Monkey see. Two research groups almost simultaneously spotted this new monkey species (artist's illustration).

New Kid in the Trees

Researchers have discovered a new monkey flitting through the forests of Tanzania. Dubbed Lophocebus kipunji to reflect its name among local hunters, the creature is the first new monkey species identified in 20 years. Conservationists hope the find will inspire more protections for Tanzania's forests.

Out searching for a grey, pink-faced monkey called the Sanje mangabey in Tanzania's Ndundulu Forest Reserve, conservation biologist Trevor Jones instead spotted a brown, black-faced mangabey sporting an upright crest on his forehead that made the animal look "punky." "I was gobsmacked," says Jones, of the Udzungwa Mountains National Park, Tanzania. Around the same time, 350 kilometers away in Tanzania's Southern Highlands, zoologist Tim Davenport of the Wildlife Conservation Society, Tanzania, had been trying to track down an animal called the Kipunji. Local hunters often talked about the unusual monkey, and Davenport first spotted it almost a year after his team started looking.

Although the researchers, who report their find 20 May in Science, still need a DNA sample to determine how closely related the new species is to other mangabeys, the highland mangabey looks and sounds quite different from its cousins. It utters a softer "honk-bark" compared to the louder "whoop-gobble" call of other tree-dwelling mangabeys, says Jones. Kipunji are also shy, he says, and exhibit some unusual behaviors. "Just before he flees, the male does this fantastic head-shaking behavior as if he's admonishing you." Preliminary estimates of the monkey's range encompass just 120 square kilometers, and the research teams predict that no more than 500 animals exist in each forest.

"This is big news for Africa," says primatologist Scott McGraw of Ohio State University, Columbus. "The chances of finding a large, noisy monkey that no one's ever [scientifically] described before makes this a rare event," adds primatologist John Fleagle of the Stony Brook University in New York.

Biologist Neil Burgess of the United Nations Development Program and the World Wildlife Fund-USA hopes that the new discovery, along with a recently discovered shrew in the Ndundulu Forest Reserve, might be the push that gets the threatened Kipunji habitat rolled into Udzungwa Mountains National Park. "If we want to keep these [animals]," he says, "the global community has to provide money until the country becomes a richer place." Otherwise it may become poorer in monkeys.

Related sites
Udzungwa Mountains National Park
Eastern Arc Mountains
Southern Highlands Conservation Program

Posted in Environment