Changing Planet

New Monkey Discovered in the Congo

A monkey known as the lesula to local people in a remote part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been found to be a species new to science, researchers reported this week in the journal PLOS ONE. The species has been discovered just as it is being threatened with being hunted and eaten into extinction.

It is only the second new species of African monkey discovered in the last 28 years, according to PLOS ONE.

“The first lesula found was a young captive animal seen in 2007 in a school director’s compound in the town of Opala in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” the journal said in a news statement. “The young monkey bore a resemblance to the owl faced monkey, but its coloration was unlike that of any other known species.”


Lesula monkey drawing by Kimio Honda, courtesy of FAU.


Since the initial sighting, researchers report in their PLOS ONE paper, the lesula was also found in the wild, where biologists were able to observe its behavior and ecology and determine its genetic and anatomical distinctiveness. The monkey has been assigned the scientific name Cercopithecus lomamiensis.

The new monkey’s range covers one of Congo’s last “biologically unexplored” forest blocks, the PLOS ONE statement said, adding that although its range is remote and only lightly settled at present, the lesula is threatened by local bush meat hunting.

“The challenge for conservation now in Congo is to intervene before losses become definitive,” say the Lukuru Foundation‘s John and Terese Hart, who led the project. “Species with small ranges like the lesula can move from vulnerable to seriously endangered over the course of just a few years.”

Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Assistant Professor of Anthropology Kate Detwiler was part of a research team that discovered Cercopithecus lomamiensis. She was the corresponding author for documentation of the new species and with colleagues at New York University she led the genetic analyses that determined that the lesula is a new species of monkey, genetically distinct from its closest relative, the owl faced monkey.

“We are very lucky that we found the lesula while there is still time to save it.”

Detwiler traveled to the Congo this past summer to see the species in its habitat, a 6,500-square-mile forest between the Lomami and the Tshuapa Rivers in the central part of the country.  “After searching for several days in the most densely populated lesula habitat, I finally got a glimpse of the species on the last day in the forest,” Detwiler said in an FAU news statement. “After the excitement of confirming the new species in the genetics lab, the chance to see the lesula in its natural habitat was especially gratifying. The fact that we are just finding a new species of primate in this area of the Congolese rain forest in the 21st century indicates that there is still so much to learn.  We are very lucky that we found the lesula while there is still time to save it, and the discovery fuels the drive to raise awareness about and support for conservation of this incredibly diverse ecosystem.”

The lesula is seriously threatened by uncontrolled commercial bush meat hunting that has expanded into the species’ range over the past decade, FAU said in its statement.

“The challenge for conservation now in the Congo is to intervene before losses become definitive,” said Lukuru Foundation’s John and Terese Hart.  “We are asking people not only to stop hunting in the area that will become a national park, but also to change their hunting behavior and to not hunt the lesula and other endangered species in the adjoining buffer zones as well.  We have seen initial willingness, but there will have to be economic alternatives.”

FAU’s news statement said that a significant area of the new species’ known range is now proposed as a new protected area, the Lomami National Park.  “This will be the first national park established in the Congo through consultation with local communities from the outset,” the statement added.

Citation: Hart JA, Detwiler KM, Gilbert CC, Burrell AS, Fuller JL, et al. (2012) Lesula: A New Species of Cercopithecus Monkey Endemic to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Implications for Conservation of Congo’s Central Basin.PLOS ONE 7(9): e44271. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044271

The research was supported by Arcus Foundation (, United States Fish and Wildlife Service ( ), a grant from Edith McBean, Abraham Foundation (, Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation Grant, and a Gaylord Donnelley Environmental Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies (

12418031_10153900711084116_8462971761216697621_nDavid Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.

He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.

Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship

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Forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. He has 120,000 followers on social media. David Braun edits the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn
  • Idowu oladeinde

    How could it be newly discovered when the locals already know about it just simply tell us that scientist have found aspcie unbeknownnst to them

    • David Braun

      It’s a fair comment, but I ask how can any of us know what we’re looking at if we don’t know what we’re looking at! We need our science to help us understand the great complexity of the world around us.

  • Robert

    They should call it “Ecce Homo” because it looks like the botched restoration of the fresco in Santuario de la Misericordia, a Roman Catholic church in Borja, Spain.

  • elle

    But, what if the ppl who eat the monkey die because they can no longer hunt this monkey. I know that sounds dumb, but, seriously, isn’t this part of nature…species come, and species go. If someone had saved the dinosaurs from extinction, humans may not be here to save this monkey. Let nature choose. If it means keeping some Congolese children eating well, why interefere with this? I know that sounds super harsh…

    • David Braun

      Of course, every person must be able to eat. But there are plans to turn this part of the Congo into a national park. A rare monkey unique to that park would add to the place being special, and that might help with drawing visitors, who would spend money and help local people develop an economy. But even if that didn’t happen, it’s probably not a good idea to eat species into extinction. They may be no recovery from that. Just as we do not know the value of water until the well runs dry, so might we not know the value of what we have lost in terms of biodiversity until we have less biodiversity. That’s the argument environmentalists make. Humans must find ways to eat sustainably, meaning that we must learn to leave the planet as healthy as possible for future generations.

  • Alan Garner

    I have a new friend overseas!

  • matthew w

    If the people who live in this area already had a name for the monkey, then how can you say that the monkey was just discovered? Seems like they’ve known about it for a while. It seems like you’re a nice guy, but it doesn’t feel right that those people don’t count to you for some reason. Hmm…

    • David Braun

      Yes, it was indeed known to the local people, who even have a name for it — but it was not a species known to science. No scientist had studied and described it and no one had done the genetic analysis to prove that it was a species in its own right. By far the great majority of species on Earth have yet to be studied and identified in scientific terms.

  • titanic world

    we should be saving the elephants now… what a greedy, dire situation that is. they arn’t even being eaten…just cold blooded killings.
    the monkey is very cool looking though. hopefully he doesn’t end up in a zoo or lab.

  • Lovely

    Thanks for your report. This monkey is gorgeous! I hope that this species can be saved.

  • ed

    it has been discovered only now, because people who knew about this monkey for ages don’t have, books, internet, nor care much about them.

  • Chicagojon

    Sorry, but falling back on ‘it wasn’t known to science’ isn’t enough. The headline and premise of calling this monkey new is incorrect unless you are framing it as’new to the western world or new to a specific group(s).

    This animal is known and has been known and named and interacted with. ‘Your science’ is not more significant than the experience of those who have known this animal for years, generations, centuries, & millenia.

    I find it especially ironic that in your response to Matthew W you defend your point by saying that no scientist had ‘done the genetic analysis to prove that it was a species in its own right’. Genetic analysis is a relatively new technique and was not known to earlier scientists like Louis Leakey. Does this mean that all scientists that worked before genetic analysis were as insignificant as the natives of the Congo that know this animal?

    Please reconsider your stance on this ‘new monkey’ and your dismissal of the peoples in the Congo who already know this animal.

    • David Braun

      By science I mean what is owned collectively by all of humankind, information based on observation, measurement and analysis, gathered across thousands of generations from every culture and civilization. It’s something all people everywhere share and pass on to the next generation to test and develop. We have all borrowed from everyone else, especially from the past.

      I don’t agree that scientific analysis of the new species is a dismissal of the peoples of the Congo. The Congolese also have scientists and teachers and advance human knowledge; they participate in the management of multilateral institutions of learning and knowledge such as UNESCO; they have their own conservationists who are just as interested in protecting endangered species as anyone else. At the same time, some of the peoples of the forest have retained a special biocultural knowledge that also shapes scientific investigation and knowledge and our understanding of Earth’s living systems. We know about them and respect ancient knowledge.

  • Mayavi

    Monkey is nice, I don’t agree with spending money to save the monkey. Let the nature do its job and you save the rest of the human being.

  • Mike

    It is one world that we look at. Our mind divides and names so that we can put what we have named into little boxes and try to control what we have no control over.

  • Nobrun

    If the locals already knew of this monkey, who are you to go there and suddenly ‘discover’ the monkey? You didn’t! The monkey had already been discovered. All you did was introduce to the world the primate species.

