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New Monkey Species Discovered in a Snapshot

Posted by Richard Conniff on September 13, 2012

A thoughtful looking male of the newly-identified monkey species from the Democratic Republic of Congo. (Photo: M. Emetshu/PLOS One)

UPDATE:  Much of the world seems to be going gaga for this new species, known locally as the lesula, and that’s surely a good thing.  The (UK) Guardian goes entertainingly over the top.  Here’s an excerpt:

The photograph captures a sensitivity and intelligence that makes this monkey look like it is sitting for its portrait by Rembrandt. It reveals a staggeringly insightful, wise, and melancholy face. Like Rembrandt’s son Titus in the portrait of him by his father that hangs in London’s Wallace Collection, the lesula looks right back at its beholder, calm and pensive, examining you as you examine it. Its eyes have the depth and frankness of those seen in moving portraits on Roman-era mummies from the Fayoum, or in Antonello da Messina’s haunting portrait of a man gazing back out of a glassy oil panel.

And here’s a somewhat more earth-bound report on the remarkable new species discovery, from Mother Nature Network:

A shy, brightly colored monkey species has been found living in the lush rainforests at the heart of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a find that utterly surprised the researchers who came upon it.
“When I first saw it, I immediately knew it was something new and different — I just didn’t know how significant it was,” said John Hart, a veteran Congo researcher who is scientific director for the Lukuru Wildlife Research Foundation, based in Kinshasa.
In fact, the find was something of a happy accident. Hart first spied the suspect monkey in 2007 while sifting through photographs brought back from a recently concluded field expedition to a remote region of central DRC.

Georgette and the snapshot that started the hunt for a new species (Photo: John Hart)

Yet the image that caught his eye hadn’t been taken in the field. It was snapped in a village, and showed a young girl named Georgette with a tiny monkey that had taken a shine to the 13-year-old.

Hart followed up with five years of field work, anatomical comparisons, and genetic analysis.  He and his co-authors officially introduced their fine, named Cercopithecus lomamiensis, yesterday in the online journal PLOS ONE.  The report on Mother Nature Network continues:
It turned out that the little monkey that hung around Georgette’s house had been brought to the area by the girl’s uncle, who had found it on a hunting trip. It wasn’t quite a pet, but it became known as Georgette’s lesula. The young female primate passed its days running in the yard with the dogs, foraging around the village for food, and growing up into a monkey that belonged to a species nobody recognized.
Further investigation revealed the full story of the strange monkey. It turned out that C. lomamiensis, a cryptic, skittish primate, roams a swath of dense rainforest some 6,500 square miles (17,000 square kilometers) …
The trees tower overhead, blocking out the sun, and the forest floor — the chief domain of the lesula — is steeped in a permanent gloom. The forest is full of sounds. At first light, the lesulas raise a lilting chorus of booming calls, distinct from the cries of their monkey neighbors who pass their lives in the trees high above the forest floor; at dusk, the cries of African grey parrots echo through the canopy. The earth is wet and soft, and feet sink into the ground with each step. There is a gentle, steady thud as fruit falls from the trees.

The very blue bottom

The business about the new species being colorful doesn’t show up adequately in the photographs, alas.  But here are the details:

“They have giant blue backsides,” Hart said. “Bright aquamarine buttocks and testicles. What a signal! That aquamarine blue is really a bright color in forest understory.” [World’s Freakiest Looking Animals]
“So in terms of monkey viewing, females can definitely find males,” Detwiler said.
“We don’t really know what this means because it’s very uncommon for monkeys in this lineage,” she added.
The only other monkey to share this feature is the lesula’s closest cousin — the owl-faced monkey, a species that lives farther east. At first it was thought the monkeys were close kin, but genetic analysis suggests the two species split from a common ancestor about 2 million years ago.
Now that the new species has been formally identified, Hart said, the next task is to save it. Although the lesula is new to science, it is a well-established sight on the dinner table.
It’s not clear how large a population of the species survives, but the bush meat trade is already a threat:
Georgette, the girl whose lesula companion started it all, is now 18. “The animal was very attached to her,” Hart said. But one day the monkey disappeared.
“It was suspected that somebody in town had taken it in,” Hart said. “And it ended up in their cooking pot.”
Here’s the citation:  Hart JA, Detwiler KM, Gilbert CC, Burrell AS, Fuller JL, et al. (2012) Lesula: A New Species of Cercopithecus Monkey Endemic to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Implications for Conservation of Congo’s Central Basin. PLoS ONE 7(9): e44271. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044271

One Response to “New Monkey Species Discovered in a Snapshot”

  1. Looks awfully similar to the owl-fced guenon to me.

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