New African Monkey Species

(After National Geographic at
and other Web publications)

The scientific press has informed public on zoological discovery in mountains of East Africa. Scientists have found there a new monkey species. The new primate, named as the highland mangabey (Lophocebus kipunji), was identified by two independent research teams, working in separate locations in southern Tanzania. It was described in the journal Science.

Highland mangabeys are covered by a thick brown fur, except belly and tail, where the fur is whitish. The thick fur is adaptation to mountain habitat at heights up to 8000 feet (about 2500 m) where the temperature can fall below a freezing point. The monkeys have black eyelids, faces, hands, and feet. Researchers have yet to directly measure a highland mangabey. But scientists say the primates are about 3 feet (90 centimeters) tall and have tails of similar length.

The team of biologists led by Tim Davenport has found out these monkeys on slopes of Rungwe volcano at height of 9700 feet (2960 m).

Highland mangabeys, photo by Davenport

Another highland mangabey population was found by biologist Trevor Johns together with field assistant Richard Laizzer in the Udzungwa Mountains. American biologist Tom Butynski was also among those who saw the monkeys first.

Colin Groves, the anthropologist from the Australian National University in Canberra and the expert in primates classification, says that this species of monkeys is new to science.

"The only question is whether it is correctly referred to the genus Lophocebus," Groves wrote in an e-mail to National Geographic News. "This, however, was the best option that the authors had until they could come up with some more complete material, especially a voucher [mounted and preserved] specimen." He was extremely surprised by such discovery. But the authors have none and even do not plan to get such specimen.

There are two genera of mangabey, the genus Cerocebus and the genus Lophocebus. Cerocebus mangabeys are most closely related to the large baboons called mandrills, have pink or white eyelids that contrast with their black face color, and spend at least some of their time on the ground. Lophocebus are most closely related to other baboons, have black eyelids that are the same color as their faces, and spend most of their time in trees. The new species has the same features.

Davenport places the highland mangabey with the genus Lophocebus primarily because of the species' noncontrasting black eyelids and tree-dwelling nature. He said that the main reason to define the new monkeys as a separate species is a loud low-pitched "honk-barking" sound emitted by adult animals. It is unique among primates.

The scientists say that they were stunned by their find. Tanzania is considered one of the most well-known zoologically African countries. Davenport says that discovery of such middle-size monkey shows how little humans actually know. A couple of years ago Tanzania took the bottom position in the list of the African countries according to probability of such finding.

Johns has noted, that such find in Tanzania means, that new animals can be found, for example, in the Congo Basin that is investigated incomparably worse.

Together with colleagues Noah Mpunga, Sophy Machaga, and Daniela De Luca, Davenport first observed the highland mangabey in the southern highlands of southwest Tanzania in May 2003. He said that scientists and conservationists have largely ignored the region, believing that it contained little of interest in terms of large animals. The WCS researchers were there, in part, to test that notion.

While interviewing members of a local tribe, the Wanyakyusa, in January 2003, the researchers learned of a shy monkey known as the kipunji. Real and mythical forest animals populate the tribe's oral traditions. That's why it took the researchers several months to validate the rumors of a new monkey species previously unknown to Western science.

The team confirmed the species's existence only after the May 2003 sighting and a subsequent sighting in December of that year, according to their account in Science. Davenport said he is uncertain how long the Wanyakyusa have known about the highland mangabey, "but they certainly had a name for it ¾ kipunji." In recognition of the Wanyakyusa's likely generations-long knowledge of the species, kipunji is the second half of the species's scientific name.

Meanwhile, Jones first observed the highland mangabey last July, while serving as the field director on a project to study the critically endangered Sanje mangabey in the Udzungwa Mountains.

That study was led by Carolyn Ehardt an anthropologist at the University of Georgia in Athens. It was Ehardt, together with Thomas Butynski of Conservation International in Nairobi, Kenya, who subsequently confirmed that the species was new to science.

At the time of discovery, Jones was following up on reports from ornithologists of a population of Sanje mangabeys in the region. What he found turned out to be something entirely different.

Researchers say the highland mangabey eluded recognition by the outside world until now for some factors. These include the monkey's low number, restricted range, shyness, and remote location. Jones said that they are forest canopy animals and live up to 50 meters [164 feet]. They hear anybody coming and can easily disappear.

