15 Predators That Keep Monkey Populations in Check 

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 6th November 2023

primate populations predators
A yawning babooon! | 1001slide via Getty Images

Primates give predators a hard time. 

Many of them, like the monkeys and baboons, are fast and agile animals, which makes them very difficult to catch. 

Primates have also evolved a wide range of adaptations and defenses to avoid predators. 

They live in groups and have been known to mob predators when one of them is attacked. 

Being social also increases their vigilance, and many primate species have developed complex alarm calls to warn each other when predators are present. 

Some bigger primates, like the chimps and gorillas, are also powerful and can fight off some of the biggest land predators with ease.

Despite all of these defenses, some predators still prey on primates. 

primate populations predators
Gorilla walking with a baby | Ondrej Prosicky via Getty Images

They include land carnivores like lions and leopards, snakes, and birds of prey. 

The exact predators of various primate groups depend on their size and habitat. 

For instance, leopards are the main predators of primates in Africa, while jaguars often attack primates in South America. 

Smaller primates often fall victim to snakes and birds. 

A few predators hunt primates as their primary prey, while most only eat them occasionally. 

In this article, we’ll list 15 of the most notable predators that attack and prey on primates. 

This post will explore the dynamics of their prey-predator relationship and how these carnivores help keep primate populations in check. 

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15. Jaguars

primate populations predators
Jaguar in the jungle | joreasonable via Getty Images
Common nameJaguar
Scientific NamePanthera onca
ClassificationMammalia, Carnivora, Felidae
Height68 to 75 centimeters (26.8 to 29.5 inches)
Weight158 kilograms (348 pounds)
Length1.85 meters (6 feet 1 inch) 
LocationAfrica & Asia

Jaguars are similar to tigers, but they are smaller and more agile. 

They are the only large cat species native to the Americas. 

They’re found in South, Central, and North America.

They are also excellent swimmers and can catch prey in the water, given the opportunity. 

Generally, primates are not top on the menu for jaguars. 

However, in places where their typical prey species are declining, jaguars may prey on monkeys opportunistically. 

Spider monkeys are particularly vulnerable to jaguar attacks. 

Although this monkey sleeps high in the tree canopy to stay safe from predators, jaguars are adept tree climbers, and they can also hunt by stalking their prey on the ground. 

14. Lions 

primate populations predators
Lion getting ready for hunting | Zocha_K via Getty Images
Common nameLion
Scientific NamePanthera leo
ClassificationMammalia, Carnivora, Felidae
Height1.2 meters (47 inches) 
Weight186 to 225 kilograms (411 to 496 pounds)
Length1.8 to 2.0 meters (72 to 82 inches)
LocationAfrica & Asia 

Lions are among Africa’s largest predators. 

They live in Asia as well and are considered apex predators on both continents.

This powerful carnivore will eat pretty much anything it can catch. 

Expectedly, they play some part in controlling primate populations on the continent, even though monkeys don’t make up a large part of their diet. 

The fact that monkeys live high up in trees in tropical forests means they’re less likely to cross paths with the savannah-dwelling lion. 

They’re also quite agile and will climb trees to escape from lions. 

Unlike other cats, lions are not very good at climbing trees but can hunt monkeys on the ground. 

13. African wild dogs

primate populations predators
African Wild Dog in the wild | Ryan Green via Getty Images
Common nameJaguar
Scientific NamePanthera onca
ClassificationMammalia, Carnivora, Felidae
Height68 to 75 centimeters (26.8 to 29.5 inches)
Weight158 kilograms (348 pounds)
Length1.85 meters (6 feet 1 inch) 
LocationAfrica & Asia

African wild dogs (painted wolves) are considered one of the continent’s most efficient predators. 

They can reach speeds of up to 44 miles per hour and tend to hunt in packs to increase their success rate. 

African wild dogs can take down prey up to 80% of the time. 

These wild carnivores mainly prey on antelopes such as the impala and kudu.

However, there have been few instances of them preying on primates. 

