Monkey, New To Science, Found In Central Africa

Play associated audio

It would seem difficult to overlook something as large as a new species of monkey, but scientists had no idea about the lesula until just a few years ago when conservation biologist John Hart discovered a specimen being kept as a pet in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In retrospect, the monkey's striking, almost humanlike face should have made it hard to miss, and Hart, who spoke with All Things Considered host Melissa Block, is the first to admit that this new monkey was apparently not such a mystery to the Congolese themselves.

"As we talked to the local hunters ... we realized that this animal was well-known to the locals," he says.

That was in 2007. The monkey was being kept by the daughter of a school director in the town of Opala, in central Congo.

It had become "quite attached to her, quite attached to living in their little compound," he says. "It played with the dogs and the goats and the chickens and ate the same scraps from the kitchen that those other animals were eating."

After finding the specimen, Hart and his colleagues wanted to make sure it was really a new species before unveiling the primate to the wider scientific community.

"It was a young animal we started with and you can always be fooled by something young, so we wanted to see it grow up," he says.

Observations and genetic tests helped clinch the verdict: The lesula was indeed a new species, at least as far as science was concerned.

Hart's team then spent a few more years trying to piece together "its habits, its ecology, its range," he says. But that wasn't easy.

"They are shy, so when we started this study, we were getting relatively brief glimpses of them because they could detect us before we could detect them," he says.

Among other things, the scientists determined that lesula females average about 9-10 pounds, while males can reach as much as 16 pounds. Also, the animals spend a lot of time on the forest floor, which is unusual for a monkey, Hart says.

The discovery was published in the journal PLOS ONE. The journal says it's only the second time in 28 years that a new species of African monkey has been identified.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

WAMU 88.5

Taking Great Photos On Vacation Or "Staycation" (Rebroadcast)

Professional photographers give us the latest on cameras, smart phones and shooting tips for great vacation photos this summer -- and every day.

NPR

Are Women Better Tasters Than Men?

Many in the wine and beer industry claim women have a keener sense of smell, and thus taste, than do men. Sensory scientists who've tackled this question say there's something to this.
NPR

150 Classified Messages In Latest Batch Of Clinton Emails

Hillary Clinton has said she neither sent nor received emails marked classified on her personal server. But 150 of the emails to be released Monday night have now been labeled "confidential."
WAMU 88.5

Taking Great Photos On Vacation Or "Staycation" (Rebroadcast)

Professional photographers give us the latest on cameras, smart phones and shooting tips for great vacation photos this summer -- and every day.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.