The researchers estimate that the highland mangabey population in both the Udzungwa Mountains and southern highlands of Tanzania total no more than a thousand individuals.

While small, the Udzungwa Mountains population is protected by its isolation. It is "about a day and a half walk from the village at the end of the road, and it takes a long time to get to the end of the road," Jones said.

He will return to the Ndundulu Forest Reserve later this year to continue research on the Udzungwa population, including a detailed assessment of potential long-term threats to the species.

The outlook for the southern highland populations is much more serious, according to Davenport, who says highland mangabeys there are at immediate risk. The area's forest is severely fragmented due to logging and other forms of resource extraction, he said, and the species is hunted for the meat.

Researchers hope that the discovery will help people to realize importance of nature conservation in this area.


Comments by Michael Trachtengerts

This discovery of a new monkey, besides direct scientific value, arises also an interest to regard the methods which were used by researchers to carry it out. Actually, they have applied methods of cryptozoological search.

The first information about unknown animal, still uncertain at the beginning, usually appears as result of occasional encounterings from travelers, tourists, visitors of hunters, and other not local people, or after questioning of local residents. The basic difference of these two sources is the fact that local residents know about animals around their habitat, especially the large ones, but they are sure that the animals are familiar to everybody too and, certainly, to scientists. They think that all animals are shown in zoos and s.o. Therefore they do not understand what animals are interesting to science, they all alike for them. A special art of conversation or an inquiry is required to turn to the desired theme. But after it becomes clear what scientists are asking for, they can help to make confident outline of forms, behavior, and habitat of an animal that is not mysterious for them.

Usually some problems appear when researchers are not ready to accept the unusual and try to squeeze the new phenomenon in frameworks of the common knowledge. In such cases they often declare that locals are unable to distinguish mythical and real (usual action of some scientists to wave away an unknown phenomenon) or something the like.

Happily this contact of researchers with Wanyakyusa peoples had come to the fruitful end and the valuable data which showed ways of further searches had been received.

The second stage ¾ search of unknown animals in the areas pointed by informants also had passed successfully. It had not a long time. The researchers found out and photographed these primates during the same year. In most cases cryptozoologists spend many years to collect data on morphology, way of life, and other significant features of hiding animals (recollect the history of Panda discovery).

The third stage is representation of the collected data to the scientific and wide public, and it was carried out extraordinary quickly and favorably. One of leading world scientific magazines Science had accepted for the publication an article with account of discovery, the information about it was highlighted in many mass-media editions. The author’s proposition to assign status of new species to the animal was accepted without objection. At the same time it is necessary to hold in view, that the researchers had not presented either an specimen of the animal, and/or results of the modern genetic analysis of the maybe new species. Until now these were necessary attributes in a description presented to include in zoological nomenclature. Something should show its incompatibility with already known species.

The decision about new species was taken on a reason of field observations and photos of animals. What it is possible to tell with this about color of eyelids and peculiarities of their shouts which were the main arguments? Is it enough? Perhaps, it is a subspecies or a race of already known species?

The similar short data on other unknown animals, presented until now by cryptozoologists, were rejected with above mentioned reasons. Therefore the last case may be a precedent and it needs a special consideration.

The expeditions in Tanzania, certainly, quite easily could kill a number of animals, that would be sufficient for traditional zoological research, but had refused to do so. The researchers do not plan to do such killings in future too. It marks the modern, ecologically focused approach, in studying rare objects of fauna. Some professional zoologists depart from centuries-old principles of work with numerous series in collections and pay attention to time-consuming observations of animals in the nature. This way also can bring exemplar of animals, that died from the natural reasons, to researchers though, maybe, not so quickly. I shall not list here world famous pioneers of such approach.

This precedent especially impotent for investigations in hominology, that aims to research upper primates except human and known apes. It is not a secret that there are some hunters after the "yeti”, eager to track down it with a rifle. They are ready to kill creatures “for the sake of Science" and “to solve the problem once and for ever”. This case shows that corps of a new species is not absolutely necessary now for mainstream science. The ideas forwarded by Dmitri Bayanov in his article Bigfoot: to Kill or to Film?, 2000, and by many “nonkill” devotees as well, have received the remarkable example in reality.

Ó Trachtengerts M.S. 2005