New monkey species discovered in Africa, but future may be in doubt

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A new species of monkey (Cercopithecus lomamiensis), known as the Lesula, was discovered in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. (Photo courtesy of John Hart.)

Scientists have now found another previously unknown primate in this rainforest: a new species of monkey.

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In the Lomami Forest, a large lowland rainforest in the center of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, scientists have come across the wild Lesula monkey. It's only the second new monkey species to be discovered in Africa in nearly three decades.

“This forest is a big block of forest to the south of Kisengani and to the north of Kindu,” said conservation biologist John Hart. “There are a number of large mammals that live there, such as the okapi which is the Congo’s rainforest giraffe, the bonobo, an ape endemic to the Congo. Those species are found in that same forest.”

The forest extends along the west bank of the Lomami River, a tributary of the Congo River. The name Lomami is embedded in the scientific, Latin name given to the newly discovered species of monkey, the Cercopithecus Lomamiensis.

John and Therese Hart, conservation biologists based in the DRC with the Lukuru Wildlife Research Project, first came into contact with the primate back in 2007 when they saw a caged female at the home of a primary school director.

Eventually, through genetic testing and observing the animal, which has a naked face surrounded by a mane of thick blond hair, in the wild, researchers concluded this wasn't just some hybrid or exotic accident. Rather, this is a distinct species of primate that had never before been seen.

The species existence was first revealed in the scientific journal PLoS One.

The future of the Lesula monkey, though, isn't exactly bright.

"Under the current trends of uncontrolled bush-meat hunting, it could become very endangered," Hart said to The New York Times.