In one BBC documentary, two packs of wild dogs were observed hunting baboons along the banks of the Zambezi River. 

This was particularly eventful because the baboon population in the region was exploding unhealthily and damaging the local ecosystem. 

The action of the wild dogs helped to bring the baboon population under control. 

12. American Harpy Eagles 

primate populations predators
The Harpy Eagle sightseeing on a branch | Murilo Gualda via Getty Images
Common nameAmerican Harpy Eagles
Scientific NameHarpia harpyja
ClassificationAves, Accipitriformes, Accipitridae
Wingspan176 to 224 centimeters (5.9 to 7.4 feet)
Weight6 to 9 kilograms (13 to 20 pounds)
Length86.5 to 107 centimeters (2.9 to 3.6 feet)
LocationCentral and South America 

The American harpy eagle is a giant eagle native to the tropical forests of South and Central America. 

It is one of the largest eagle species in the world and is also the largest raptorial bird in its entire range. 

This puts them at the very top of the food chain within their ecosystem. 

Tree-dwelling mammals are the main prey of harpy eagles. 

They mainly eat sloths, but monkeys are top on their list of preferred prey, too. 

In some places, such as Guyana, monkey bones formed up to 37% of prey remains found in harpy eagle nests. 

They prey on capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys, saki monkeys, and spider monkeys. 

Harpy eagles hunt during the day when these monkeys are most active. 

They scan for prey while flying or perching high on trees and can swoop down quickly to snag prey with their large talons.

11. Boa Constrictor 

primate populations predators
Red-tailed boa (Boa constrictor) | LeoMercon via Getty Images
Common nameBoa
Scientific NameBoa constrictor
ClassificationReptilia, Squamata, Boidae
Weight10 to 15 kilograms (22 to 33 pounds)
Length0.91 to 3.96 meters (3 to 13 feet)
LocationSouth America

The boa constrictor is a large snake native to tropical South America. 

As the name suggests, the boa constrictor kills prey through constriction. 

The giant non-venomous snake uses its muscular body to squeeze prey to death in minutes before swallowing it whole. 

This snake has a varied diet that mainly includes small to medium-sized mammals and birds. 

Monkeys are also on the menu, and the stealthy snake may hunt them by ambush. 

They hunt at night when their typical prey is more active. 

10. Crocodiles

primate populations predators
Saltwater crocodile leap out of the water | chameleonseye via Getty Images
Common nameCrocodile
Scientific NameCrocodylidae
ClassificationReptilia, Crocodilia, Crocodylidae
WeightUp to 900 kilograms (2,000 pounds) 
Length1.5 to 6 meters (4.9 to 20 feet)
LocationAfrica, Asia, and Australia

Crocodiles are semi-aquatic reptiles found in the tropics of Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Americas. 

They are hypercarnivores, and they feed on any animal they can get their jaws around, including primates. 

Since crocs spend most of their time in the water, the only time they come in contact with the primates is when the apes visit the water’s edge for a drink or when they try to cross over. 

Crocodiles are efficient ambush creatures. 

They can sit still in the water for long periods while keeping their body submerged. 

When the unsuspecting monkey gets too close to the water, the croc grips it in its powerful jaws and pulls it into the water.

9. Reticulated Pythons 

primate populations predators
Close-up of Reticulated Python curling itself | MR-MENG via Getty Images
Common nameReticulated Python
Scientific NameMalayopython reticulatus
ClassificationReptilia, Squamata, Pythonidae
Weight1 to 75 kilograms (2 pounds 3 ounces to 165 pounds 6 ounces)
Length1.5 to 6.5 meters (4 feet 11 inches to 21 feet 4 inches) 

The reticulated python is the longest snake species in the world.

The longest individual found so far is over 25 feet long. 

It is native to South and Southeast Asia, where it lives in rainforests, woodlands, and nearby grasslands.

Reticulated pythons are constrictors. 

These non-venomous predators hunt prey by squeezing them to death with their muscular bodies and swallowing them whole. 

They kill monkeys this way. 

