A new species of monkey found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Photo : Reuters)
In the dense forests between the Lomani and Tshuapa Rivers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a previously undiscovered species of monkey, locally known as the Lesula, has been found by scientists for the first time. Activists seek to solidify the monkey as emblem of the conservation movement, using the breakthrough as a means to expose the challenges that endangered or threatened species face.
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The Lesula, otherwise known as Cercopithecus Lomamiensis, was found in the Lomani basin, which "is a very large block block that has had very little exploration by biologists," says scientist John Hart.
"We never expected to find a new species there," he added.
This is only the second time in 28 years that a new species has been discovered on the continent.
Hart's team initially uncovered the Lesula in a stop at the settlement of Opala, where the local school director's daughter had adopted the monkey after its mother was killed by a hunter.
While the scientists noticed an uncanny similarity to the Owl Face monkey, which is found "much further east," they "right away saw that this was something different" because "the coloring was so different and the range was so different."
So began the process of comparing the Lesula's DNA, skin, and bone structure to that of the Owl Face, after which researchers concluded that the two species share a common ancestor.
Christopher Gilbert, the Hunter College anthropologist that examined specimens of both monkeys, noted that "After comparing the skins, we immediately concluded that this was probably something different than we had seen before."
Gilbert studied "the difference in shape and a number of landmarks in the skulls," ultimately moving on to genetics, where the scientists were able to "document significant difference in conjunction with the genetics. The monkeys were different and have been for a couple of million years. It demonstrates that there are places in the world that we do not know much about."
Now what? Hart asserts that "the challenge is to make the Lesula an iconic species that carries the message for conservation of all of DR Congo's endangered fauna."
"Species with small ranges like the lesula can move from vulnerable to seriously endangered over the course of just a few years," he warned.
The original study can be read here.