Wednesday, 31 October 2007

DeBrazza Monkey

Scientists Make Breakthrough Discovery of Monkey Population in Kenya
By Joe De capua
31 October 2007

After much news of late about how primates are being threatened across Africa, there’s good news from Kenya. A new population of an unusual species of monkeys has been found in a most unexpected location. Scientists are calling it a breakthrough discovery in primate research.

DeBrazza Monkey, Photo courtesy of Wildlife Direct
The De Brazza Monkey can grow up to five feet in length, counting its tail, and weigh more than seven and a half kilograms. But what really stands out is the De Brazza’s snowy white beard and mustache.

Up until recently, it was thought there were only 700 such monkeys in Kenya. Conservation officials say the discovery was made in an arid region of northern Kenya, in “one of the last intact indigenous forest ranges.”

Iregi Mwenja is a research scientist with the Institute of Primate Research. It’s a department of the National Museums of Kenya. He also works closely with the conservation group Wildlife Direct. He confirmed that the monkeys were indeed De Brazzas, not known to exist east of the Great Rift Valley.

“De Brazza Monkeys in Kenya, we say they are endangered. But in Africa, we have stable populations in Congo, which is in the central part of Africa, but Kenya being the easternmost range of the species. We have a very low population. They have been estimated to be less than a thousand. So, before the discovery it was estimated to be at least 700. So, at least an additional 25 percent is significant to the conservation of the species in Kenya,” he says.

The habitat of the new population – the Mathews Range Forest Reserve – is described as “an island of biodiversity.”

“First you must understand the nature of the De Brazzas. They are very shy. The habitat that they occupy is usually very dense riverine forest. So, it is difficult to just spot them, apart from just walking along a river. Unless you deliberately, you know, go for them. So, this particular case the habitat is isolated. It’s in a very remote part of Kenya where we have very low human traffic. Of course, the local people knew about it and they had already given it a name. So they knew about them. They knew it very well,” he says.

In other parts of Kenya where the De Brazzas live, deforestation is a threat, as humans make room for agricultural land.

Mwenja says, “They have been saying that in probably 40 or 50 years there would be no suitable habitat remaining for the De Brazzas. But in this case what we found is that this is a new habitat relatively safe from human degradation. And this offers new hope for the species. They are not under serious threat, so we’re sure they’ll be there for longer.”

Mwenja says scientists aren’t sure how or when the De Brazzas arrived in the northern party of Kenya, since none were thought to exist east of the Great Rift Valley. The valley was formed about two million years ago and separated some species. However, the primate expert theorizes that at some point in its history there was some “connectivity,” as he puts it, between the eastern and western parts of the valley. A connection – possibly a wet forest corridor - that no longer exists.

Dr. Richard Leakey, chairman of Wildlife Direct and well-known paleontologist and conservationist, writes, “It is a critical issue for study as it puts climate change again as the most critical consideration as we plan for the future.”

A recent study – Primates in Peril – warns that at least 25 species of primate are at risk of extinction around the world.

Friday, 26 October 2007

A third of primates face extinction

Almost a third of the world's primates are in danger of extinction because of destruction of their habitats, a report by conservation groups has warned.

The report says many apes, monkeys and other primates are being driven from the forests where they live or killed to make food and medicines.

The research is being presented at the International Primatological Society (IPS) on the Chinese island of Hainan.

It was compiled by a team of 60 experts led by the World Conservation Union.

Asia threat

The report focuses on the fate of the world's 25 most endangered primate species, which are threatened by a depressing list of problems.

The authors say all the surviving members of these species combined would fit in a single football stadium.

Of particular concern are the Hainan gibbon from China and Miss Waldron's red colobus monkey from Ivory Coast, both of which have only a few surviving creatures left in the wild.

The report says the threat to primates is worst in Asia where tropical forests are being destroyed and many monkeys are being hunted or traded as pets.

It also argues that climate change is making some species more vulnerable.

Scientists have been warning for decades about the growing human threat to animal species around the world, but this study says we should be especially concerned about primates because they are the closest living relatives of humans.