Posted by: Craig Woolheater on May 12th, 2006
When this new species of African monkey was initially reported, it was in the May 20, 2005 issue of Science Magazine. Initially, it was thought to be a new species of mangabey and was given the name "highland mangabey". As Loren posted earlier here on Cryptomundo, it has now been classified as a new genus, not a new species of mangabey.
I found some very interesting information in that article when I initially read it last year.
Africa’s newly discovered species of monkey, the highland mangabey, Lophocebus kipunji. Note the characteristic broad, upright crest on the animal’s head and non-contrasting eyelids. The artist’s reconstruction is drawn from research video taken by C. L. Ehardt in Tanzania in the Ndundulu Forest of the Udzungwa Mountains and in the Southern Highlands.
Credit: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation
During interviews in January 2003 in villages around Mount Rungwe, we heard rumors about a shy and atypical monkey known as Kipunji (kip-oon-jee). The local Wanyakyusa have a strong oral tradition based on both real and mythical forest animals, and validation of these rumors was protracted. We first observed an unusual primate during biodiversity surveys on Mount Rungwe in May 2003, but because of the terrain, thick secondary forest, and the animal’s cryptic nature, sightings were infrequent and poor. It was not until December 2003, during work in the contiguous Livingston Forest, that the monkey was clearly observed and recognized as a new species of mangebay.
Hmmm…this sounds somewhat familiar. An animal unknown to outsiders, but familiar to the natives…
The discovery of this new monkey was made by 2 groups of field researchers working independently at 2 sites 370 kilometers apart in southern Tanzania.
The number of individuals in each of the two populations of this species is undoubtedly very small; no live individual should be collected at this time to serve as the holotype.
Main Entry: ho·lo·type
Pronunciation: ‘hO-l&-"tIp, ‘hä-
1 : the single specimen designated by an author as the type of a species or lesser taxon at the time of establishing the group
2 : the type of a species or lesser taxon designated at a date later than that of establishing a group or by another person than the author of the taxon
The total population was estimated to be between 250 to 500. In fact, as incredible as it sounds, the scientists used a photograph of an adult male as the holotype.
What, science didn’t require a body to describe a new species?
I used this example in the "Pro-kill vs. No-kill" debate at the Southern Crypto Conference in June of 2005, when I was on the panel with 2 other members of the TBRC, Gino Napoli and Daryl Colyer. Were were debating against the "Pro-kill" side, consisting of Jim Lansdale, Bobby Hamilton, Chester Moore Jr. and Kriss Stephens.
I was scoffed at, because it was just another variation of an existing species of monkey. Certainly nothing like Bigfoot.
This blog entry is not about the people, nor the groups involved. It is about the idea that a species could be accepted by science on merely photographic evidence. Let’s keep the comments in line with that thought.
How did it come to pass that it was discovered not to be a mangabey, but it’s own unique species you ask?
The new African monkey, whose discovery was reported in Science almost precisely a year ago, was originally placed in the genus Lophocebus, commonly known as mangabeys. Rare and shy, it was identified only by photographs.
But then a farmer trapped one and it died and scientists could get a close look, including doing some DNA testing.
So while it only took a photograph to get it recognized, it did take a body for it to be classified correctly.
Video depicting the highland mangabey in its native Tanzanian forest habitat.