New genus of monkey described for first time in 83 years
and World Science staff
A new monkey species discovered last year is so unique, it requires a new genus—the first one for monkeys in 83 years, a new study indicates.
The analysis of the creature, discovered by scientists with the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society and other groups, appears in this week’s issue of the research journal Science.
But conservationists warn quick action is needed to protect the monkey’s high forest home from illegal logging and hunting, or it may die out.
A genus is a group containing one or more species. It is the level of taxonomic classification between species and family. Scientists usually refer to organisms by their genus and species name.
The monkey, found in Tanzania last year, was initially believed to be related to mangabeys, another type of monkey. But new DNA work reveals it is truly unique, marking the first new genus for a living monkey species since Allen’s swamp monkey in 1923, researchers say.
The new genus, Rungwecebus, (pronounced rung-way-CEE-bus) refers to Mt. Rungwe, where the monkey was first observed. Perhaps 500 are thought to remain in the wild.
“The discovery of a new primate species is an amazing event, but the discovery of a new genus makes this animal a true conservation celebrity,” said the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Tim Davenport, lead author of the study. “The scientific community has been waiting for eight decades for this to happen, and now we must we move fast to protect it.”
The monkey, known locally as a “kipunji” (pronounced kip-oon-jee) is restricted to the Highlands region of Tanzania, an area severely threatened by logging, Davenport warned. His group is calling for action from the world community to protect the unique region from further degradation. The society has also set up a website dedicated to the monkey’s protection: www.kipunji.org.
“It would be the ultimate irony to lose a species this unique so soon after we have discovered it,” said primatologist John G. Robinson of the society. “This is a world treasure and as such, we urge the world community to protect it.”
The monkey is brown, with a long, erect crest of hair on its head, elongated cheek whiskers, an off-white belly and tail, and an unusual call, termed a ‘honk-bark’ by the scientists who first described it. It stands about 3 feet tall (90 cm).
The monkeys occur as high as 8,000 ft (2450 m) where temperatures often drop below freezing; its long coat is probably an adaptation to the cold. Co-authors of the study include scientists from the Field Museum of Chicago, Yale University in New Haven, Conn., and the University of Alaska Museum in Fairbanks, Alaska.
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