With dwindling forests and more than a billion people, India may seem an unlikely place to discover new species. Yet scientists surveying remote forests along the country's northeastern border with China have stumbled upon a new species of monkey: the Arunachal macaque or Macaca munzala
The new species becomes the 21st known macaque species and the eighth in India. It is the first macaque discovered since 1903, when the Mentawai macaque (Macaca pagensis) was found in Indonesia. The last primate found in India was the Golden Langur (Trachypithecus geei), discovered in 1955 in Assam.
The largely terrestrial Arunachal macaque is "stockily built and has an unusually dark face," according to its discoverers, Anindya Sinha, Aparajita Dutta, M.D. Madhusudan and Charudutt Mishra. According to the researchers, who work with the Nature Conservation Foundation in Mysore, the animal largely keeps to the forests and lives at altitudes up of 3500 meters, making it one of the highest-dwelling primates in the world. Its facial markings, the length of its tail, and other bodily features distinguish it from its closest relatives, the Assamese (M. assamensis) and the Tibetan macaques (M. thibetana). A paper describing M. munzala will appear in the August 2005 issue of the International Journal of Primatology.
The Arunachal macaque lives in a biodiversity hotspot that is under immense threat from human development. Yet it appears to be thriving. The Indian scientists have recorded 14 troops "of a fairly large population" spread over 1200 square kilometers. The team is continuing its work on the ecology of the new species and is urging the government to designate its habitat as a "protected area."
The discovery is "a very significant… and unexpected addition to the list of large primates," says primatologist Colin Groves of the Australian National University in Canberra. However, understanding the find's implications for the primate family tree will take more work, he and others say. As a step in that direction, the Indian team now hopes to obtain a sample of the monkey's DNA.
Nature Conservation Foundation