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Straight onto the endangered list

Science | Scientists discover a new species of monkey
by John Dawson
Posted 11/19/20, 01:45 pm

Two years ago, scientists spotted a strange monkey high atop Mount Popa in Myanmar. At first, they thought it was a common langur native to India. But the monkey with a fright wig of gray hair is now the newest named species on the planet.

In an article published in the November edition of Zoological Research, an international team of scientists named the small, fluffy monkey with poofy hair Popa langur. But the newly discovered mammal might not be around for long: The researchers said it may already be close to extinction.

“We were blind to its existence until now,” Australian Museum Research Institute chief scientist Kristofer Helgen, told The Sydney Morning Herald. Though the Popa langur’s gray fur and white belly might make it stand out, its limited range around Mount Popa hid the species from biologists. They first identified a troop of the monkeys in 2018 near the mountain but believed they were no different than other langurs common in India. By comparing the dung of the Mount Popa troop to that of other langurs, scientists established this group of primates was unique.

Scientists estimate they have formally identified only about 2 million of the estimated 15 million living species on Earth. Researchers named more than 70 species in 2019, according to the California Academy of Sciences. But scientists rarely discover new, larger mammals like the langur.

According to Helgen and other researchers, only 200 to 250 Popa langurs might remain in Myanmar, including a small troop near the 5,000-foot-tall extinct volcano for which they were named. Buddhist pilgrims travel to the area to visit shrines and the Taung Kalat monastery at the top of Mount Popa. Mischievous rhesus macaques that live off the benevolence of visitors have made the area famous. While Mount Popa hosts some 2,000 rhesus macaques, Helgen and his team estimate roughly 100 Popa langurs live there.

The study’s authors said they expected the monkey to be classified as critically endangered before the end of the month. Co-author Frank Momberg of the U.K.’s Flora and Fauna International told the BBC that habitat destruction threatened the monkey most: “It’s absolutely critical to protect the remaining population and to engage with local communities as well as private sector stakeholders to safeguard its future.”

John Dawson

John is a correspondent for WORLD. He is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute, the University of Texas at Austin, and previously wrote for The Birmingham News. John resides in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @talkdawson.

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