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February 06, 2017

Editor’s Note: A female black and white colobus monkey named Willow was born to Cecilia, 17, and 10-year-old Kima at the Saint Louis Zoo’s Primate House on January 10, 2017. The species’ native habitat is east and central Africa. Willow’s name was chosen by staff and means graceful, like the well-known type of tree. Colobus infants are born with all white hair and a pink face. In contrast, adults are primarily black, with white hair encircling their faces and half of their tails. Adults have a distinctive mantle of long white hair extending from their shoulders around the edge of their backs. Infants will change gradually until they reach adult coloration at about 6 months.  Here is the story of how this beautiful creature and its family members care for infants:

Willow and Cecelia. Photo: Robin Winkelman Willow and Cecelia. Photo: Robin Winkelman

By Brooke Johnson
Primate House Keeper
Saint Louis Zoo 

Ever wonder why Black and White Colobus monkey babies are born all white and not black and white as their name implies?

The answer has to do with a special parenting style that is prominently found in primate societies called allomothering. The mother will share the responsibility of raising the baby with other members of her family, so being all white makes it easier to detect where the baby is.

Infant Colobus monkeys are found primarily with mom when nursing and sleeping, but when mom wants a break to eat, groom, or socialize with other members of the family, it is not uncommon to see the baby being passed around from one member to another. This important "babysitting" task is especially important for the juvenile females in the family to learn, as it will increase their chances of successfully raising their own baby in the future.

Visitors in the Primate House recently might have noticed a new all white addition to the Zoo family. Mother Cecelia gave birth to a healthy baby girl a few minutes past 5 p.m. Willow makes infant number seven in the last seven years that the Zoo's primate house staff has have had the privilege to watch grow up, but what makes this birth so special for all of us was the fact that we were present for the entire birth. In years past, we arrive at work to find that bright white baby clinging to mom.

Witnessing her entrance into the world isn't the only thing that makes her special. She's the first female born here in three years, and she now shares a birthday with her big brother Ziggy!

Cecelia, Willow & Binti. Photo: Ethan Riepl Cecelia, Willow & Binti. Photo: Ethan Riepl

At just a year old, Ziggy is finding it sometimes difficult to share his mom with his spotlight-stealing baby sister. Two-year-old big brother Simon on the other hand has embraced his new sibling and has already shown that he is very interested in snatching her away from mom to carry her around.

Also playing a big role in raising Willow is her 3-year-old half-sister Binti. This year marks the first year that Binti has been the oldest female sibling to help babysit. Prior to this year, she has grown up in the shadows of her big sisters Pili and Kivuli learning how to hold and carry a new baby. Now that her sisters have moved to another zoo to hopefully become mothers themselves, Binti has a chance to put those skills she learned to use. So far she is doing a fantastic job and showing us that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Cecelia and Willow. Photo: Robin Winkelman Cecelia and Willow. Photo: Robin Winkelman

Binti's 29-year-old mother Roberta is the matriarch of the family and hands down the best mother all of us have worked with. It is because of Roberta that Cecelia is the wonderful mother she is today.

I have mentioned Mom, baby, big brothers, big sister, and aunt, so what about Willow's Dad? You won't find 10-year-old Kima carrying Willow around anytime soon. The role of a Colobus dad is to simply protect and watch over his family. Tune back in months down the line, and you should find him wrestling with her just as he does now with Binti, Simon and Ziggy. Stop by the Primate House the next time you are visiting the Zoo and watch this unique family dynamic in person.

It surely won't be hard to spot little Willow, but who will she be with??