Monkey Business: Scientists Name New Species

October 12, 2012 4:41 pm

Lesula via CNN

In a scientific publication last month, researchers confirmed the discovery of a new species of African monkey. The identification of a new mammal species is a rare event, and this is only the second new species of African monkey to be discovered in the last twenty-eight years.

Cercopithecus lomamiensis, known locally as the lesula, was first discovered in 2007 by conservation biologists in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). A team of researchers came across a captive monkey in the town of Opala and immediately recognised that this could be something special. The primate resembled an owl-faced monkey, (Cercopithecus hamlyni) but with a colouration that had never before been seen.

Throughout the next three years, the team located many more identical animals, both captive and in the wild. Through careful anatomical and genetic analysis, the researchers confirmed that this animal was a new species, previously unknown to science. A description of the lesula, along with notes on its ecology, was published in the PLOS ONE journal on the 12th of September.

The new species, which is closely related to the owl-faced monkey, is restricted to the remote lowland rainforests of DRC, a region that had previously received little research attention. The lesula is described by biologists as a shy and quiet animal, living in small groups of up to five individuals. It is a medium-sized monkey, with a naked face, buff fur and human-looking eyes. Males are easily distinguished from females by their bright blue backside.

However, scientists already have concerns over the survival of this newly discovered species. Although the lesula lives in a remote, sparsely populated area, it is commonly hunted for bushmeat, and uncontrolled hunting could result in a rapid population decline. The authors of the scientific paper propose the establishment of a Lomami National Park which, along with an existing nature reserve, will protect the lesula through most of its known range.

But providing a protected area for the lesula is just the beginning. As the paper’s lead author, John Hart, says, “The challenge now is to make the lesula an iconic species that carries the message for conservation for all of Congo’s endangered fauna.”

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