5 Amazing Facts About the Mandrill

The mandrill is one primate that stands out from the others. Learn five cool facts about this colorful primate.

Jul 6, 2024byMichael C.

amazing facts about the mandrill

Known for its colorful face and rump, you can’t possibly mistake this monkey for anything else. Probably the most famous mandrill in popular culture, Rafiki from “The Lion King”, even sports baboon-like traits otherwise not seen in the actual primate. The most notable is his tail, which is long and bent; in reality, mandrill tails are short and stumpy.

Read on to learn more about this extravagant monkey!

1. Males Are the Largest Living Monkeys

male mandrill and female mandrill
Image credit: San Diego Zoo

The male mandrill holds the record for being the largest monkey in the world. Males can grow up to three feet in length and weigh as much as 70 pounds (about the same as a Golden Retriever).

Females however are around 50% smaller than males and are much slimmer in build. Mainly due to the extreme size ratio between the two sexes, the mandrill is considered the most sexually dimorphic primate.

Size differences also occur amongst males according to their dominance status. The alpha males, sometimes known as “fatted” mandrills, are the largest and are the stockiest in build due to high testosterone levels. They also tend to be the most colorful. Non-fatted males are less stocky and sometimes almost appear physically like females.

If deposed of their status, formerly alpha males may lose some bulk and will eventually fade in color.

2. The Mandrill Isn’t a Baboon

mandrill standing rock background
Image credit: Bali Safari Park

Though it looks like a baboon, the mandrill is a monkey of its own; it is closer genetically to the white-eyelid mangabey group. Before genetic testing, however, scientists used to believe that the mandrill (along with its relative, the drill) was a baboon. Like baboons, the mandrill sports a long snout, large canine fangs, and a big rump. No wonder it was once known as the “mandrill baboon”!

3. Mandrills Are the Most Colorful Primate 

mandrill in zoo exhibit
Image credit: ((brian))/Flickr

The mandrill is a truly colorful animal. Its face and rump both display a plethora of reds, blues, and purples. Males are typically much more colorful than females, which are duller. A male’s dominance status also influences its color: alpha males are much more brilliant than lower-ranking individuals.

Some research suggests that while females prefer mating with dominant males, the purpose of facial coloration is to communicate their social status to other mandrills. If an alpha male loses its status, the reddish colors on its face will gradually fade. Blood vessels are responsible for the red colors on the mandrill’s face; the blueish colors remaining are from arrangements of protein fibers on its skin. When excited, its coloration can become even more vibrant.

4. Mandrills Live in Large Groups Called Hordes

mandrill family
Image credit: Kitty Terwolbeck/Flickr

In the wild, mandrills live in large troops known as “hordes”. These groups can contain hundreds of individuals, with one of the largest recorded to have around 1,200 mandrills! Because of their immense size, mandrill hordes are believed to be the largest non-human primate troops in the world.

Groups consist mainly of females and their young, and a slight hierarchy exists within female groups. As soon as male juveniles mature as adults (around six to seven years of age), they disperse out of their hordes. Male mandrills are believed to live usually solitary lives but join in during the breeding season. Females usually pick the most dominant males to mate with. Female mandrills usually chase out any unwanted males out of their groups.

mandrill against a rock
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Mandrills communicate with a variety of sounds, scents, and other body signals. Their vocalizations consist mainly of a series of grunts and screams. As an old-world monkey (monkeys from Africa or Asia, such as proboscis monkeys) mandrills disperse their scent on trees and other objects to communicate their social status and territory. These primates greet each other by baring their teeth. When upset, they will angrily slap their hands on the ground. Male mandrills may fight to maintain their status, but usually vocalize or display with facial expressions.

5. Mandrills Need Our Help

Image credit: David Roark/Disney

The mandrill is not officially among other endangered animals in Africa. Yet, it’s currently listed as a vulnerable species by the IUCN Red List. This means that if conditions are not improved, they could become endangered in the future (the drill, its closest relative, is currently endangered). In fact, some authorities already list the mandrill as an endangered species. Throughout its range in Central-Western Africa, the tropical rainforests mandrills are found in are being destroyed to make room for activities such as logging and human settlement.

However, the largest threat to the mandrill’s survival is poaching. Mandrills are sought after for the bushmeat trade. Hunters use high-power rifles and dogs to hunt down monkeys as part of the illegal wildlife trade. In countries such as Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, overhunting has caused mandrill hordes to become smaller in size.

mandrill skull
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Reputable zoos and other conservation organizations are working hard to save this magnificent primate. Breeding programs have become established in hopes of reintroducing mandrills out in the wild. Research is also being conducted on wild mandrills to further understand them in hopes of finding other ways to save this species.

You can help mandrills by supporting zoos and organizations helping to conserve the mandrill. Raising awareness about the mandrill’s plight to your friends and family is another great way to help protect wildlife.

Michael C.
byMichael C.

Michael holds a BS degree in Fisheries and Wildlife from Michigan State University. He formerly worked at a pet store as an animal care associate and is the former president of the MSU Herpetological Society. Michael currently owns three snakes (a corn snake, a Kenyan sand boa, and a checkered garter snake) and a leopard gecko. Interests include almost anything animal-related. Michael enjoys drawing, gaming, and having fun in his free time.