Some of the primates reticulated pythons prey on regularly include long-tailed macaques, silvered leaf monkeys, lorises, and tarsiers. 

They may also eat apes as large as orangutans. 

8. Ocelots 

primate populations predators
Ocelot with a piece of meat in its mouth | ARUBA48 via Getty Images
Common nameOcelot
Scientific NameLeopardus pardalis
ClassificationMammalia, Carnivora, Felidae
Height40 to 50 centimeters (15.7 to 19.7 inches)
Weight7 to 15.5 kilograms (15.4 to 34.2 pounds) 
Length55 to 100 centimeters (21.7 to 39.4 inches) 
LocationSouth and North America 

The ocelot is a medium-sized cat species native to the Americas. 

This wild cat is efficient at climbing and leaping, which makes it easy to hunt monkeys high on trees. 

Small land-dwelling mammals form the bulk of an ocelot’s diet. 

But some populations of this cat, like those living in Southeastern Brazil, have a special taste for primates due to the high population density of these monkeys within their typical range. 

Capuchin monkeys are the most commonly targeted primate species in these regions. 

However, ocelots may target other monkey species like the northern muriqui and brown howler. 

Ocelots primarily hunt by pursuing prey on the ground, but they will take to the trees occasionally to stalk their tree-dwelling primate prey. 

7. Caimans 

primate populations predators
A caiman on the banks of a lagoon, Amazonia, Ecuador | joreasonable via Getty Images
Common nameCaiman
Scientific NameCaimaninae
ClassificationReptilia, Crocodilia, Alligatoridae
Weight40 to 450 kilograms (88 to 1,000 pounds)
Length2 to 2.5 meters (6.6 to 8.2 feet)
LocationNorth, Central and South America

The caiman is a type of alligator native to Mexico, Central America, and South America. 

It is an apex predator in its ecosystem known to hunt various animals within its typical range. 

Like other alligators, fish forms the bulk of a caiman’s diet. 

However, they may attack monkeys aggressively when the primates attempt to swim across rivers or get close to the water for a drink. 

The black caiman, for instance, is one of the largest predators in the Amazon Basin, and it plays a vital role in regulating monkey populations in this region. 

Caimans grab prey in their massive jaws and drown them. 

They do not chew prey but swallow them whole. 

6. Spectacled Owls

primate populations predators
Spectacled Owl | BirdImages via Getty Images
Common nameSpectacled owls
Scientific NamePulsatrix perspicillata
ClassificationAves, Strigiformes, Strigidae
Wingspan314 to 370 millimeters (12.4 to 14.6 inches) 
Weight453 to 1,075 grams (1.00 to 2.37 pounds)
Length41 to 52.3 centimeters (16.1 to 20.6 inches)
LocationSouth and Central America 

The spectacled owl is a large owl species that lives in the forests of South and Central America. 

This owl species is typically the largest and most dominant bird species within its range. 

Spectacled owls mainly prey on rodents and other small mammals. 

They are nocturnal and will attack pretty much any suitable prey that is nocturnally active. 

Spectacled owls also prey on small monkeys.

They play a significant role in regulating the population of small monkey species like the tamarins, whose range overlaps theirs. 

5. Komodo dragons

The Komodo dragon in a scenic view | USO via Getty Images
Common nameKomodo dragon
Scientific NameVaranus komodoensis
ClassificationReptilia, Squamata, Varanidae
Height68 to 75 centimeters (26.8 to 29.5 inches)
Weight79–91 kilograms (174–201 pounds)
Length2.59 meters (8.5 feet)
LocationIndonesia (Asia)

The Komodo dragon is a type of monitor lizard endemic to the Indonesian Island of Komodo and surrounding areas. 

Not only is the Komodo dragon the largest living lizard species, but it is also one of the fiercest predator species in the world, known to devour prey up to 80% of its body size. 

Komodo dragons are opportunistic predators, which means they will kill and eat pretty much any animal they find within their range, and that includes monkeys. 

Although adult Komodo dragons can’t climb trees to hunt monkeys, they are expert ambush predators and can stalk monkeys on the ground efficiently. 

