are the main actions that can help their conservation. It is also important to monitor populations and carry out forest restoration projects, generate biological corridors and protect habitat in the most important areas for their populations.

Recently, researchers from the University of Caldas confirmed the presence of a nocturnal monkey in the department of Nariño, which could be a new species. Also in the south of Meta there is a species of marmoset that has a similar appearance to Plecterocebus caquetensis… This means that perhaps in Colombia there are still monkey species to be discovered!.

Nature tourism is also a help since it serves as a tool for the education of human populations around the habitats of these species, which they begin to learn about and care for. Learn about Conocer para Conservar initiative in the Primatology Association of Colombia website.

If you want to see monkeys in Colombia, contact us and we will help you plan the best trip!

  • http://www.humboldt.org.co/
  • https://www.asoprimatologicacolombiana.org/
  • https://www.itis.gov/
About the authors

Sara Colmenares

The current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism-environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services, and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.

Luisa Martin

Engineer, world traveler, amateur photographer, traveling blogger, and foody.