Sooty mangabey

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This sheet covers the “sooty mangabey” (C. a. atys) and the “white-naped mangabey” (C. a. lunulatus)


Suborder: Haplorrhini
Infraorder: Simiiformes
Superfamily: Cercopithecoidea
Family: Cercopithecidae
Subfamily: Cercopithecinae
Genus: Cercocebus
Species: C. atys
Subspecies: C. a. atys, C. a. lunulatus

Other names: sooty mangabey, white-crowned mangabey, kalalu; C. a. lunulatus: white-collared mangabey, white-naped mangabey.

Conservation status: please search the IUCN Red List.

Life span: 18 years
Total population: Unknown
Regions: Coastal West Africa
Gestation: 167 days
Height: n/a
Weight: 10.2 kg (M), 5.5 kg (F)

Some researchers subsume C. atys under C. torquatus as a subspecies but due to consistent differences and a geographic separation between C. torquatus and C. atys populations, C. atys is elevated to its own species, with the white-naped mangabey (C. a. lunulatus) as a subspecies (Booth 1956; Groves 2001; 2005). In this factsheet, unless otherwise specified, “sooty mangabey” refers to members of the species C. atys.


The sooty mangabey is characterized by, and gains its name, from its pelage color, which ranges from gray to brown-gray (Groves 2001). The color is somewhat lighter on the ventral surfaces, sometimes almost appearing light blue, and is darker on the extremities. The face is grayish-pink with a darker muzzle and ears. (Groves 2001; WS McGraw pers. comm.). The long cheek whiskers are lighter than the body (Groves 2001). The subspecies C. a. lunulatus has gray-brown pelage with a white ventral area including inner limbs and the back of its head is white (Mittermeier et al. 2006). There is a high level of sexual dimorphism between males and females (McGraw 1996). Female sooty mangabeys average 5.5 kg (12.13 lb) and males average 10.2 kg (22.49 lb) (Harvey & Clutton-Brock 1985). The sooty mangabey is somewhat less sexually dimorphic than Cercocebus torquatus (Groves 2001). Maximum longevity of the sooty mangabey is 18 years (Harvey & Clutton-Brock 1985).

The species is best described as being primarily terrestrial (McGraw 1996; 2007a). The vast majority of sooty mangabey movement is quadrupedal, with over 80% of locomotion being of this type (McGraw 1998). In addition, over 75% of the sooty mangabey’s movement occurs terrestrially and the remainder is mostly restricted to lower levels of forest strata (McGraw 1998; 2007a). Climbing and leaping by the sooty mangabey occurs primarily in the understory, shrub layer and on the ground (McGraw 1998). During rest periods, the sooty mangabey prefers to seek out something to sit on, including fallen branches or other items resting on the forest floor, rather than sitting directly on the ground (McGraw 1996).


Cercocebus atys

The sooty mangabey is found on the west coast of Africa from Senegal to Ghana and in every coastal country between, including Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, and Sierra Leone (Struhsaker 1971; Groves 2001; Galat & Galat-Luong 2006). Other researchers place the range in the rainforests between Guinea and the Sassandra River in the Côte d’Ivoire (Rödel et al. 2002). Between the two subspecies, the sooty mangabey (C. a. atys) is found west of the Nzo-Sassandra river while the white-naped mangabey (C. a. lunulatus) is found east of the river (Booth 1956). C. a. lunulatus is found only east between the Sassandra River in the Côte d’Ivoire and the Volta River in neighboring Ghana (Mittermeier 2006).

One of the few wild study sites of the sooty mangabey is the Taï National Park in the Côte d’Ivoire. This national park is the largest and one of the last remaining primary forests in West Africa (Range & Noë 2002). Research has been undertaken at the Taï National Park by Friederike Range, Ronald Noë, and Scott McGraw (McGraw et al. 2007). In 1968 a captive group of 27 sooty mangabeys was established at the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center in Atlanta, Georgia where it has expanded and remains under study (Bernstein 1971; Gust & Gordon 1991b).


