The friendly yellow-tailed woolly monkey: a rare primate only found in Peruvian Andes

Hundreds of different types of monkeys roam our planet. Some are world famous and easy to recognize; some are local stars, barely known outside their own habitat. Peru’s beloved native yellow-tailed woolly monkey is the latter. This tree-swinging adventurer made the list of the world's 25 most endangered primates.

A rare species found only in the lush cloud forests of the Peruvian Andes, these primates were first discovered in 1812. Initial descriptions of the monkey were based only on its skin type, which was used by the locals to make horse saddles. Further research and explorations have given us a fuller picture of this beautiful new-world monkey species in all its glory.

These monkeys are easy to recognize because of the white fur around their mouth and the dark reddish-brown patterns on their thick long coat, which is ideally suited to the cold heights of the Peruvian Andes. Their tails, which are often longer than their bodies, have a short yellow stripe on the underside. The tail is a powerful tool for gripping and swinging through dense jungle forests.

While they make their homes in isolated landscapes and at elevations of 5,000-9,000 feet (1,500-2,700 m), the yellow-tailed woolly monkeys are quite social and outgoing! Their daily lives are spent in large mixed groups of 20 or more males and females.

The monkeys are active during daylight. While each group has its own spacious territory, they are rarely competitive or engage in fighting. Instead, they use a loud barking call or branch shaking to warn away others.

The diet and nutrition of yellow-tailed woolly monkeys is quite simple. Thriving mostly on raw fruits, they also enjoy an array of leaves, flowers, insects, and multiple species of invertebrates. They are also one of the few creatures who engage in geophagy (consumption of soil), a behavior that helps them make up for an iron-deficient diet and reduce the number of intestinal parasites.

Industrial and urban development have threatened the yellow-tailed woolly monkeys. Until the 1950s, their virtually inaccessible habitat provided a form of natural protection. Since then, new roads, agricultural expansion, logging, and hunting have taken their toll on the already low-density population of yellow-tailed wooly monkeys. When these threats are added to slow reproductive rates, it’s not surprising they are considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and only a couple hundred are left in the wild.

Did you know?

  • The yellow-tailed woolly monkey is one of the largest mammals in Peru.

  • The yellow-tailed woolly monkey can leap up to an impressive 49.2 feet (15 m).

  • Along with humans, monkeys have unique fingerprints.

  • When they descend from trees, these monkeys usually move along the ground on two legs while balancing with their arms and tails.

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