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New Primate Found in Africa

by Judy Purdy


Intro  |  No Luck Then a Jackpot  |  Co-Discovery   |  Demonstrating the Value of the Forests   |  Nature of the Species

Days and Nights in the Forest


Nature of the Species

In December the two teams settled on a name — the Highland mangabey (Lophocebus kipunji) — and submitted their paper to Science. The name honors people living near Davenport’s site who spoke of a reclusive monkey they called kipunji. People living near Ehardt’s research site, however, had no knowledge of the monkey’s existence. On May 20, 2005, Science published their paper, and both research teams were finally allowed to speak openly of their joint discovery.

Ehardt speculated that she and Butynski had overlooked the Highland mangabey in previous surveys because of its reclusive nature, confinement to a distant area of the Ndundulu Forest and small population size. She and Butynski had visited the Ndundulu area looking for monkeys in 1994 and twice since then but neither had seen or heard Highland mangabeys.

“They lack the loud ‘whoop gobble’ call that all other known mangabeys have,” Ehardt said. “In the morning they aren’t giving these vocalizations that can be heard a kilometer away. And when threatened, they go to the very top of the canopy, split up into small groups of two or three and become totally still and completely quiet.”

The Highland mangabey has a broad, upright crest of hair on its head, a white belly and chest, and a black face. They are reclusive, medium-sized monkeys (weighing an estimated 10-16 kilograms) that live in the forest canopy of mountains near equatorial Africa. Unlike the loud whoop-gobble call of other mangabey species, Highland mangabeys make a softer call that sounds like a honk-bark.

In all fairness, Ehardt also credits her Danish colleagues for first “discovering” the Highland mangabey, before either she or Davenport spotted them. “For various and perfectly understandable good reasons, the ornithologists misreported what they were,” Ehardt said. “And it was their pinpointed sightings that allowed us to find them again, a decade later. They certainly deserve credit, also, for this amazing find.”

Ehardt now has funding to genetically characterize the new species and get a clearer understanding of how it’s related to other mangabeys. “They are quite different,” she said, “and I sometimes speculate that they may eventually be taxonomically categorized as a completely new genus of primates.”

But for Ehardt and Davenport the most important issue is protecting the species and its critically endangered relatives. “We need to do much more if we’re to be comfortable that we’re not going to destroy them,” said Ehardt, voicing both teams’ urgent concern about safeguarding the world’s biodiversity hotspots. “What really drives me is to contribute to ensuring that biodiversity does exist in the future, despite the tremendous challenges facing us.”

Both scientists have taken a key step by training other scientists to help protect expanses of wild, fragile and as-yet-poorly understood environments for future generations to enjoy. Among the paper’s coauthors are Noah Mpunga and Sophy Machaga, senior conservation biologists with the WCS Southern Highlands Conservation Program and the first Africans to describe a species of African monkey. “I hope this will encourage more Africans to get involved in research and conservation,” Davenport said.

Ehardt concurs. “I want to leave behind a group of Tanzanians who have the knowledge, experience and heart to be stewards of these incredible natural resources,” she said. “That’s why I keep plugging away, and will continue as long as I can climb those mountains.”

For more information email Carolyn Ehardt at or Tim Davenport at Or access To see video of the highland mangabeys, hear their bizarre honk-bark or learn more about their conservation, access


Intro  |  No Luck Then a Jackpot  |  Co-Discovery   |  Demonstrating the Value of the Forests   |  Nature of the Species


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