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Where Have You Gone, Miss Waldron's Red Colobus?
13 September 2000 7:00 pm
An animal with a funny name has apparently met a not-so-amusing fate. Scientists report the extinction of a monkey once common in West Africa. Miss Waldron's red colobus--first discovered in 1933 and named after the female companion of its discoverer--is the first primate subspecies to become extinct in several hundred years, and researchers warn that the loss may mark the beginning of the demise of many other threatened animals in West Africa.
Ghana and the Ivory Coast once hosted a thriving population of Miss Waldron's red colobus. These 10-kilogram monkeys were one of more than a dozen different subspecies of red colobus monkeys whose habitats extend from Senegal through Zanzibar. The last confirmed sighting of a Miss Waldron's was in the late 1970s, and the animal has been on the World Conservation Union endangered species list since 1988.
In 1993, anthropologist John Oates of Hunter College in New York City began an exhaustive search for the primate. His team of scientists spent 7 years combing the few remaining patches of rainforest in Ghana and the Ivory Coast and even offered money to locals to lead them to see or hear a Miss Waldron's. They came up empty-handed, the researchers report in the October issue of Conservation Biology. It's hard to prove that an animal is extinct, but the team is confident that they would have found the noisy, conspicuous monkeys had they still been around, says Scott McGraw of Ohio State University in Columbus, who conducted the surveys in Ivory Coast. The team's method of gathering rigorous, empirical data is "desperately important," as conservationists often have to rely on hearsay to determine a species' prevalence, says Ross MacPhee, curator of mammals at the American Museum of Natural History.
Oates and his colleagues blame the disappearance of Miss Waldron's on rampant hunting for bush meat and shrinking habitats that concentrate the animals. These two factors also spell certain doom for other large game in West Africa, they say, unless action is taken soon. And the only way to do that, MacPhee adds, is to conserve vast areas of land where animals can thrive undisturbed.