The main habitat of the sooty mangabey is the West African high forest (Range & Noë 2002). In the Côte d’Ivoire at the Taï National Park, the sooty mangabey habitat is tropical moist evergreen rainforest (McGraw 1998; Range & Noë 2002; McGraw et al. 2007). At this location the average temperature is 24°C (75.2°F) with a pair of dry seasons, one from July to August and another between November and February (McGraw 1998). The heaviest rainfall totals for the year occur in September and October (Rödel et al. 2002). Average rainfall at this study site is 1,875 mm (73.82 in) (Range & Noë 2002). Other habitats of the sooty mangabey are gallery forest and the deciduous Bissine forest which is dry with a canopy at 15m (49.31 ft) and an open understory (Struhsaker 1971; Galat & Galat-Luong 2006). The sooty mangabey is capable of living in both old growth forest and secondary forest and will choose either if available (Fimbel 1994). In addition, farmland is often utilized and inhabited by the sooty mangabey. In Ghana, the species is most often found in areas with Rhaphia palm swamps and rice farms (Booth 1979).


Sooty mangabeys do most of their moving and foraging on the ground in the forest (McGraw 1998; Rödel et al. 2002). The staples of their diet include fruits, seeds and invertebrates, with seeds making up 68% of the diet and invertebrates making up 26% (Bergmüller 1998 cited in Rödel et al. 2002; McGraw & Zuberbuhler 2007). Other observations of the species place plants as a far higher proportion of what is eaten at 98.7% and animal foods at only 1.3%. Of the 98.7% plant foods, the vast majority were fruits with small minorities of leaves, flowers and miscellaneous plant parts. (Booth 1979; Galat & Galat-Luong 1985). Sooty mangabeys are also regular eaters of frog-spawn from arboreal clutches surrounding ponds. They know where to look for these clutches of frog eggs and actively seek them out as a food source (Rödel et al. 2002).

Daily, the diurnal sooty mangabey will divide its activities between feeding, resting, social activities, traveling and foraging. Of its daily activity budget, feeding takes up 38.8%, rest 18.5%, social activities 7.9%, travel 10.3%, and foraging 24.5% (McGraw 1998). Sooty mangabey home range is estimated at 4 to 6 km² (1.54-2.32 mi²) but can be as large as 6.5 km² (2.5 mi²) (Galat & Galat-Luong 1985; McGraw unpubl. data cited in McGraw & Bshary 2002; McGraw & Zuberbuhler 2007). Home ranges of sooty mangabey groups are known to overlap extensively in the wild and intergroup encounters are typified by avoidance, ignorance, or aggressive interactions (Range 2005).

The day range of the sooty mangabey is large (McGraw 1996). In captivity, patterns of daily activities emerge and are as follows. In the early morning, sooty mangabeys are very active, displaying, traveling and sexually presenting. Social contact is not prevalent at this time of day. In the late morning and early afternoon traveling decreases and social contact, grooming and play are primary activities. By the late afternoon, feeding behavior and play are prevalent with traveling increasing toward the sunset hours (Bernstein 1976).

Potential predators of the sooty mangabey in the Taï National Park are leopards, crowned hawk eagles, chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and humans (Zuberbühler et al. 1997; Range & Fischer 2004; McGraw et al. 2006; Shultz et al. 2004; Shultz & Thomsett 2007). Gaboon vipers as well as leopards and eagles elicit distinct alarm calls from the sooty mangabey (Zuberbühler et al. 1999; Range & Fischer 2004). Red colobus (Piliocolobus sp.) and Diana monkeys (Cercopithecus diana) living in the same habitat as sooty mangabeys will expand their feeding niche when sooty mangabeys are present. This is presumably due to the ability of terrestrial sooty mangabeys to identify potential predators and undoubtedly this reduces the threat from ground predators to the other two species (McGraw & Bshary 2002).

