First new monkey species to be discovered in Africa for over 20 years

IUCN, Gland, Switzerland, 20 May 2005. A new species of monkey, the highland mangabey (Lophocebus kipunji), has been discovered in the forested highlands of southern Tanzania. This is the first new species of monkey to be identified in Africa for over 20 years.

It is a medium-sized, tree-dwelling species with mainly pale brown fur and has a distinctive soft honking bark, unlike the whooping call of its closest relatives. The face and hands are black and there is some white on the belly and tail. Details of the discovery were officially disclosed in the journal Science online.

In an amazing coincidence, the discovery was made independently by two different research teams, made up of partnerships of different conservation organizations, working several hundred miles apart.

One team, working in the Ndundulu Forest Reserve, realized that they had found a new species whilst looking for its rare relative, the Sanje mangabey. Meanwhile, a different team of researchers, working more than two hundred miles away in the southern highlands of Tanzania, had been trying to track down a strange animal known to local hunters as Kinyakyusa (pronounced kip-oon-jee). After a year long search, they too spotted the monkey.

The two groups learnt about each other’s findings in October and wrote the report for Science together.

Dr Tom Butynski, of the Ndundulu Forest Reserve team and member of the SSC's Primate Specialist Group, was amongst the first scientists to find the monkey said it was a wonderful experience to be one of the first primatologists to see the animal.

“These monkeys have probably been here for hundreds of thousands of years” he said. “What are the chances of two independent projects finding them within a 10-month period?!”

Highland mangabey (Lophocebus kipunji) courtesy of Dr Tim Davenport, WCSDr Russel Mittermeier, Chair of SSC’s Primate Specialist Group, said it demonstrated how little we knew about our closest relatives, the non-human primates.

“A large, striking monkey in a country of considerable wildlife research over the last century has been hidden right under our noses,” he said.

Finding a new species in this area highlights the importance of Tanzania’s wooded uplands, as the region is one of the world’s most important areas for biodiversity. Scientists believe that there are two or more populations of the highland mangabey living in the forests near the Udzunga Mountains National Park, but the total population is estimated at less than 1,000 individuals. With so few animals, its future may be in doubt and part of the monkey’s habitat has already been destroyed by illegal logging. This has lead to calls to increase the size of the national park to improve forest protection.

The Southern Highlands team was coordinated and funded by the Wildlife Conservation Society; the project that produced the discovery in Ndundulu Forest received financial support from WCS, Conservation International, the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, the Margot Marsh Biodiversity Fund, Primate Conservation, Inc., the Primate Action Fund, The University of Georgia Research Foundation and Office of the Dean of Franklin College, the National Science Foundation, and the Primatological Society of Great Britain

For more information on the research project, see the Wildlife Conservation Society webfeature and the Science Vol. 308 20 May 2005 paper (235KB)

For further information contact:

Andrew McMullin, IUCN Species Programme Communications Officer
Tel: +41 (0)22 999 0153

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