Research in Africa reveals new species of monkey

The owl-faced monkey with a blue bottom is new to science. It’s only the second time a new monkey species has been found in Africa in the last 28 years.

Scientists working in central Africa yesterday announced a new species of monkey. This discovery – in an unexplored forest area in the Democratic Republic of Congo – is only the second time a new monkey species has been found in Africa in the last 28 years. The creature had been known to the locals simply as lesula. It’s a medium-sized, slender animal that looks similar to the owl-faced monkey (Cercopithecus hamlyni) already known to scientists. But the animal’s bottom is colored differently than other owl-faced monkeys. It’s colored blue. Publishing in the journal PLoS One on September 12, 2012, scientists have identified it as a separate species and named it Lesula Cercopithecus lomamiensis. The scientists commented:

We recommend the common name, lesula, for this new species, as it is the vernacular name used over most of its known range.

A new species of monkey found in the Democratic Republic of Congo and identified as Lesula (Cercopithecus lomamiensis). This is a captive adult male. Photo courtesy of Hart et al.

The newly identified monkey – shy lesula – is said to live on leafstalks, fruit and flower buds. The researchers described how they studied the monkey:

Seven specimens of C. lomamiensis and eight specimens of C. hamlyni were used for analyses … Specimens collected in the field included freshly killed animals acquired from local hunters, animals killed by predators (including kills by leopards, Panthera pardus, or crowned eagles, Stephanoaetus coronatus) and one skin snip from a monkey captured locally and kept as a captive in a village near the species’ range.

We used GPS to record locations where specimens were recovered in the field; when exact location of specimen origin was not possible (e.g., location based on hunter reporting), locations were estimated to the nearest settlement or geographic feature.

We took information on the provenance, history and care of all captive animals seen. We took photographs of all specimens and captives, and recorded standard field measurements (total length, tail length, length of hind foot, length of ear pinnae, and body mass) wherever possible.

The young animal looked like an owl faced monkey (Cercopithecus hamlyni) from the front. But its bottom was colored blue – unlike any other known species. Image Credit: PLOS ONE/ J. A. Hart

The new species of monkey came to light after a monkey, known locally as lesula, was found in the forests of the middle Lomami Basin in central Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2007. A local school director captured the monkey, and, once in captivity, the monkey came to the notice of scientists. They found it had not been previously described in the scientific literature.

The researchers warn the monkey is vulnerable to extinction as a result of hunting for bush meat. They called for controls on hunting and the creation of a protected area covering its range to conserve the lesula and other wildlife found in the region.

Bottom line: For the second time in 28 years, scientists have discovered a new species of monkey in Africa. It looks like an owl-faced monkey already known to science, but it has a blue bottom. The new species is being called Lesula Cercopithecus lomamiensis.

Read the original article in PLoS One about the new species

Deborah Byrd

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