Scientists in the Democratic Republic of Congo claim they have discovered a new species of monkey, making it only the second such discovery in nearly 30 years.
The claim is published in the journal Plos One, in which the team of U.S. scientists have named the find Cercopithecus Lomamiensis. The team says the monkey, which locals call the Lesula, has been known among inhabitants of the Congo's Lomami forest basin for years but had never been seen by the outside world until now.
"We never expected to find a new species there," said the project's lead scientist, John Hart. "But the Lomami basin is a very large block that has had very little exploration by biologists."
The Lesula has large yellow eyes, a long narrow nose and a pink-colored face under its golden fur. It is reportedly very shy, requiring Hart's team to set up remote monitoring devices to detect the animals in their natural habitat.
Interestingly, the team first made its apparent discovery when scientists came across an unidentified monkey tethered to a post and belonging to the daughter of a local schoolteacher.
"Right away I saw that this was something different," Hart said. "It looked a bit like a monkey from much further east, but the coloring was so different and the range was so different."
For three years, Hart worked with geneticists and anthropologists as he labored to determine whether the monkey actually belonged to a previously unclassified species.
"I knew it was important to have a collaborative team of experts," he said.
Eventually an ancient, common genetic ancestry was linked between the Lesula and the Owl Face monkey. Scientists at New York University and Florida Atlantic University say they believe the species' split may have occurred after a series of rivers broke apart the animal's natural habitat.
Hart is working with Congolese authorities to establish a national park in the basin that will help protect the Lesula and other animals that reside there.
"The challenge now is to make the Lesula an iconic species that carries the message for conservation of all of DR Congo's endangered fauna," Hart said.