Le­sula only se­cond new mon­key species dis­cov­ered in 34 years

The Borneo Post - Good English - - Short Story Section -

is only the se­cond new species of apes dis­cov­ered over the past 34 years.

Found in cen­tral Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo (DRC), it was dis­cov­ered by a team of bi­ol­o­gists led by con­ser­va­tion bi­ol­o­gist John Hart from the Lukuru Wildlife Re­search Foun­da­tion.

A pet ju­ve­nile fe­male was found at the home of a pri­mary school direc­tor in the town of Opala.

Re­called Hart: “He (the school direc­tor) re­ported that he ac­quired the in­fant about two months ear­lier from a fam­ily mem­ber who had killed its mother in the for­est near Yawende, south of Opala and west of the Lo­mami River. We took pho­to­graphs of the an­i­mal and made ar­range­ments for its care. We ob­served and pho­tographed this an­i­mal reg­u­larly over the next 18 months.”

More search­ing in Opala re­sulted in an­other cap­tive male and fe­male Le­sula, and these two were mon­i­tored for sev­eral months. Then, in De­cem­ber 2007, the team saw their first wild Le­su­lain the Obenge re­gion along the Lo­mami River. They were in­structed by Hart to col­lect pho­tos of hunters’ kills of the an­i­mal and a snip of skin or a whole car­cass to send to spe­cial­ists for anal­y­sis.

Hart’s team sought the help of ge­neti­cists work­ing at New York Univer­sity and mor­phol­o­gists at Yale Univer­sity’s Pe­abody Mu­seum to an­a­lyse in­for­ma­tion gleaned from 48 in­di­vid­u­als, as well as an au­di­ol­o­gist who could an­a­lyse the Le­sula’s low fre­quency ‘boom’ calls. The anal­y­sis took over three years to com­plete. “Our con­clu­sion: This is a new species of mon­key.”

While Le­sula and owl-faced mon­keys have quite sim­i­lar faces, the Le­sula’s colour­ings set it apart from any other species. As an adult, its pink, naked fa­cial skin and muz­zle are framed by a long mane of blonde hairs flecked with brown. A pale stripe of yel­low­ish-cream skin runs down its nose, like the more dis­tinc­tive flash of white run­ning down the dark fa­cial skin of C. ham­lyni.

The species’ medium-sized frame is cov­ered in brown fur with a dis­tinct am­ber patch run­ning down its back, and its legs and most of the length of its tail are a strik­ing black. Its large, hooded eyes are also a deep am­ber.

Adult males are 47–65 cm long and weigh 4–7.1 kg, while the fe­males mea­sure 40–42 cm and weigh 3.5–4 kg. Like C. ham­lyni, the Le­sula male also boasts big­ger ca­nines and bright blue skin cov­er­ing the scro­tum, but­tocks and per­ineum - the area be­tween the pu­bic arch and the anus - which re­port­edly fades to white when a Le­sula is killed and its skin dried.

The main ob­sta­cle in declar­ing this a new species was distin­guish­ing it from C. ham­lyni. A mor­pho­log­i­cal anal­y­sis re­vealed that Le­sula has larger eyes that sit more closely to­gether in the skull, and larger in­cisors, both on the up­per and lower jaw.

The males’ deep, de­scend­ing boom, which is emit­ted ex­clu­sively at dawn, is sim­i­lar to, but slightly dif­fer­ent to that of C. ham­lyni, and un­like that of C. ham­lyni, can be elicited by im­i­tat­ing ea­gle calls. Le­sula is said to oc­cupy a range of around 17,000 square km of forests in DRC’s east­ern cen­tral basin, and is sep­a­rated by both the Congo (Lual­aba) and the Lo­mami Rivers from C. ham­lyni, which oc­cu­pies a range of around 180,000 square km.

The team re­ports that the Le­sula is quite com­mon in the TL2 re­gion, and has re­mained hid­den for so long be­cause the for­est here has not been well-ex­plored by sci­en­tists.

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