New Monkey Species Found in Tanzania's Forested Mountains

NEW YORK, New York, May 19, 2005 (ENS) - A new species of forest-dwelling monkey has been discovered in Tanzania by two teams working independently more than 230 miles (350 kilometers) apart. It is the first new monkey found in Africa in over 20 years, and scientists say the discovery means there is still much to learn about other species that share the planet with humans.

Named the highland mangabey, Lophocebus kipunji, the long-haired primate was first discovered by biologists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) on the flanks of the 10,000 ft (2,961 meter) volcano Mt. Rungwe and in the adjoining Kitulo National Park.

"This exciting discovery demonstrates once again how little we know about our closest living relatives, the nonhuman primates," said Russell Mittermeier, who chairs the Primate Specialist Group of IUCN-The World Conservation Union's Species Survival Commission.

"A large, striking monkey in a country of considerable wildlife research over the last century has been hidden right under our noses," Mittermeier said.

Parallel to the discovery of the mangabey's existence, comes the discovery that it is extremely rare and it is already classed as critically endangered, with an estimated total population of between 500 and 1,000 animals. mangabeys

Highland mangabeys live in groups, travelling and foraging in the forest canopy. (Photo (c) Tim Davenport/WCS)
"This discovery proves that there is still so much to learn about the more remote and less well-known areas of Tanzania, and Africa as a whole. Having been so involved in the creation of the park, and the conservation of Mt. Rungwe, it has been very exciting for us to help reveal more of their secrets," said Dr. Tim Davenport, who directs the WCS Southern Highlands Conservation Program.

Davenport led the team of Noah Mpunga, Sophy Machaga and Dr. Daniela De Luca who first found the monkey.

Several months later, the same species was independently discovered in Ndundulu Forest Reserve in the Udzungwa Mountains as the result of University of Georgia primatologist Dr. Carolyn Ehardt's research project, which is focused on conservation of the critically endangered Sanje mangabey endemic to these mountains.

First sighted by Richard Laizzer and observed by research biologist Trevor Jones, while working as field assistants for the project, the monkey was then identified as a new species by Ehardt and by Dr. Tom Butynski, who directs Conservation International CI)'s Eastern Africa Biodiversity Hotspots Program.

When Ehardt and Davenport became aware in October 2004 of the parallel discoveries in their two projects, the two teams joined forces to write the article for "Science," the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, where it appears in the current issue.

The new arboreal mangabey is brown, with a head and body length of about three feet (90 cm).

It is characterized by a long, erect crest of hair on its head, elongated cheek whiskers, an off-white belly and tail, and an unusual call, termed a "honk-bark" by the authors.

The monkeys occur as high as 8,000 ft (2450 m) where temperatures frequently drop below freezing; its long coat is probably an adaptation to the cold, scientists speculate.

mangabey

An adult male highland mangabey. Fewer than 1,000 individuals are now known to inhabit two montane forest sites in southern Tanzania. (Photo (c) Tim Davenport/WCS)
The taxonomic name of the species, Lophocebus kipunji, recognizes the monkey's local Kinyakyusa name (pronounced kip-oon-jee) used by a few hunters around Mt. Rungwe.

The Southern Highlands forests, including those of Mt. Rungwe and Kitulo, are severely degraded by illegal logging, and without prompt action the animal's future is in jeopardy, Davenport warns.

On the other hand, the Ndundulu Forest Reserve is in good condition, but there is concern that the population of the highland mangabey in this forest is very small and limited in distribution.

Ehardt observes, "With the addition of another threatened species of primate to those species previously documented, the Udzungwa Mountains are arguably the most important site in Africa for primate conservation. The Udzungwas remain a focus for conservation ecology research, as should the Southern Highlands, and we must continue to strongly support Tanzania's conservation efforts."

Butynski agrees. "This discovery is especially important because it not only expands the diversity of the genus Lophocebus from two to three species, it extends the geographic range of the genus 500 miles (800 km) to the south, thereby contributing much to our understanding of primate diversity, evolution, and biogeography."

As a result of their research in the Udzungwas over much of the last decade, Ehardt and Butynski have been calling for extension of the Udzungwa Mountains National Park to include the surrounding forest reserves. The presence of the new mangabey strengthens arguments for the improved protection of the Ndundulu Forest.

"Clearly this remarkable discovery shows that there are still wild places where humans are not the dominant species," said Dr. John Robinson, senior vice president and director of international conservation programs for WCS.

"This new species of monkey should serve as a living symbol that there is hope in protecting not only wild places like Tanzania's Southern Highlands, but the wonder and mystery they contain," Robinson said.

Meanwhile, WCS continues its conservation work in the Southern Highlands, while CI and independently funded researchers continue to support conservation efforts in the Udzungwas and in the other Eastern Arc Mountains.

"Such partnerships are crucial to the conservation mission in the 21st century," said Mittermeier, who is the president of Conservation International. "By sharing expertise and resources, partners get the most value for money spent."

The Southern Highlands team was coordinated and funded by the Wildlife Conservation Society, which is based at the Bronx Zoo in New York.

The project that produced the discovery in Ndundulu Forest received financial support from WCS, CI, the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, the Margot Marsh Biodiversity Fund, Primate Conservation, Inc., the Primate Action Fund, The University of Georgia Research Foundation and Office of the Dean of Franklin College, the National Science Foundation, and the Primatological Society of Great Britain.