A team of scientists announced Thursday they have discovered a rare monkey thought to be extinct.
Scientists working in the dense jungles of Indonesia say they have rediscovered a large, gray monkey so rare it was believed by many to be extinct. The monkey, known as Miller’s Grizzled Langur, has a black face framed by a fluffy, white collar and was discovered in an area well outside its previously recorded home range. It has hooded eyes and a pinkish nose and lips, once roamed the north-eastern part of Borneo, as well as the islands of Sumatra and Java and the Thai-Malay peninsula.
The team discovered the rare monkey by setting up cameras in the remote outpost, hoping to capture images of clouded leopards, orang-utans and other wildlife known to congregate at several mineral salt licks. The resulting photos are the first taken of the monkey. Virtually no photographs of the grizzled langurs in are known and it remains unclear if any exist.
“The only description of Miller’s grizzled langur came from museum specimens. Our photographs from Wehea are some of the only pictures that we have of this monkey,” said scientists. “It was a challenge to confirm our finding as there are so few pictures of this monkey available for study.”
Populations of Miller’s grizzled langurs were first described in Kutai National Park and Sangkulirang Peninsula, East Kalimantan, Indonesia, in 1985.
The monkey was thought to have been extinct due, in part, to recent deforestation efforts in the area of its native habitat. Forests where the monkeys once lived had been destroyed by fires, human encroachment and conversion of land for agriculture and mining. Surveyors searching for evidence of the monkey in 2005 found few signs that the monkey remained in the area, leading to speculation that it has likely gone extinct.
“For me, the discovery of this monkey is representative of so many species in Indonesia,” said Brent Loken, a PhD student at Simon Fraser University in Canada and one of the lead researchers. “There are so many animals we know so little about, and their home ranges are disappearing so quickly. It feels like a lot of these animals are going to quickly enter extinction.”
The discovery underscores the difficulties of declaring a species extinct. A number of primate experts have called on scientists to avoid declaring an animal extinct until extensive surveys in its known habitat have been conducted. Some scientists have called for surveys that last for upwards of fifty years, noting that recent discoveries have undermined declaring creatures extinct. Since 1990, scientists have run into 93 previously unknown species of primates, more than half from Madagascar.
The discovery suggests that a population of the langurs reside on the island, but scientists cautioned that little is known about the species, and additional research it needed before it is known just how many monkeys remain in the region. The team of scientists say they plan to conduct further research into the monkey’s range and behavior to understand how best to save it from extinction. Meanwhile, the group, along with other organizations, are working to secure extra protection for the forest.
The results of the discovery are published in the American Journal of Primatology.