At least one instance of a Komodo dragon preying on a monkey has been caught on camera. 

4. Leopards

Indian leopard (Panthera pardus fusca) on a tree | Banu R via Getty Images
Common nameLeopard
Scientific NamePanthera pardus
ClassificationMammalia, Carnivora, Felidae
Height60 to 70 centimeters (24 to 28 inches)
Weight30.9 to 72 kilograms (68 to 159 pounds)
Length92 to 183 centimeters (36 to 72 inches) 
LocationAfrica & Asia

Leopards have the most diverse diet of all the big cats. 

They eat different kinds of prey animals, including primates.

In fact, leopards are the main predators of primates in Africa. 

For instance, in Ivory Coast’s Tai National Park, almost three-quarters of all prey animals killed by leopards are primates. 

Apart from sub-Saharan Africa, leopards also live in India, Central Asia, and China, and they hunt primates in these places as well. 

Some primates typically targeted by leopards include white-eyelid mangabeys, guenons, and gray langurs. 

Leopards are ambush predators. 

This makes it easy for them to get as close as possible before launching an attack. 

Leopards are excellent climbers, too, so they can hunt primates both on the ground and in trees. 

3. Tigers

A Sumatran tiger swimming in a pond | pito kung via Getty Images
Common nameTiger
Scientific NamePanthera tigris
ClassificationCarnivora, Feliformia, Felidae
Height80 to 110 centimeters (31.5 to 39.4 inches)
Weight90 to 300 kilograms (200 to 660 pounds)
Length220 to 310 centimeters (87 to 122 inches)

Tigers are the biggest of all cat species. 

They mainly feed on large to medium-sized mammals, especially the ungulates. 

However, they’re opportunistic predators, which means they will prey on any animal they can catch, including primates. 

Tigers have been known to take down primates of all sizes, including gorillas and chimpanzees.

Their large size and agility give them an advantage when hunting large primates like this. 

Tigers may also prey on small primates such as rhesus monkeys and the crab-eating macaque. 

They are patient stalkers and may wait up to an hour or more, watching for the perfect opportunity to attack.

2. Chimpanzees 

A family of chimpanzees | GarySandyWales via Getty Images
Common nameChimpanzees
Scientific NamePan troglodytes
ClassificationPrimates, Haplorhini, Simiiformes
Height100 to 150 centimeters (3.28 to 4.9 feet)
Weight40 to 70 kilograms (88 to 154 pounds) 
Length63 to 94 centimeters (24.8 to 37 inches)

The chimpanzee is arguably one of the most surprising additions to this list because it’s a primate itself. 

Like many apes, chimps are omnivores. 

Fruits and other plants form the bulk of their diet, but these giant apes feed on animals occasionally, too.

Chimpanzees eat ants, termites, and other small mammals.

They also hunt and kill other apes, such as the yellow baboons and various species of monkeys. 

The red colobus is top on the list of monkeys commonly killed by chimps. 

They may also hunt red-tailed monkeys and bush babies

In some cases, chimpanzees kill and eat so many monkeys that they almost wipe out entire populations of some species. 

One group of chimpanzees in Senegal has been observed hunting tiny bush babies using sticks fashioned into spears. 

1. Humans 

Human next to a juvenile Mountain Gorilla | guenterguni via Getty Images
Common nameHumans
Scientific NameHomo sapiens
ClassificationMammalia, Primates, Hominidae
Height171 centimeters (5 feet 7 inches) on average
Weight77 kilograms (170 pounds)

Humans are the biggest threat to monkey populations, especially in some areas of the world where they’re consumed as bush meat. 

This practice is still quite common in parts of Africa, Asia, and South America. 

Even in places where they’re not killed for meat, monkeys are sometimes trapped and killed for their body parts, which may be used for traditional medicines and other purposes. 

Poachers may also kill adult monkeys to get their young ones, which they sell as pets.

Human activities such as agriculture, deforestation, and urban development may threaten the typical habitat of these primates, further pushing their population to the brink of extinction.


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