  • Ed M.

    Species and habitat conservation, competition for resources and political instability all have, IMHO, a common thread – human population pressure. While earth may be capable of supporting 20 billion people (random figure), that might not be best for the planet. Along with improving the health and lives of those in the developing world, I would suggest that reducing the rate of population increase in both the developed and developing world should be an explicit goal. There’s just too many of us for our own good. A few dozen millenia ago rapid reproduction rates were a contributor to the success of our species. No longer.

  • Dércio josé Manhiça

    i’m an african don’t want to believe that this as been discovered know.the scientist should go deeper with the investigation,there are of things out of europe usa out of many powerfull countries make adecition.

  • Eggbert

    “Sorry, but falling back on ‘it wasn’t known to science’ isn’t enough.” Really, Chicagojon? So with that logic, we should just go back to calling every rock, “rock”? Screw what type of rock it is… cause before science came along and grouped them into 3 main types, people just called them rocks. You sir, are a genius! No confusion there! Do you believe that only ‘new species’ just happen to pop up overnight? Do you suggest we place scientists 1 mile apart across the globe so that when a ‘new species’ pops up, they are on top of it?

  • LHC

    Cattle and pigs and lots of peanuts.
    That will do the trick.
    Raising better tasting meat will always work.

  • abby

    what a beautiful creature ….

  • Wehttam

    Give the monkey the locals’ name
    People there never get respect and I know they deserve it . For all they go through, hunger, war, heat and nature they really just want some hope. So name the monkey after the real name, the name the locals give it!

  • Jeana

    Their is nothing new in this world .. only undiscovered..

  • Somone in the USA

    I am using this article for a school assignment and i think its good.

  • zhangbocpu


  • LeFuj

    I guess where I’d be more interested in is how did this species come about. Humans look different but are still of the same species. From the eye of a regular person, this looks like a monkey, but how different is it from the others and what are its relatives?

  • she2bi

    Nice article.

  • Chris

    Is the ability to interbreed the main criteria in determining whether an animal is a representative of a new species or a variation of an existing one?

  • Richard Morgan

    That monkey looks like Jake Gyllenhaal

  • nobrun


    Trust me the monkey already has a local name. But I’m sure none of these so called ‘discoverers’ can tell you what it is. Do lake ‘Victoria’, ‘Victoria’ falls, ‘Rhodesia’ come to mind?

  • Jess

    Everyone needs to get off their soapbox. Don’t bother trying to appease them Mr. Braun, they want to be angry. Thanks for bringing this amazing creature to the world’s awareness.

  • red

    wow amazing!only in africa?

  • rachael

    i think its cool but dont bush meat carry diseases like aids

  • Rokens

    Surprisingly still find new species!

  • Moses

    An interesting story by scientists and hope they are about to discover a new human species.

  • cass

    Poor David, how many times will you need to repeat yourself. Thanks for being patient. Thumbs up to you!

  • Deb Henderson

    I have read your comments to other peoples comments. I don’t understand why they don’t comprehend what you are saying? Either theres a language barrier or they just like to complain. I get tired of that kind of ignorance on the internet. WE owe a lot to science for keeping us informed about the world.

  • Deb Henderson

    Ed, I couldn’t agree more. If we don’t start controlling our over population, mother earth will do it for us.

  • Andrew

    Letting nature take it’s course – Humans are a product of the planet, and part of nature. The Congolese people eating the monkey is as much a part of nature as the team of scientists planning to protect the species.

    The best long-term course of action is doing our best to live sustainably; if we discover a species, keep enough of them alive to survive long-term. Don’t over use resources, and do recycle them. Assess major decisions carefully, even take a few steps back until you have a calculated view on the myriad of reactions to your actions.

    Human over-population is a problem without any ethical solutions at the moment. We could run ourselves into seriously life-threatening situations in the future, but much like in Earth’s past, out of the dust new life comes.

    In my view our best chances to continue our current version of progress is to speed up the research into Nuclear Fusion, then find/create habitable zones and resources on other planetary bodies.

