Discovery in the Amazon

July 8, 2009

WCS scientists track a new subspecies of tamarin in an isolated region of the upper Amazon. Despite the remoteness of its habitat, the monkey is threatened by development in the region.

Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) scientists and their colleagues working in northwestern Brazil have discovered a new monkey in a remote region of the Amazon. Researchers first caught sight of the new subspecies on a 2007 expedition into the Brazilian state of Amazonas.

The discovery was published in the June online edition of the International Journal of Primatology. Authors of the study include Fabio Röhe of WCS, José de Sousa e Silva Jr. of Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi, Ricardo Sampaio of the Instituto Nacional de Parquisas de Amaozônia, and Anthony B. Rylands of Conservation International.

A relative of the saddleback tamarins, known for their distinctively marked backs, the new subspecies is mostly gray and dark brown in color, with a mottled “saddle.” It weighs 213 grams, stands 9 inches tall, and has a foot-long tail.

Researchers have dubbed the monkey Mura’s saddleback tamarin (saguinus fuscicollis mura), after the Mura Indians, the ethnic group that share their turf with the monkeys in the Purus and Madeira river basins. Historically this tribe occupied the largest territory of any of the Amazonian indigenous peoples, extending from the Peruvian frontier today (Rio Yavari) eastward to the Rio Trombetas.

The study’s authors say the monkey is threatened by several planned development projects in the region, particularly a major highway cutting through the Amazon that is currently being paved. Conservationists fear the highway could fuel wider deforestation in the Amazon over the next two decades. Other threats to the region include a proposed gas pipeline and two hydroelectric dams currently in the beginning stages of construction.

But the new finding also offers hope that wildlife can persevere through great challenges. “This newly described monkey shows that even today there are still major wildlife discoveries to be made,” said Röhe, the lead author. “This discovery should serve as a wake-up call that there is still so much to learn from the world’s wild places, yet humans continue to threaten these areas with destruction.”

WCS researchers have discovered several new monkey species in recent years: the Arunachal macaque, discovered in India in late 2004; and the Madidi monkey and Kipunji discovered in Bolivia and Tanzania respectively in 2005. In 2008, Jean Boubli, who now works for WCS, discovered a new species of uakari monkey in the Amazon and named it after noted WCS primatologist José Márcio Ayres.

WCS-Brazil helped establish the Mamirauá, Amanã, and Piagaçu-Purus Sustainable Development Reserves—some of the largest protected blocks of rainforest on the planet.

WCS-Brazil would like to acknowledge the GEOMA project at the Ministry of Science and Technology of Brazil, for support that led to the discovery of the monkey.


Read the press release: WCS Discovers a New Monkey in Brazilian Amazon

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