New Monkey Species Found in Remote Amazon

Dave Hansford
for National Geographic News
February 4, 2008
A previously unknown species of uakari monkey was found during recent hunting trips in the Amazon, a New Zealand primatologist has announced.

Jean-Phillipe Boubli of the University of Auckland found the animal after following native Yanomamo Indians on their hunts along the Rio Aracá, a tributary of the Rio Negro in Brazil.

"They told us about this black uakari monkey, which was slightly different to the one we knew from Pico de Neblina National Park, where I'd worked earlier," Boubli said.

"I searched for that monkey for at least five years. The reason I couldn't find it was because the place where they were was sort of unexpected."

Uakaris normally live in flooded river forests, but this one turned up in a mountainous region on the Brazil-Venezuela border, far from its nearest relatives (see map).

"There is another species of primate in that region which is very similar to the uakari," Boubli said.

The two compete ecologically, he added, "so wherever that monkey occurs, you don't expect to find uakaris. That's why I wasn't really looking in those places."

Already Vulnerable

Boubli named the new monkey Cacajao ayresii after Brazilian biologist José Márcio Ayres.

As a senior zoologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society, Ayres—who died in 2003—helped create a protected zone in the heart of the Amazon.

But the newfound Ayres uakari, Boubli said, appears confined to a very small area outside any preserve and is hunted by locals.

"We're going to have to create a park or reserve, because [its habitat is] not a protected area," he said.

"The population is quite small, so they are quite vulnerable. I'm a bit concerned."

Little is known about the creature's habits, but Boubli said it lives in social groups and is likely a seed-eater, based on his observations of other uakaris.

Anthony Rylands, a primatologist at Conservation International, said work such as Boubli's is vital to wildlife protection.

"Many of these tropical forests are being destroyed now," Rylands said. (Read about threats to the world's rain forests.)

"There's a desperate need to save these animals, but we really need to know what animals we're trying to save [and] where they live. Otherwise you can't do anything about it."

Rylands added that today more new primate species are being described in the wake of advances in DNA technology.

"The sophistication of genetic analysis from just about any material—hair, feces—means we're able to get a much more precise view of primate diversity.

"Some of them, especially the nocturnal ones, are really quite cryptic—you can never recognize the differences simply by looking.

"Now … we've suddenly begun to realize that animals we previously considered to be one species are completely different creatures."

Defining the Species

A formal description of C. ayresii has been submitted to the International Journal of Primatology.

Meanwhile, some of Boubli's students will return to Pico de Neblina to study the new monkey's environment and behavior.

"It's very important to define what those monkeys are doing there, how big their range is, because we want to make a case for the Brazilian government to create a reserve," Boubli said.

"Finding a relatively large monkey as a new species these days is pretty cool," he said. "It shows how little we really know about the biodiversity of the Amazon."

(Related photos: "Amazon Expedition Discovers Dozens of New Animals" [June 5, 2007].)

In 2003 Boubli described another new species from the region, the bearded saki.

And he believes that new types of spider monkeys, squirrel monkeys, and capuchin monkeys await confirmation.

"If we are still finding monkeys, imagine how many invertebrates and things like that are still out there. It's pretty amazing."

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