13 September 2012

First new monkey discovered in 28 years!

Recently, a team of scientists have been cataloguing the animals present in the Tshuapa-Lomami-Lualaba region in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The area consists of around 6, 500 square miles of undisturbed forest and is one of the few unexplored areas left in Africa. Very early on, their efforts found the region to have an abundance of primate life, being home to bonobos and at least 10 other primate species, making it an important link in understanding the evolution of primate diversity.

Scientists have named the newly discovered Lesula monkey after the nearby Lomami River, calling it Cercopithecus lomamiensis.

What is even more remarkable than this significance, is what the researchers found in Opala, one of the towns that they were using as a base for their research. In a visit to a local primary school, the team was shown a young female monkey that was being kept as a pet by one of the directors. What is truly remarkable, is that this monkey was a member of a new species that had never before been seen by scientists. Known as a  lesula by the locals, the species belongs to the family of African guenons - a group which scientists previously believed that they knew very well! It appears that the two nearest rivers, the Congo and the Lomami, have isolated the species from its cousins so that the lesula evolved fairly independently via a process known as allopatric speciation.

Extensive investigation has revealed many more individuals of lesula kept in captivity in the surrounding area and individuals have been found living freely in the forest. It is hoped that the uniqueness of the species, along with the fact that many more undiscovered animals could be waiting in the forest, will be enough to legally protect the diversity of the area. Plans are already in motion to officially declare this protection, turning the Congo Basin into the Lomami National Park.

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