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Owl-faced, colorful monkey charms scientific community

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
September 13th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The discovery of a colorful, owl-faced species of monkey was the result of a happy accident. A stray snapshot taken in 2007 showed a 13-year-old girl cuddling with the heretofore unknown animal, known locally as the Lesula.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - A shy, brightly colored monkey species has been found living in the lush rain forests at the heart of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a find that utterly surprised the researchers who came upon it.

Back from a recently concluded field expedition to a remote region of the central Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly known as Zaire, Congo researcher John Hart spotted the monkey photo.

"When I first saw it, I immediately knew it was something new and different - I just didn't know how significant it was," Hart says.

He says he remembered that the photo was taken in a village, and showed a young girl named Georgette with a tiny monkey that had grown friendly with the 13-year-old.

Hart noted the animal's blond mane and upper chest, and a bright red patch on the lower back. "I'd never seen that on any animal in the area, so right away I said, 'Hmmm.'"

Hart decided to get to the bottom of the mystery. Fast and list of collaborators formally introduced the world a new primate species, dubbed Cercopithecus lomamiensis, and known locally as the lesula.

The monkey that hung around Georgette's house had been brought to the area by the girl's uncle, who had found it on a hunting trip. The young female primate ran around in the yard with the dogs, foraging around the village for food and growing up into a kind of monkey that no one recognized.

The lesula, or C. lomamiensis, a cryptic, skittish primate, roams a swath of dense rain forest some 6,500 square miles.

A visit to the area that the lesula calls home reveals why the monkeys escaped scientific notice for so long, as this region of the DRC is remote and vast.

Tall trees towered overhead, covering the sun, and the forest floor, which is the chief domain of the lesula - is steeped in a permanent twilight.

The lesulas raise their voices at the first sign of day. Their booming calls are distinct from the cries of their monkey neighbors who live in the treetops.

Lesulas live in this isolated region in groups up to five strong, and feeds on fruit and leafy plants. The males weigh up to 15 pounds, about twice the size of the females. They also have some rather arresting anatomical features.

"They have giant blue backsides," Hart says. "Bright aquamarine buttocks and testicles. What a signal! That aquamarine blue is really a bright color in forest understory."

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