Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Meet the Lesula Monkey!

In 2007, scientists working in the remote forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo spotted an unusual monkey in a village.  The monkey had a beautiful golden mane and amazing eyes, and it lived with a 13-year-old girl named Georgette. 
Apparently, the people of that area of the Congo were already familiar with this type of monkey because they hunt them.  The local name for the monkeys is lesula.  However, scientist John Hart and other researchers from the Lukuru Wildlife Research Foundation understood the possibility that this was a species of primate new to science.
It took five years of work, but Hart and his team proved that the lesula is a new species, making it only the second new type of monkey found in the last 28 years.  The lesula's formal name is Cercopithecus lomamiensis.
One startling thing that sets them apart is the males have bright blue rear ends.  Unlike their loud colors, though, lesula tend to be shy animals who forage by themselves or in small groups.  They spend a lot of time on the ground rather than up in trees, and eat fruit, flowers and bugs.  Adult male lesula may weigh up to 7 kilograms or about 15 pounds.
In their detailed paper published in PLOS One, scientists describe how they found one lesula who'd just been attacked by an eagle.  The eagle flew away and left the wounded monkey up in a tree, where she soon died.  Her body was collected for study.
But humans are a more serious threat to lesulas.  Despite living in very remote forests, the lesula may be in trouble because of the bush meat trade.  When farm animal meat isn't available, people in the Congo and other parts of Africa will buy meat of almost any type.  This meat may not be healthy to eat and may come from endangered animals.
It would be a shame to lose the lesula so soon after finding it.
(Here's the detailed article published in PLOS One, and a shorter article found on Yahoo.  The photograph is by Maurice Emetshu.  Thanks to Torger, who alerted me to this discovery.)

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