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Wild Travel Magazine

First new monkey genus in 83 years

02/10/2006 00:00:00
Newly discovered Kipunji Monkey, Tanzania. © Tim Davenport/WCS
A new monkey species discovered last year by scientists with the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and other groups is now shown to be so unique, it requires a new genus – the first one for monkeys in 83 years, according to a study published in this week's Science. But conservationists warn that quick action is needed to protect the monkey's high-altitude forest home from illegal logging and hunting, or the species may soon vanish.

The monkey, first described by WCS scientists who found it in Tanzania last year, was initially believed to be related to mangabeys.
However, DNA work published in this recent study reveals that the species is truly unique, marking the first new genus for a living monkey species since Allen's swamp monkey in 1923. The new genus, Rungwecebus, (pronounced rung-way-CEE-bus) refers to Mt. Rungwe, where the monkey was first observed. Perhaps 500 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 lead author of the study, Dr. Tim Davenport of the Wildlife Conservation Society. 'The scientific community has been waiting for 80 years 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, according to Davenport. To save this unique landscape, WCS is calling for action from the world community to protect this region from further degradation. WCS has also set up a website dedicated to the protection of the species: www.kipunji.org

'It would be the ultimate irony to lose a species this unique so soon after we have discovered it,' said noted primatologist Dr. John G. Robinson director of WCS's International Programs. '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 frequently drop below freezing; its long coat is probably an adaptation to the cold. Co-authors of the study include scientists from the Field Museum, Yale University and the University of Alaska Museum.

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