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First new monkey species in years discovered in Congo jungle

September 13, 2012|By Jon Bardin | Los Angeles Times
  • The lesula monkey, above, was previously unknown to scientists.
The lesula monkey, above, was previously unknown to scientists. (Gilbert Paluku )

For only the second time in the last 28 years, scientists have discovered a new species of monkey, according to a new report in this week's edition of the scientific journal PLoS ONE.

The monkey species, called lesula by locals, lives deep in the remote Lomami forest of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The monkey's habitat is one of few remaining unexplored biological frontiers in the area.

Though researchers were previously unfamiliar with the species -- which has an extremely human-like face surrounded by golden hair -- the daughter of a local school director in the area had taken one as a pet. That led to a first chance encounter between the scientists and the monkey in 2007 when a field team saw it tied to a post in the village where she lived.

Convinced the species was novel, team leader John Hart began an exhaustive three-year study to describe the monkey, and to differentiate it from its nearest neighbor, the owl face monkey. The study included geneticists and biological anthropologists, who helped confirm that the monkey was different from the owl face, though the two share a common genetic ancestor.  

In their article, the researchers emphasize the need for conservation of the region so that the species can survive. In particular, they say, uncontrolled bush-meat hunting in the area is a serious threat to the monkey. A proposed conservation zone that surrounds the lesula's habitat is an important step, they write, but it won't work without intensive monitoring.

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