The sooty mangabey often lives in the same habitat of a number of other primate species, although individual niches within the same habitat are often different. In the Taï Forest in the Côte d’Ivoire, sooty mangabeys are found with western black and white colobus monkeys (Colobus polykomos), red colobus (Piliocolobus sp.), olive colobus (Procolobus verus), Diana monkeys (Cercopithecus diana), Campbell’s guenon (Cercopithecus campbelli) as well as other primates (McGraw 1998; Refisch & Koné 2005a; McGraw & Zuberbuhler 2007).


The sooty mangabey is used in biomedical AIDS research and is a natural host of the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), the disease from which the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is derived. Because it is a natural host, if infected with the virus, the sooty mangabey does not get sick and is studied in the hope that the means by which it remains healthy might be discovered and help treat or prevent the disease in humans (Silvestri 2005). In addition, sooty mangabeys are the only species in which naturally occurring leprosy has probably been transmitted from one monkey to another (Gormus et al. 1988). There is also evidence for spatial memory among the species, with individuals remembering which fruit trees which they had previously visited and whether or not the trees were more likely to carry fruit than others (Janmaat et al. 2006).

Content last modified: December 2, 2008

Written by Kurt Gron. Reviewed by W. Scott McGraw.

Cite this page as:
Gron KJ. 2008 December 2. Primate Factsheets: Sooty mangabey (Cercocebus atys) Taxonomy, Morphology, & Ecology . <>. Accessed 2020 July 9.


The sooty mangabey social organization is characterized by large groups which are multimale/multifemale (Bergmüller et al., unpublished results cited in Range & Noë 2002; Range & Fischer 2004). These large groups can contain from around 100 to as many as 120 individuals in the wild but can be somewhat smaller having been observed in a different study to range from 20-48 individuals (Galat & Galat-Luong 1985; McGraw & Bshary 2002; Range & Noë 2005).

Sooty Mangabey group
Cercocebus atys

There are two categories of males within a sooty mangabey group. Some males are full-time residents of the group while others are more transient, alternating between several weeks of residence within the group and several weeks of absence (Range et al., in press cited in Range 2005). Males disperse from their natal group while females tend to stay in the same place (Range 2006). Among males, there is a linear dominance hierarchy which provides the alpha male with preferential breeding opportunities but not one which completely precludes sneak copulations (unpublished data cited in Range 2005).

Within wild sooty mangabey groups there is a stable linear dominance hierarchy of females (Range & Noë 2002; Range 2006). Evidence hints that this hierarchy affects a female’s food intake, with higher-ranking individuals foraging more efficiently as they are centrally placed in the group and do not need to be as aware of predators as those on the periphery (Range & Noë 2002). In captivity, the dominance hierarchy of the sooty mangabey is not matrilineal or kin-based. Starting at 1.5 to 2 years of age, infants approximate their mother’s rank until an age of 3 years, although remaining slightly below them in rank until that point (Gust & Gordon 1994; Gust 1995a; Range & Noë 2005). Starting at three years old, young sooty mangabeys exhibit a drive to move up in the dominance rankings and start to do so (Gust 1995b). Also at this time, the rank of the infants of both sexes surpasses their mothers’ and by five to six years of age, males outrank all of the females (Gust & Gordon 1994; Gust 1995a). Wild juvenile females show some stability with respect to the ranking of their mothers while males do so initially, but over time this correlation declines (Range 2006). Female rank does not depend on age or size of an individual and there is no correlation between the ranks of sisters (Gust & Gordon 1994; Stahl & Kaumanns 1999). However, in wild populations, adult females show affiliation with those similar to them in rank (Range 2006). Captive adult females do not often interact with immature individuals, preferring to interact instead with adults of both sexes (Ehardt 1988). In addition, there is some inconclusive evidence that older individuals are preferentially groomed by the other sooty mangabeys in the group (Ehardt 1988). There is also evidence that allogrooming in captivity serves both hygienic purposes as well as other purposes which may include tactile communication (Pèrez & Veà Beró 1999).

