New monkey discovered in Northeastern India

12/15/04

21st century rarity occurs in world's second most populous country

A species of monkey previously unknown to science has been discovered in the remote northeastern region of India, according to the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Named after the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh where it was found, the Arunachal macaque---a relatively large brown primate with a comparatively short tail---is described in a forthcoming issue of the International Journal of Primatology. The last species of macaque to be discovered in the wild, the Indonesian Pagai macaque, was described in 1903.

"This new species comes from a biologically rich area that is perhaps India's last unknown frontier," said WCS conservation scientist Dr. M. D. Madhusudan, who was part of the discovery team that included WCS, the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), and its associates. "The discovery of a new species of monkey is quite rare. What is also remarkable about our discovery is that few would have thought that with over a billion people and retreating wild lands, a new large mammal species would ever be found in India, of all places."

The new species of macaque was photographed during expeditions in 2003 and 2004 made by Indian researchers from WCS, NCF, the International Snow Leopard Trust, and the National Institute of Advanced Studies. The Arunachal macaque (Macaca munzala) is the latest addition to the macaque family, a group with some 20 different species occurring mainly in Asia across a variety of different habitats. The new species is also one of the highest-dwelling primates in the world, occurring between 1600 and 3500 meters about sea level.

Although the monkey is new to science, the animal is well known to the residents of the Himalayan districts of Tawang and West Kameng, where the species occurs. The monkey's species name, mun zala, means "deep-forest monkey" in the vernacular of the Dirang Monpa people.

The status of the monkey is not yet fully known. While the predominantly Buddhist people of Tawang and West Kameng do not hunt the macaques for food or sport, they do kill monkeys in retaliation for crop raiding. Further studies will determine whether the Arunachal macaque should be included on the World Conservation Union's (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species and Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972.

Recent expeditions into Arunachal Pradesh by WCS's Indian partners have also reported the leaf deer, the black barking deer, and the Chinese goral, all species that were previously unknown from India. On the strength of one such expedition into western Arunachal Pradesh in 2003, the state government has now created a new protected area--the Tsangyang Gyatso Biosphere Reserve.

Madhusudan added: "This region of Arunachal Pradesh, with its rugged mountains and extensive forest cover is truly one of India's last wild places, one that merits protection at both regional and international levels."

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