Two New Primate Species Discovered

By Bijal P. Trivedi
National Geographic Today
June 24, 2002

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Two new primates—house-cat-size, exotically sideburned Titi monkeys of the genus Callicebus—have been discovered in the vast rain forests of Central and South Central Amazonia.

The discovery was announced on Sunday by Conservation International (CI), a Washington, D.C.-based environmental and research organization. The findings will be published in a study in CI's journal Neotropical Primates.

"Primates are our closest cousins, we share much of their DNA, and we've studied them more than almost any other creature. Yet, we are delighted and surprised by the discovery of these two Titi monkeys," said Russell Mittermeier, president of CI and the study's co-author.

In 1963 the Titi monkeys comprised three known species. Now the number has risen to 28.

The new species not only enhance our understanding of primates but also indicate that Amazonia is brimming with flora and fauna yet to be discovered.

"The Amazon rain forest is almost as large as the 48 contiguous states and vast areas remain unexplored," Mittermeier said. The Amazon River basin encourages the evolution of new species with its web of rivers serving as barriers—slicing the jungle into island-wedges and isolating species.

Since 1980, 38 species of monkeys have been discovered worldwide, 13 of them in Brazil. "It shows how much we have to learn about the world's largest jungle," said Mittermeier, who has discovered six species of monkey and four species of turtle and is chair of the World Conservation Union's Primate Specialist Group.

The two new Titi monkeys were discovered by Marc van Roosmalen, a Dutch primatologist at the Brazilian National Institute for Amazon Research, in Manaus.

"I didn't realize the Amazon was so poorly known until I started finding all these new animals," van Roosmalen said. Since 1996 he has published accounts of five new species of monkeys. And, his backyard is a jumble of creatures unknown to science—monkeys hanging around, waiting to be named and have their lives documented in a scientific journal.

"It has little to do with experience," van Roosmalen said. "I just keep going out into the field and looking for things. Any place I go I find new species." During his quest to find the home of the second smallest monkey, for example, he embarked on seven months of surveys, and discovered eight new species along the way. Van Roosmalen has a reputation for adopting orphan monkeys and occasionally new species are brought to his doorstep.

A local fisherman, for example, delivered the first specimen of one of the two new species—subsequently named Callicebus stephennashi—two years ago.

Continued on Next Page >>


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