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

WAMU 88.5

The Music And Legacy Of Motown

Motown founder Berry Gordy and director Charles Randolph-Wright of “Motown the Musical" join Diane for a conversation about the history of Detroit's famous sound.

WAMU 88.5

Will Montgomery County Go "Bottoms Up" On Liquor Laws?

Since Prohibition, Montgomery County has held the purse strings on liquor sales, meaning the county sells every drink from beer to bourbon to local bars and restaurants. But local business owners are pushing back from this system, claiming it lacks efficiency and leaves customers waiting. County officials say they are holding out for alternatives that protect those within the industry. We discuss both sides of the issue today.

WAMU 88.5

Exelon's Chief Strategy Officer On Its Proposed Takeover Of Pepco

Kojo chats with Exelon's chief strategy officer about the company's vision for electric service in the Washington region, and its argument for why its acquisition of Pepco is in the best interest of customers.

WAMU 88.5

Computer Guys And Gal

Another year is coming to a close and the Computer Guys And Gal are here to discuss this year's biggest technology news, including the growth of virtual reality and the "Internet of Things."

Leave a Comment

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