Sep 1, 2011 1:19 PM by Kirsten Bennett
Meet Rafiki, a 14-year-old male mandrill that has just arrived at the Denver Zoo. Rafiki comes to Colorado from the Toronto Zoo as part of a Species Survival Plan, which ensures healthy populations and genetic diversity among zoo animals.
While many visitors may think of the wise, monkey character in Disney's The Lion King, "rafiki" is also a Swahili word meaning "friend." At Denver Zoo, he's being paired with young females Saba, 8, and Tuki, 9. Visitors can see Rafiki exploring his new habitat now in Primate Panorama.
Mandrills are the largest monkey species in the world. Adult males average almost 3 feet long and can weigh up to 60 pounds. Adult males are very colorful. The thick ridges along their noses are purple and blue. Their noses and lips are bright red and they have golden beards. These bright colors are thought to be attractive to females, but because they also show up on mandrill's rear ends, experts believe this enhances the male's visibility as he leads his troop through thick forest vegetation. Adult females have very dull coloration on their faces.
They are found in the tropical and coastal forests of Central Western Africa, in countries such as Cameroon, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. Exact mandrill population numbers in the wild aren't known, but the World Conservation Union (IUCN) classifies them as vulnerable. Their numbers are dwindling mostly due to habitat destruction and hunting. Logging is destroying forest habitat and the demand for bush meat has increased not only to feed growing populations in Africa, but also to feed the export market in Europe.