In captivity, there are four ways that juvenile sooty mangabeys move up the dominance hierarchy and they do so without the assistance of relatives from the same matriline. Hierarchical mobility occurs by directly confronting higher-ranking individuals, joining an aggressor against a higher-ranking individual, challenging a higher-ranking individual and enlisting the help of another high-ranking individual, or challenging a higher-ranking mangabey and enlisting the support of an adult male to help in the challenge (Gust 1995a). Outsiders to a conflict are more likely to assist one side when they outrank both of the other mangabeys involved (Range & Noë 2005).

Aggression between sooty mangabeys is typically not severe and normally does not result in serious injury, although rare wounding and even death has been known to occur (Gust 1995a). In captivity, submissive behavior is most often signaled by avoidance (Bernstein et al. 1983). In addition, captive males were observed to almost never be the target of aggression from other group members (Bernstein et al. 1983). Post-aggression behavior is typified by a victim approaching an aggressor and presenting its hindquarters, soothing the aggressor (Gust & Gordon 1993).


The female sooty mangabey sexual cycles are characterized by swellings of the sex skin synchronized with ovulation. During this swelling, the anogenital region of the female will be bright pink and swell, attracting males (Gust 1995b). In captivity, perineal swelling starts at an average age of 36.4 months (3 years) of age and the first births usually occur when the mother is around 56.5 months (4.7 years) of age (Gust et al. 1990). As first perineal swellings start at around 36 months (3 years) and first conceptions occur at 51 months (4.3 years) of age, a period of sterility likely exists after the onset of sexual swelling but the reasons for such a period remain unexplained (Gust et al. 1990). Swelling of the sexual skin typically lasts under two weeks with maximum swelling around two weeks prior to menstruation (Stevenson 1973). The reproductive status of females is influenced by the seasons with captive females showing more conceptions between October and March than in the rest of the year (Gust et al. 1990). In the wild, sooty mangabeys have a discrete and distinct mating season (Range & Fischer 2004).

Sooty Mangabey
Cercocebus atys

Captive female sooty mangabeys show postconception perineal swelling which peaks 49 days after conception and is quite consistent in duration and timing between individuals. This sexual swelling is indistinguishable from normal fertile swelling associated with ovulation and occurs near the end of the first trimester of pregnancy (Gordon et al. 1991; Gust 1994b). During this post-conception swelling, group males will mount and attempt to copulate with the female. The alpha male however, will not. Through some mechanism, the alpha male is able to differentiate between fertile and non-fertile post-conception swelling and will not mount a pregnant female regardless of post-conception swelling (Gust 1994b).

An idiosyncratic aspect of captive male sooty mangabey development is the early onset of sexual behavior. Between one and four years of age, males exhibit mounting behavior and will start non-functionally mounting at a rate much higher than mature males, around three times as often. In addition, mounting behavior at this early age is usually directed at mature females, not females similar in age to the young males (Gust & Gordon 1991b). Mounting behavior has started as early as 9 months old and is extremely early for sexual behavior in a primate (Gust & Gordon 1991b). The earliest recorded captive age at which a male successfully impregnated a female counterpart is 3 years and 8 months of age but sexual maturity usually arrives later at around 7 years (Gust & Gordon 1991b; Gust et al. 1998). By the time that males reach reproductive maturity, the frequency of mounting behavior and copulation decreases from the rates seen in adolescents (Gust & Gordon 1991b).

The copulation posture of the captive sooty mangabey consists of a male holding onto the female by the ankles and hips with the female in some instances looking back toward the male (Gust & Gordon 1991b). After copulation, the female will quickly move away from the male and continue vocalizations which started during copulation or immediately after (unpubl. observ. cited in Gust 1994a). In the wild, copulation vocalizations are uttered during intercourse by females but not by males (Range & Fischer 2004). Copulation vocalizations are also occasionally uttered by females in non-copulation contexts such as during defecation and in the absence of males although the meaning of this behavior is not understood (unpubl. observ. cited in Gust 1994a; Range & Fischer 2004). More than one mount by a male is common before ejaculation occurs. Over half of mounts by adult males in a group are performed by the alpha male of the group (Gust & Gordon 1991b).

