By Jeremy Hance
In a massive, wildlife-rich, and largely unexplored rainforest of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), researchers have made an astounding discovery: a new monkey species, known to locals as the 'lesula'. The new primate, which is described in a paper in the open access PLoS ONE journal, was first noticed by scientist and explorer, John Hart, in 2007. John, along with his wife Terese, run the TL2 project, so named for its aim to create a park within three river systems: the Tshuapa, Lomami and the Lualaba (i.e. TL2), a region home to bonobos, okapi, forest elephants, Congo peacock, as well as the newly-described lesula.
"There are monkeys out there between the three rivers that no one recognizes. They are not in our field guides," Terese Hart wrote tantalizingly in a blog post in 2008. "We've sent photos to the most renown of African Primatologists. Result: a lot of raised eyebrows. And the more we find out the higher our eyebrows go."
One of these monkeys was the lesula (Cercopithecus lomamiensis). John Hart first came across the new species in June 2007 when he and a field team were shown a captive baby lesula, kept as a pet by the local school director's daughter in the remote village of Opala. The next step was locating the species in the wild.
"This area is so remote that we are the first binocular sporting biologist to venture into the depth of the TL2," John Hart writes, adding that any primate taken out of the forest "arrived as heavily smoked and unrecognizable bushmeat in centers like Kisangani."
Six months after seeing the captive lesula, the team discovered them in the wild in an area known as Obenge.
"[The lesula\ is shy and was the least frequently seen of all primates recorded on large mammal surveys (19 observations of Cercopithecus lomamiensis out of a total of 223 visual observations of primate groups)," the researchers write in the paper, noting that the species prefers old-growth rainforests. More....