Remarkable New Monkey Discovered In Remote Congo Rainforest

21st September 2012

In a massive, wildlife-rich, and largely unexplored rainforest of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), researchers have made an astounding discovery: a new monkey species, known to locals as the 'lesula'. The new primate, which is described in a paper in the open access PLoS ONE journal, was first noticed by scientist and explorer, John Hart, in 2007. John, along with his wife Terese, run the TL2 project, so named for its aim to create a park within three river systems: the Tshuapa, Lomami and the Lualaba (i.e. TL2), a region home to bonobos, okapi, forest elephants, Congo peacock, as well as the newly-described lesula.

"There are monkeys out there between the three rivers that no one recognizes. They are not in our field guides," Terese Hart wrote tantalizingly in a blog post in 2008. "We've sent photos to the most renown of African Primatologists. Result: a lot of raised eyebrows. And the more we find out the higher our eyebrows go."

One of these monkeys was the lesula (Cercopithecus lomamiensis). John Hart first came across the new species in June 2007 when he and a field team were shown a captive baby lesula, kept as a pet by the local school director's daughter in the remote village of Opala. The next step was locating the species in the wild.

 
A lesula killed by an eagle. Notably, scientists were able to collect all their specimens of the new species from bushmeat hunters, in addition to this one which was seen killed by an eagle. In other words, no lesulas were killed specifically for the research. Photo by Gilbert Paluku. 
"This area is so remote that we are the first binocular sporting biologist to venture into the depth of the TL2," John Hart writes, adding that any primate taken out of the forest "arrived as heavily smoked and unrecognizable bushmeat in centers like Kisangani."

Six months after seeing the captive lesula, the team discovered them in the wild in an area known as Obenge.

"[The lesula] is shy and was the least frequently seen of all primates recorded on large mammal surveys (19 observations of Cercopithecus lomamiensis out of a total of 223 visual observations of primate groups)," the researchers write in the paper, noting that the species prefers old-growth rainforests.

The lesula is apart of the Cercopithecini family, which are commonly referred to as guenons. It's most similar to the owl-faced monkey (Cercopithecus hamlyni), which is also found in the region. But the lesula sports a lighter coat and has unique calls. Genetic testing, furthermore, proves the species are distinct from each other and have likely been separated for a few million years, probably by impassable rivers.

 Related articles

Innovative conservation: bandanas to promote new park in the Congo

 (07/16/2012) American artist Roger Peet is headed off to DRC to help survey a new protected area, Lomami National Park. With him, he'll be bringing 400 bandanas sporting images of the park's endangered fauna. Peet hopes the bandanas will not only create support and awareness for the fledgling park, but also help local people recognize threatened species.

Militia massacres rangers, 13 endangered okapi at Congo wildlife reserve

 (06/29/2012) Two wildlife rangers were among the 6 people killed during brazen attack on a wildlife facility by a militia in DRC last Sunday. 13 endangered okapi were slaughtered during the early morning raid, which was reportedly a response to a crackdown on illegal elephant poaching and gold mining inside the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.

Unidentified poodle moth takes Internet by storm

 (08/29/2012) A white moth from Venezuela that bears a striking resemblance to a poodle has become an Internet sensation, after cryptozoologist Karl Shuker posted about the bizarre-looking species on his blog. Photographed in 2009 in Canaima National Park by zoologist Arthur Anker, the moth has yet to be identified and could be a species still unknown to science.

'Penis snake' discovered in Brazil is actually a rare species of amphibian

 (08/02/2012) A creature discovered by engineers building a dam in the Amazon is a type of caecilian, a limbless amphibian that resembles an earthworm or as some are noting, part of the male anatomy. The animal was discovered while draining a portion of the Madeira River for a controversial hydroelectric project. Little else is known about the species.

Beyond Bigfoot: the science of cryptozoology

 (03/26/2012) Anyone who doubts cryptozoology, which in Greek means the "study of hidden animals," should remember the many lessons of the past 110 years: the mountain gorilla (discovered in 1902), the colossal squid (1981), and the saola (1992) to name a few. Every year, almost 20,000 new species are described by the world's scientists, and a new book by Dr. Karl Shuker highlights some of the most incredible and notable new animals uncovered during the past century.

Finding new species

 (10/21/2012) Species discovery: how do scientists find and describe new species—and the answer to other taxonomy questions.

Unsung heroes: the life of a wildlife ranger in the Congo

 (11/01/2011) The effort to save wildlife from destruction worldwide has many heroes. Some receive accolades for their work, but others live in obscurity, doing good—sometimes even dangerous—work everyday with little recognition. These are not scientists or big-name conservationists, but wildlife rangers, NGO staff members, and low level officials. One of these conservation heroes is Bunda Bokitsi. 
The researchers estimate that the lesula habitat ranges around 17,000 square kilometers (6,500 square miles) in the TL2 area, and say the species is not "uncommon" in a region to date untouched by logging and mining. However, that doesn't mean the species is secure. Like many of Africa's primate, the lesula is imperiled by the bushmeat trade.

"For species with restricted ranges and reliance on primary forest, such as [the lesula], uncontrolled hunting can lead to catastrophic declines over a short period," the scientists write. The researchers suggest that the lesula be listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List, due to a likely decline from "uncontrolled" bushmeat hunting.

With the goal of conserving this still untouched forest and its abundant wildlife (see list below), John and Terese Hart have kick-started the TL2 project and begun working with the DRC government and local communities on establishing a 9,000 square kilometer (3,470 square miles) protected area known as Lomami National Park in the region. In total, TL2 covers about 60,000 square kilometers (23,000 square miles), or an area about twice the size of Belgium.

"While the establishment of the new protected area is a necessary first step, active protection and monitoring are required to ensure the conservation of the lesula and other unique biodiversity of the eastern rim of Congo’s central basin," the researchers write. For their parts, the Harts have been active in working with authorities to combat illegal poaching in the region.

In all the TL2 region is home to eleven primates, including four that are endemic to the area: Lomami River red colobus (Procolobus badius parmentieri), Lomami River blue monkey (Cercopithecus mitis heymansi), and Kasuku River Wolf’s monkey (Cercopithecus wolfi elegans), and, of course, the lesula. But what first brought the Harts there was the bonobos, great apes that are closely related to chimpanzees but have unique social structures.

The discovery of a new primate species is rare nowadays, and when discoveries are made they are usually in the Amazon or Southeast Asia. In fact, the lesula is only the second newly discovered monkey in Africa in the past 28 years; the other was the kipunji (Rungwecebus kipunji) in Tanzania. Described in 2005, the kipunji is currently listed as Critically Endangered.

Information source here.

SHARE: