Rare bearded monkeys discovered in Kenya

November 14th, 2007 - 8:34 am ICT by admin  
The shy, white-bearded monkeys, which belong to the De Brazza category of monkey, was thought to be near extinction in eastern Africa.

These primates depend on wet environments and rarely been known to travel more than a few kilometres from their normal range.

They were discovered by Iregi Mwenja, a researcher with Kenya’s Institute for Primate Research, in Mathews Range-a tiny pocket of lush forest some 90 miles from the closest known De Brazza’s habitat.

A recent study by the non-profit Conservation International found that human destruction of forest habitats has pushed some 25 types of primate to the brink of extinction. Though the De Brazza’s is not on that list, the newfound population may be a boon to their survival in Kenya.

“When I told people that there were De Brazza’s in Mathews, they said that that was not true,” National Geographic quoted Mwenja, as saying.

“I was almost doubting if it was true myself, but I had to go. The first thing is that I was shocked, because I had never seen such a large number of groups in such a small area before,” Iregi added.

Based on his survey, Mwenja puts the total number of De Brazza’s living at Mathews Range between 200 and 300, bringing the total number of the monkeys in Kenya to 1,000.

Though there are about a hundred thousand De Brazza’s living in the dense, little-developed forests of central and western Africa, populations of the monkeys in Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia exist only in small pockets that are isolated from the larger groups.

According to Mwenja, the prognosis for their survival is not good in the face of burgeoning development around their habitat.

If the Kenyan population of the species were to survive, western groups would have to be relocated to new forests, he believed.

Marina Cords, a biologist at Columbia University in New York who has studied De Brazza’s, said the discovery of the new population is an important find.

“People in Kenya are very excited about the De Brazza’s, and [the monkeys] seem to be quite rare, because they seem to be just hanging on in western Kenya,” she said. “So it’s great to have this discovery in Mathews Range.”

Richard Leakey, a leading conservationist and former head of the Kenya Wildlife Service, pointed out that these similarities suggest the De Brazza’s in Mathews Range are quite closely related to their cousins west of the Great Rift Valley.

The groups must have been part of the same population long after the valley opened up some two million years ago, dividing Kenya’s eastern savannas from the forested hills of the west, he said.

According to Leakey, that relatively rapid disappearance of forest suggests that climate change is affecting the world’s habitats faster than we think. (ANI)

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