It’s not every day that you find a new monkey species. In fact, it’s only happen twice in Africa in the last 28 years.
Live Science reports that John Hart, a veteran Congo researcher, and his wife, Terese, stumbled upon a new monkey species while exploring the rain forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But the monkey wasn’t running wild when they found it. It was being kept as a pet in a small village.
Hart said that the discovery was the result of a happy accident. He was flipping through photographs from a trip to the Congo in 2007 when he noticed a unique monkey playing with a 13-year-old girl.
“When I first saw it, I immediately knew it was something new and different — I just didn’t know how significant it was. I’d never seen that on any animal in the area, so right away I said, ‘Hmmm.'”
That “hmmm” led Hart on a journey back to the Congo where he discovered a new primate species, Cercopithecus lomamiensis, that is locally as the lesula.
Kate Detwiler, a primatologist and assistant professor at Florida Atlantic University, said that lesulas feed on fruits and leafy plants, live in small groups, and males can grow up to 15 pounds. Detwiler also noted that lesulas have a few unique anatomical features.
“They have giant blue backsides… Bright aquamarine buttocks and testicles. What a signal! That aquamarine blue is really a bright color in forest understory. So in terms of monkey viewing, females can definitely find males… We don’t really know what this means because it’s very uncommon for monkeys in this lineage.”
Lesulas may be a new monkey species to much of the world but they are common to people in Africa. In fact, Hart said that the monkey is often eaten by people in the Congo.
“People have disposable income, and this is the cheapest meat… Bush meat is a go-to item because it’s less expensive than chicken or beef. This is not a new problem, but it’s a problem that doesn’t have a solution yet.”
Hart and Detwiler write about the new monkey species in the journal PLOS One.