  • Maureen supan

    it looks like an eagle.. sometimes I wonder how things in this world are completely related to each other.. however its amazing.. im glad they discovered it before its too late

  • ArnoldLayne

    Good Grief! LOL to the overtly and overly sensitive anthropologists who get offended that the author dare claim ‘new species’ or ‘new discovery’. Get a clue to context, or do you make a living parsing every article for full disclosure of what others already know?

  • Sam

    Looks so Caucasian – its fur with blonde coloring, lighter eyes and aquiline facial features. Cro-magnons are the precursors to the caucasian race. May be they evolved from these types of species- these look so distinctly different from other pre-evolutionary species?

    Rethinking why Homo sapien races look so different (Caucasoids, Negroids, Australoids, Mongoloids..)

  • Parson Brownlow

    Well, it’s new to me, new to science, and new to everyone else in the world that doesn’t live in that little corner of it. Loved the pictures and loved the article. Many thanks.

  • I Love Monkeys

    Where can I buy one of these!? <3

  • Zoospore

    In my own opinion, interbreeding is not main criterion for which new species arise, but variation of the existing one is definitely correct. For me, a species is new only if it is genetically dissimilar or distinct from its relative. Speciation would probably involve reproductive isolating mechanism (e.g. geographical isolation is part of it), and mutation.

  • J Hansen's_monkey

    Looks a lot like the wide ranging De Brazza monkey. Any significant relation?

  • Galib Rahman Khan

    Nice, very nice.

  • Alex

    The statement “new to science” needs to be taken in context. It may be known to the local population but not listed in any scientific database. There are more important issues here than whether it’s new or not. Unfortunately its discovery serves only as a sad reminder of the back seat that nature takes vs. the “needs” and “rights” of the human population. Maybe the discovery will hasten the declaration of a national park, supplying a small measure of protection. Then again, looking at the state of so many other species, maybe it won’t.

  • Kierstin

    I think it is cool that we can find animals and then classify them right away. We have the resource to discover animals. I also think it was a good thing that scientist found the monkey before it became extinct. I believe that it is so awesome that we humans have been on the earth for a long time and we just found this species of primates.

  • Godwin Tanda

    This species of monkey looks similar (or could be be assumed same) as one caught in my village by one hunter some 20 years back and kept as a household pet. Then I was very ignorant about conservation and extinction and this guy was a local hero or king with this monkey. The appearance and structure, size tell a lot about what I saw in village (Mughie, Banji, Bafut sub-division coordinates: 06⁰15’920”N and 06⁰78’783”E (Elevation = 1325m)

  • Godwin Tanda

    Could this have been the same species? If yes, then this might not be new to science but just newly identified. This is because, had I the identification skills at that time, then, there would have been a possibility. Now there has been a lot of deforestation in my village in the past 15 years. I doubt if this species still finds its traces in patchy montane forests.

  • Curtis Davis

    If the locals already have a name for the monkey and already came in contact with it then it all ready was discovered by man just not western man. And I’m sure Western man already have a new name for the monkey just as he renamed every thing else that the original Man had already had named.

  • Trevor Brown

    To Moses. How could we find a new species of humans when we dont look for a change in ourselves. we may look for the “new” but i dont think we will notice a change in ourselves till it is too late.

  • tiffany carlson

    awwwww i wanna eat it !!!!

  • debraj.paul

    It is a very gud news to all of us at lest in these time where many mamles becomes ……….

  • Steven Moore

    It’s endless isn’t it? The wittering while the world burns. David HAS to title it ‘New monkey discovered…’, or else none of us would be reading it. Now that’s natural selection.

  • mohammad

    It is really amazing the universe is endless

  • Jeannie Mancini

    Does anyone know of any books on the new Lesula Monkey?

  • Jeannie Mancini

    Does anyone know of any books on the new Lesula Monkey?

  • Jodie

    When was this monkey officially discovered?

  • Jodie

    When was this monkey officially discovered?

  • alize hines

    what is the monkey called and why does it have a long nose

  • alize hines

    what is the monkey called and why does it have a long nose

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