A new species of primate has recently been identified in Myanmar. With less than 250 individuals in the wild, it is unfortunately already threatened. Details of this work are published in the journal Zoological Research.
Before our eyes for a century
The species was first discovered in the back rooms of the Natural History Museum in London. A few months ago, researchers from the German Primatology Center (DPZ) and the environmental NGO Fauna and Flora International (FFI) carried out genetic analyzes based on the mitochondrial genomes of 41 specimens. The aim was to get a broader picture of the evolutionary history of the “langur” family (Trachypithecus, its scientific name). These are small primates endemic to the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia.
This work allowed researchers to find that the four distinct groups that make up this family had diverged from a common ancestor about four million years ago. In addition, they discovered that one of these specimens, collected over a century ago in British Myanmar, belonged to a species as yet unknown to science. Fecal samples collected from the forests of central Myanmar then confirmed that some specimens were still of this world.
Named “Popa langur”, after the extinct volcano on which the largest known group of these primates (a hundred individuals) evolves, this “new” species has probably existed for at least a million years according to the study.
Physically, this little primate, whose body measures between fifty and sixty centimeters, has a gray-brownish and white belly with black hands and wrists. Its tail is almost a meter long. Finally, the researchers estimate that the average specimen weighs about eight kilograms on the scale, about twice the weight of a typical domestic cat.
Immediately discovered, immediately threatened
However, there is a shadow on the board. Researchers estimate that there are only 200 to 250 individuals left in the wild. Also, Frank Momberg, of Fauna & Flora International (FFI), in Yangon, calls for the species to be directly classified as “critically endangered”.
The causes of its decline are (unfortunately) quite common: hunting, degradation and fragmentation of its natural habitat caused by agricultural encroachment or even “illegal or unsustainable timber extraction,” the study concludes.