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11-May-2006

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New name for a monkey




Click here for a high resolution photograph.

In 2005, scientists reported the discovery a new kind of African monkey. Now, about a year later, some of the same scientists are saying that the monkey needs a new name.

The not-so-super-technical name for the monkey, kipunji, pronounced "kip-oon-jee" is just fine. This is the name people from southwestern Tanzania gave to these shy monkeys many years ago. The name that needs changing is the scientific name. These are the technical names that scientists use when they want to be sure anyone in any language knows exactly what animal or plant they are talking about. The scientific name for a human is Homo sapiens. Homo is the "genus" and sapiens is the "species modifier."




Click here for a high resolution photograph.

When the scientists first gave the new monkey its scientific name, they had only seen the monkeys from a distance. Because the monkeys looked like other mangabeys from the genus called Lophocebus, they decided to put the new monkey is this same genus. They named the monkey Lophocebus kipunji.

After naming the monkey, scientists got the chance to study one of the monkeys up close. The monkey they studied was a not-yet-full-grown male that was found dead in a trap set by a farmer in a corn field next to a forest.




Click here for a high resolution photograph.

The scientists measured and weighed the dead monkey, and took a close look at its skeleton. They also studied its family tree by comparing its genetic material to the genetic material from other monkeys.

After many different tests, the scientists realized that the monkey is not a Lophocebus. The monkey seems to be more related to baboons, but it's not a baboon. So, the scientists created a new category or genus just for this monkey. They called this category Rungwecebus in honor of Mt. Rungwe, the mountain area where scientists first saw this monkey. The new scientific name is Rungwecebus kipunji.

Rungwecebus kipunji has light to medium gray-brown fur. The monkeys usually have white fur toward the end of their tails and almost-white fur on their bellies. Rungwecebus kipunji makes a distinctive honk-bark and is highly threatened by forest destruction and hunting by humans, the authors say.

The monkeys spend most of their days and nights in treetops that make up the rainforest's roof or "canopy." The monkeys mostly eat fruit though they probably also eat leaves, flower buds and occasionally, small animals.

The African crowned eagle a predator that soars above the rainforest canopy -- hunts these monkeys. Leopards and pythons probably also catch and eat these monkeys.

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The new research by Tim Davenport from the Wildlife Conservation Society and his colleagues appears on the 11 May 2006 version of Science Express website.