Old World Monkeys

The Red-Shanked Douc

The red-shanked douc (pronounced ‘dook’) is a colourful Old World monkey, sometimes called the ‘costumed ape’ with good reason. Its scientific name is Pygathrix nemaeus. It belongs to the subfamily Colobinae which are the leaf-eating monkeys. Old World monkeys are native to Africa and Asia. Until 1967, there had no studies at all done on the douc.

There are three species – the red-shanked, black-shanked (P.nigripes) and grey-shanked (P.cinerea) douc. The black-shanked has black legs and the grey-shanked has speckled grey legs and orange markings on the face. They are sometimes called douc langours but are more closely related to the proboscis monkey than to the langours.

Doucs are native to southeast Asia and can be found in Cambodia, China, Laos and Vietnam. The red-shanked douc is believed to be confined to north and central Vietnam and Laos.

The douc frequents a variety of habitats and can be found in lowland areas and mountainous terrain. It is not found much past elevations of 2,000 metres. It is seen in mid to upper canopy levels in deciduous, primary and secondary rainforests.

Doucs are long and slender. Males are slightly larger and the tail is nearly as long as the body. It measures 61 to 76 cm tall with a tail of 56 to 76 cm. Weights range from 5 to 7 kg depending on sex.

Red-Shanked Douc 2Credit: Wikimedia

This very attractive little monkey has maroon knee-length stockings, white ‘gloves’ on the forearms, a white ruff round a golden face and black hands and feet. As if this wasn’t enough colour for it, it has soft powder blue eyelids. The tail is white. In addition, males have a white spot on both sides of the rump and red-and-white genitalia. The male has a much fluffier ruff than the female. The body is a dappled grey.

The tail is used solely for balance and is not prehensile. It moves along established pathways using all four limbs. Adult males lead the way followed by females and infants with juvenile males bringing up the rear.

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Doucs are arboreal and diurnal. They are also social creatures generally living in groups of 4 to 15 although much larger groups have been recorded. Groups consist of one or more males and double the male number of females. Males are dominant and both sexes have their own hierarchy. At some stage, both males and females will leave the family group into which they were born and will seek a new group.

It is a very agile monkey with incredible balance and an expert aerialist in the canopy, leaping 6 metres with its arms outstretched and landing on two feet. When travelling, they crash noisily through the forest, swinging through the trees and making their spectacular leaps but it can also flee soundlessly from predators or perceived threats if necessary. If startled it will bark loudly and rush around, slapping the branches with its hands and feet.

When feeding and resting it is much quieter and spends a lot of time eating or just digesting its bulky food, dozing and grooming each other.

Red-Shanked Douc 3Credit: Wikimedia

Facial expressions are important in the communication between members of a group. A special ‘play face’ is used with the mouth open and chin thrust forward. They sometimes close their eyes and attempt to grapple with each other, even when high in the treetops. Fixed stares and low-pitched growls are used as threats and it gives a short, harsh squeal when in distress.

The diet of the douc consists of leaves high in fibre. It prefers small, tender leaves but also eats figs, buds, flowers, bamboo shoots and seeds. It consumes some 50 different species of plants and is a messy eater, often dropping much of its food to the forest floor. Unlike some monkeys, it does not have food pouches in the cheeks.

Red-Shanked DoucCredit: By Bjørn Christian Tørrissen [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons (on branch)

The douc has a large, multi-compartmented stomach. Bacteria in the stomachs break down the cellulose through fermentation. This gives the monkey a pot-bellied look and causes it to burp frequently. Its food supplies sufficient moisture for its needs and it almost never comes to the ground to drink. It is generous in its feeding habits and will share food and even pass pieces of vegetation to others in its group. This is unusual among Old World monkeys.

Not a lot is known about the mating habits of the douc in the wild. Pairs mate between August and December and a single offspring is born after a gestation of 165 and 190 days. Twins are very rare.

Before mating, either sex will signal their readiness by thrusting the jaw forward, raising and lowering the eyebrows and giving the head a shake. The female will lie face down on a branch and look at the male over her shoulder. The male stares back and may look away at what he considers a more suitable spot for copulation.

The young have their eyes open from birth. The body colour is lighter than the adults with short, downy grey hair and a dark stripe down the back, black face and two pale stripes below the eyes. Then the lighter colours begin to darken and the darker colours to lighten until, at 10 months, it has its adult colouring. Under captive conditions, females may look after another’s baby, even to the point of suckling it and males may also share in the care.

Females are sexually mature at 4 years of age. Males take six to twelve months longer before they are ready to mate. The life span is about 25 years.

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The main predator of the red-shanked douc is humans. Habitat destruction is also a problem and hunting is rife. The douc is hunted by local tribes for food and body parts which are used in traditional medicines. The illegal wildlife trade is very difficult to curtail and high prices are paid for the douc on the black-market.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES I) prohibits international trade in the red-shanked douc but protection laws are difficult to enforce. The species is listed as ‘endangered’ by the IUCN.