In the wild, the alpha male attempts to monopolize sexual partners but sneak copulations are common (Range 2005). Group encounters with non-resident males as well as solitary non-group males are common in the wild, and these encounters sometimes result in copulations with receptive females (Range 2005). It appears nevertheless, that the dominant male has the best opportunities to reproduce and rank can be an indicator of potential reproductive success (Gust et al. 1998; Benneton & Noë 2004). Mates change in captivity however, as female offspring from year to year are not typically sired by only one single male (Gust et al. 1998). Contrary to this, consistent preference for a specific sexual partner has been seen in captive populations (Bernstein 1976).

Gestation in the captive sooty mangabey averages 167 days (5.5 months) with over 83% of infants surving past 30 days (Gust et al. 1990; Gordon et al. 1991). The interbirth interval in sooty mangabey females averages 16.6 months (1.4 years) (Gust et al. 1990).


All of the information on parental care and infant development in sooty mangabeys comes from captive animals. The developmental data comes from a single mother-infant pair of the white-naped mangabey (C. a. lunulatus), which is now generally considered to be a subspecies of C. atys. The other data are from captive C. atys elsewhere.

Mother, infant, and juvenile Sooty mangabey enbracing
Cercocebus atys

In C. a. lunulatus, at about two weeks of age, some infants start eating solid fruit. From around four to six weeks of age, a common carrying posture is the infant clinging ventrally to its mother. Also during this period, the mother will groom her offspring’s back while nursing and by the fifth week, grooming extends to the infant’s hands and feet. Also between four and six weeks of age, infants start playing and starts grasping and mouthing and by six weeks of age, the infant will leave its mother’s arms for the first time, but remaining quite close to its mother. Between six and fourteen weeks of age, exploration of the infant’s immediate surroundings starts, but remains confined to an area quite close to its mother. Movement during this time also becomes more independent and includes running, walking and jumping. However, when high branch movement or troop movement is required, the infant will still cling to its mother ventrally. Social play starts at 16 weeks old and in the 18th week, a mother starts refusing its infant’s attempts to nurse. The father of the infant does not interact with his offspring and its mother actively discourages any such interaction (Schlee & Labejof 1994).

Captive male sooty mangabeys carry infants in certain circumstances, particularly when deposed alpha males carry infants in the presence of the new alpha male. This behavior is likely to protect the infant from aggression (Busse & Gordon 1984). Attacks on infants and infanticide by newly ascended alpha males are known, with some attacks even proving fatal for the infant (Busse & Gordon 1983). The reason for such attacks is consistent with male behavior aimed at increasing his chances of passing his genes by killing the offspring of a female and subsequently mating with that female (Busse & Gordon 1983).

Captive female sooty mangabeys groom the eyelid region of their infants with carefully selected stones. However, the purpose of this grooming has not yet been ascertained (Kyes 1988). Also in captivity, 1.3% of infants are neglected by their mothers and 5.8% are physically abused (Maestripieri et al. 1997).


The wild sooty mangabey emits 19 different vocalizations. The most common vocalization is the “grunt,” which is uttered in many different contexts by both sexes including while foraging, during social interactions and in dominance relations. Males often “grunt” several times in a row while females vary in the spacing of their “grunts.” “Twitters” are uttered in similar contexts to “grunts” but mostly in foraging contexts and only by adult females and both sexes of juveniles. “Screams” are uttered in contexts of conflict by adult females and juveniles but only rarely by adult males. Other agonistic calls include the “growl,” the “grumble,” the “hoo,” the “intense threat,” and the “wau” (Range & Fischer 2004). Copulatory calls are given by females during copulation and immediately afterward but males do not utter specific copulation calls (unpubl. observ. cited in Gust 1994a; Range & Fischer 2004). Only adult males emit “whoop gobbles,” usually in contexts involving contact with other sooty mangabey groups or predators (Range & Fischer 2004). Alarm calls are given in the presence of predators and are responded to by other group members climbing into trees and scanning for the predator (Range & Fischer 2004).

