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Page last updated at 07:53 GMT, Wednesday, 27 October 2010 08:53 UK
New species of snub-nosed monkey discovered in Myanmar
By Ella Davies
Earth News reporter

A digital reconstruction of the Burmese snub-nosed monkey (c) Dr Thomas Geissmann
A digital reconstruction of the Burmese snub-nosed monkey by Dr Thomas Geissmann

A new species of monkey with unusual upturned nostrils has been discovered in north eastern Myanmar.

Scientists surveying in the area initially identified the so-called snub-nosed monkey from skin and skulls obtained from local hunters.

A small population was found separated from the habitat of other species of snub-nosed monkeys by the Mekong and Salween rivers.

The total population has been estimated at just 260-330 individuals.

A team of Burmese and international primatologists identified the new species of snub-nosed monkey during this year's Myanmar Primate Conservation Program.

It is absolutely exceptional to discover a new species of primate
FFI Asia-Pacific Development Director Frank Momberg

Local hunters reported the presence of a monkey which did not match any description of species previously identified in the area.

After further investigation in the north eastern state of Kachin, experts found a small population of previously undiscovered black monkeys with white ear tufts and chin beards, prominent lips and wide upturned nostrils.

Asia-Pacific Development Director for Fauna & Flora International (FFI) Frank Momberg attended the expedition that discovered the species.

"It is absolutely exceptional to discover a new species of primate, and especially discovering a new species of snub-nosed monkey is very rare indeed," he told the BBC.

"With the new snub-nosed monkey Myanmar has now 15 species of primates, which underlines the importance of Myanmar for biodiversity conservation," said Mr Momberg.

An artists' illustration of the Burmese snub-nosed monkey (c) Martin Aveling / FFI
An artists' illustration of the Burmese snub-nosed monkey

The new species has been named the Burmese snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus strykeri).

In research published in the American Journal of Primatology, scientists also describe the monkey as having a relatively long tail at 140% of its body size.

Until now snub-nosed monkeys were thought to live only in China and Vietnam, not Myanmar.

The species discovered this year was separated from the habitats of its nearest neighbours, the Yunnan snub-nosed monkey (R. bieti), by the Mekong and Salween rivers.

Researchers pointed to this isolation as evidence that the monkeys are a separate species rather than simply an existing species with a different colouration.

Although new to science, interviews with local people in the area revealed that they knew the Burmese species as mey nwoah, "monkey with an upturned face."

Golden snub-nosed monkeys (c) Gavin Maxwell / Naturepl.com

Evidence from hunters also suggested that the monkeys were particularly easy to find in the rain. The monkeys allegedly sneeze audibly when rainwater gets in their noses and local people said they could be found with their heads tucked between their knees on rainy days.

Based on direct observations and evidence from local people, researchers estimated the total population of R. strykeri to be 260-330 individuals.

All species of snub-nosed monkey are considered critically endangered, including the striking blue-faced R. roxellana or golden snub-nosed monkey.

Hunting and habitat destruction are the key threats facing global populations.

The global charity Fauna & Flora International has committed to taking immediate conservation action to protect the newly discovered species.

Community action and appeals to the logging industry to protect the monkey's habitat have been intitiated.

"If we can convince local people to stop hunting the snub-nosed monkey through creating local pride, develop community-based patrolling and monitoring, and provide alternative sources of livelihoods for forest dependent communities we can save [it] from extinction," said Mr Momberg.



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