New Monkey Species Discovered in East Africa

May 19, 2005

Scientists have discovered a new monkey species in the mountains of East Africa.

The new primate, known as the highland mangabey (Lophocebus kipunji), was identified by two independent research teams working in separate locations in southern Tanzania.

The teams describe the species—a medium-size, long-tailed tree dweller—in tomorrow's issue of the academic journal Science.

Fewer than a thousand highland mangabeys exist, researchers estimate. They say they expect that a formal census of the primate's population will land the species on the World Conservation Union's "critically endangered" list.

Except for their furry off-white bellies and tails, highland mangabeys are covered in thick brown fur. The thick coats are an adaptation to the primate's mountain habitat, where temperatures can drop below freezing, researchers say. The species lives at elevations up to 8,000 feet (2,438 meters).

The monkeys have black eyelids, faces, hands, and feet. Researchers have yet to directly measure a highland mangabey. But scientists say the primates are about 3 feet (90 centimeters) tall and sport tails of similar length.

Tim Davenport, a Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) biologist based in Mbeya, Tanzania, led a team that discovered the monkeys. The team found the mangabeys on the flanks of Tanzania's 9,700-foot (2,961-meter) Rungwe volcano and in the adjoining Kitulo National Park.

"A number of things distinguish it [as a distinct species]," he said. "But the key one above all is the call."

As adults, the monkeys emit a loud, low-pitched "honk-bark," which is significantly different from calls made by any other primate, Davenport said.

In addition, the monkey's fur color and upright crest of hair on its head help distinguish it as a unique species, said Trevor Jones, a research biologist at Udzungwa Mountains National Park in Mang'ula, Tanzania.

"As soon as I saw its fur color and upright crest—which is very striking, probably the first thing you notice when you get a good look at it—I knew it was different and probably new," he said.

Together with field assistant Richard Laizzer—and completely independently of Davenport's group—Jones found a highland mangabey population in the Ndundulu Forest Reserve in the Udzungwa Mountains.

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