Sooty mangabeys observe one another and follow the gaze of others. In a captive study, sooty mangabeys would recognize where a conspecific was looking and would redirect their gaze in the same direction (Tomasello et al. 1998).

Content last modified: December 2, 2008

Written by Kurt Gron. Reviewed by W. Scott McGraw.

Cite this page as:
Gron KJ. 2008 December 2. Primate Factsheets: Sooty mangabey (Cercocebus atys) Behavior . <>. Accessed 2020 July 9.


For individual primate species conservation status, please search the IUCN Red List.
Also search the current scientific literature for primate conservation status (overall as well as for individual species), and visit CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

Conservation information last updated in 2008 follows, for comparison:

Sooty Mangabey with impressive beard
Cercocefus atys

The IUCN Primate Specialist Group lists the white-naped mangabey (C.a.lunulatus) as one of the world’s 25 most endangered primates for the years 2004-2006 (Mittermeier et al. 2006). In general, C. a. lunulatus is in far worse shape than C. a. atys. In eastern Ivory Coast and western Ghana, it has been almost completely eliminated (WS McGraw pers. comm.).


Threat: Human-Induced Habitat Loss and Degradation

Habitat destruction and hunting are the two most profound threats to the survival of the sooty mangabey (McGraw 2007b). Deforestation continues rapidly in many cases, averaging a decline between 1990 and 2000 at a yearly rate of between .2% and 3.1% of the total forest in the nations in which the sooty mangabey is found. This deforestation is especially bad in Serra Leone and the Côte d’Ivoire, which both averaged around a 3% yearly decline in forest cover (FAO 2001).

Threat: Harvesting (hunting/gathering)

In a study of primate hunting in and around the Taï National Park, the current hunting harvest rate of sooty mangabeys is more than three times that which would allow the species to reproductively sustain itself (Refisch & Koné 2005a). For example, in 1999 the primate bushmeat cull from the Taï area was around a quarter of a million kilograms, mostly taken by professional hunters (Refisch & Koné 2005b). In recent years, the area has seen a rise in hunting due to four factors; an increase in the demand for wild meat, large scale commercial hunting increasing as a viable income source, hunting technology improved resulting in more efficient hunting, and finally, human immigration to the area has diluted former taboos against hunting primates in the region (Refisch & Koné 2005a). Also, due to a lack of domestic animals, often bushmeat is the only source of animal protein in local diets (Refisch & Koné 2005b). Some suggested solutions to the threats to the sooty mangabey include joint anti-poaching patrols with community members and park rangers working together, implementation of programs to help increase the use of domestic animals and reduce the demand for bushmeat, a complete ban on hunting including practical measures for enforcement, the curtailment of farming within protected areas and more guards for protected habitats (Herbinger & Tounkara 2004; Refisch & Koné 2005a, 2005b).




Content last modified: December 2, 2008

Written by Kurt Gron. Reviewed by W. Scott McGraw.

Cite this page as:
Gron KJ. 2008 December 2. Primate Factsheets: Sooty mangabey (Cercocebus atys) Conservation . <>. Accessed 2020 July 9.


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Content last modified: December 2, 2008

This sheet covers the “sooty mangabey” (C. a. atys) and the “white-naped mangabey” (C. a. lunulatus)


Cercocebus atys
Photo: Irwin S. Bernstein
Cercocebus atys
Photo: Irwin S. Bernstein
Cercocebus atys
Photo: Irwin S. Bernstein
Cercocebus atys
Photo: Irwin S. Bernstein
Cercocebus atys
Photo: Kathelijne Koops
Cercocebus atys
Photo: Kathelijne Koops
Cercocebus atys
Photo: Kathelijne Koops
Cercocebus atys
Photo: Kathelijne Koops
Cercocebus atys
Photo: Kathelijne Koops
Cercocebus atys
Photo: Kathelijne Koops
Cercocebus atys
Photo: Kathelijne Koops
Cercocebus atys
Photo: Yerkes NPRC

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