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Researchers spot rare monkey believed to be extinct

The vastness and density of rainforest ecosystems makes it difficult to know which animals live there, and which are gone. Case in point, primatologists Lieven Devreese and Gaël Elie Gnondo Gobolo recently captured the first-ever photographs of Bouvier’s red colobus monkey, a species so rare that some experts believed them to be extinct. In fact, the last verified first-hand encounter between scientists and the red colobus occurred over 100 years ago.

“We’re very pleased indeed that Lieven and Gaël were able to achieve their objective of not only confirming that Bouvier’s red colobus still exists, but also managing to get a very clear close-up picture of a mother and infant,” said WCS’s Dr. Fiona Maisels. “Thankfully, many of these colobus monkeys live in the recently gazetted national park and are protected from threats such as logging, agriculture, and roads, all of which can lead to increased hunting.”

The monkeys were found within Ntokou-Pikounda National Park, a 1,765 square mile space deep in the forests of the Republic of Congo. The area was protected in 2013, and provides sanctuary to elephants, chimpanzees and gorillas in addition to Bouvier’s red colobus monkey.

Bouvier’s red colobus monkey is native to the Republic of Congo, yet to this day scientists know little about it. In fact, it was only recently that it was listed as a full species, previously having been filed as a subspecies of the larger colobus taxonomic group. Scientists first described the species in 1887, and the only confirmed contact anyone has had with them has been with museum specimens obtained over 100 years ago. Though there have been rumored sightings as recently as the 1970s, this is the first verified encounter.

Unfortunately, the Bouvier’s red colobus does little to help itself: The monkeys prefer to gaze upon humans from the treetops rather than flee, which makes them particularly vulnerable to hunters in an area where bushmeat and developed land are increasingly in demand. However, the photographs Devreese and Gobolo captured of a mother with an infant indicate that though the species may be threatened, life continues to find a way.

“Our photos are the world’s first and confirm that the species is not extinct,” Devreese said.