Baby Mandrill Born at Wichita Zoo
Tanganyika Wildlife Park is excited to announce the birth of a baby mandrill, born on August 3rd at the Kansas wildlife park! The new baby joins big sister Olympia, born at the Park on June 19th of 2021. The parents, Demitri (age 13) and Iris (age 7) are adjusting well to life with 2 under 2. While the baby still spends most of their time riding around on Iris, they are starting to get a little bit more adventurous, climbing off of Iris to explore close by under mom’s watchful eye. Baby is also trying to figure out that whole solid food thing, trying little nibbles of whatever mom is holding on to. Determining sex in mandrills can be tricky when they’re babies, but stay tuned for a mandrill gender reveal coming your way soon!
While we wait for the gender reveal, go check out some photos of the adorable little primate here: https://twpark.com/zoo-babies-baby-animals-pictures/. And while we’re at it, let’s talk a little bit about mandrills and why the birth of this new baby is so special!
Is a Mandrill a Monkey or An Ape?
Though their large stature may make them look more like apes, mandrills are actually monkeys! If you’re ever wondering if the primate you’re looking at is a monkey or an ape, look for a tail! Monkeys have tails, while apes do not. Next time you’re at the Park, spend some time watching our two ape species – the white-handed gibbons and the siamangs – and you’ll notice they don’t have tails, compared to monkeys like the DeBrazza’s monkeys, Javan langurs, and the mandrills.
Mandrills are the largest monkey species on our planet, though there is a pretty stark difference between males and females. While females weigh, on average, 25 pounds, the average male mandrill weighs about 55 pounds! Mandrills are considered Old World monkeys, and they live in the rainforests of Equatorial Africa.
Are Mandrills Baboons?
While they might resemble a baboon a bit, mandrills and baboons are very different. Mandrills and baboons are both Old World monkey species, so they’re in the same family, but they’re more like distant cousins in the monkey family tree. There are six different species of baboons in Africa, and they are more closely related to mangabey monkeys than to mandrills. For their part, mandrills were first described in the 1550s and were believed to be a type of hyena. Now, they are placed in a genus with their only living relative, the drill.
Besides their scientific classification, there are a few other distinct differences between mandrills and baboons. For example, while mandrills are more restricted to rainforest habitats, different baboon species are well-adapted to forests, grasslands, and even deserts. Mandrills tend to be more active at dawn and dusk, while baboons are active throughout the day. And, of course, baboons look more like a traditional monkey with browns, blacks, and olives in their fur, whereas mandrills look like they got lost in a Sephora, but more on that in a minute!
Why Does His…Look Like That?
If we’re being honest, one of the most common things we hear about Demitri is “why does his butt look like that?!?!?” While it’s not usually polite to talk about someone’s rear end, we’ll make an exception for the mandrill, because it’s the posterior and the face that really set these primates apart.
Most of a mandrill’s fur is an olive-brown, with lighter fur on the belly compared to the back. Both males and females have thick ridges along their nose – these ridges are a darker blue in females and bright blue in males. Males also have a thick red stripe down the center of their snout, and their nose is bright red as well. In general, the bright facial coloration in males is a sign of fitness – the brighter the blues and red, the more testosterone the male has in his body, and the better mate he will be.
But if you thought the male mandrill cut a striking figure from the front, you should watch him walk away. The male’s rump is sparsely furred with bright red, pink, blue, and purple skin. Just like with their facial coloration, brighter colors signal a more attractive mate. Those bright colors may also make it easier for troop members to see each other while moving through dense vegetation.
My, What Big Teeth You Have! What’s up with Mandrill Teeth?
Because mandrills are the largest monkey species, it stands to reason that they would have some pretty large teeth. The canine teeth of male mandrills can reach over 2 inches in length! Of course, the primary use for these large teeth is eating. Mandrills are omnivores and their diet is highly varied in their native habitat. They will consume fruits, seeds, leaves, fungi, roots, insects, snails, worms, frogs, lizards, bird eggs, and even sometimes small mammals.
Though about 50% of a mandrill’s diet in their native habitat is fruit, seeds make up about 26% of their diet – a very high percentage amongst primate species. And those large teeth play an important role in foraging – mandrills are one of the few primate species with a bite force strong enough to crack nuts of the tallow tree.
Like almost all primates, mandrills also use their teeth in communication with other mandrills. With most primate species, baring of the teeth is seen as a sign of aggression or an attempt to assert dominance. However, amongst mandrills, baring the teeth is almost always a friendly gesture, so remember that the next time Demitri or Iris “smiles” at you!
Due to their large stature and imposing features, it might be easy to wonder if mandrills are angry animals or if mandrills are dangerous. When thinking about animal behavior, it is important to remember that animals don’t experience emotions the same way humans do. While they can absolutely feel threatened or be afraid, we can’t say that an animal is “angry” in the same way that we are angry. However, because mandrills are so large – and, pound for pound, stronger than humans – their defensive gestures like slapping the ground, vocalizing, or staring directly at the threat can be rather intimidating.
Are Mandrills Endangered?
Mandrills are currently listed as vulnerable by the International Union on the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). When last assessed in 2016, it was estimated that the overall mandrill population experienced a 30% decline over the past 25 years. The most immediate threat to mandrills in their native habitat is poaching for the bushmeat trade. Because they are large primates, they are often sought after by hunters, as they fetch a higher price. The other major threat to mandrills is habitat loss and destruction due to illegal logging and the ever-expanding human population in their native habitat.
How Does Tanganyika Help Mandrills? How Can I Help Mandrills?
One of the most important ways that we here at Tanganyika help mandrills is by having a strong breeding program. It’s a little tough to accurately estimate how many mandrills are in human care, since not all facilities use the same animal registration systems, but it’s likely that somewhere between 30 and 50 zoos in the United States have mandrills in their care. Additionally, there are only 20-30 male mandrills in human care in the US, and fewer than half are sexually mature. And just over 25 baby mandrills have been born in US zoos since 2017, so having two babies right here at this Kansas zoo in the last two years is a big deal!
When Tanganyika participates in breeding programs – not just for mandrills, but for all the species in our care – we work with zoos around the country and even around the world to maintain a genetically healthy population in human care. While most people won’t have the opportunity to see mandrills in their native habitat, the chance to experience them up close at a facility like Tanganyika helps build that connection and hopefully inspires you to make more sustainable choices at home!
One way you can support mandrill conservation is to visit Tanganyika with your family – especially if you have any out-of-town guests looking for things to do in Wichita. Your support of the Park allows us to continue to share our passion for the animals in our care, participate in breeding programs, and make connections between people like you and the natural world! Whether it’s your first visit or your 50th, you’ll have a great time exploring the Park and engaging with our staff and animals! Purchase your daily tickets here: https://twpark.com/buy-tickets/
While we don’t have a mandrill interactive experience currently (we’ve had mandrill painting with Demitri as a monthly exclusive, so keep an eye out to see if that comes back!), if you’re looking for an incredible animal experience in Wichita, you have to meet Dexter, our owl monkey. Dexter is 3 pounds of personality and during his Meet and Greet, you’ll get the chance to become a monkey trainer and help our expert trainers practice his behaviors! Check availability and register to meet Dexter here: https://twpark.com/owl-monkey-meet-and-greet/