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First video footage of extremely rare Dryas mon­key pop­u­la­tion in Congo Basin

pub­lished 03 Feb­ru­ary 2017 | mod­i­fied 03 Feb­ru­ary 2017

Dryas monkeysIf a tree falls in a for­est and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound? Not only does the tree make a sound, so do the crea­tures inhab­it­ing the for­est — or in this case — the rain­for­est deep in the heart of Africa. Using remote sens­ing cam­eras and sound recorders, researchers from Florida Atlantic Uni­ver­sity (FAU) are the first to cap­ture rare video footage of a newly dis­cov­ered pop­u­la­tion of crit­i­cally endan­gered mon­keys in one of the most remote regions in the world.

Span­ning nearly 1 mil­lion hectares, about 50 times larger than Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and almost the size of Yel­low­stone National Park, the Lomami National Park in the Demo­c­ra­tic Repub­lic of Congo (DRC) in Cen­tral Africa is now home to a new pop­u­la­tion of the Dryas mon­key. Orig­i­nally believed to inhabit only one site on the planet in the Congo basin, this colour­ful and beguil­ing ani­mal is about the size of a house cat. Field teams from the Lukuru Foun­da­tion TL2 Project dis­cov­ered it near the bor­der of the Lomami National Park when they noticed a dead mon­key with a local hunter. They later con­firmed it to be a Dryas mon­key, known locally as Inoko. First dis­cov­ered in 1932 and believed to be near­ing extinc­tion due to its small pop­u­la­tion size and unreg­u­lated hunt­ing, this species has per­plexed sci­en­tists for decades because of its elu­sive nature. The Dryas mon­key (Cer­co­p­ithe­cus dryas) is listed as Crit­i­cally Endan­gered by the IUCN in the Red List of Threat­ened Species.

Dryas mon­keys video­taped for the first time in the Congo Basin:

(Source: Florida Atlantic Uni­ver­sity YouTube channel)

The Dryas mon­key is extremely cryp­tic and we had to think of a cre­ative strat­egy to observe them in the wild
Kate Detwiler, pri­ma­tol­o­gist and an assis­tant pro­fes­sor of anthro­pol­ogy, Dorothy F. Schmidt Col­lege of Arts and Let­ters, Florida Atlantic University »

Kate Detwiler has been col­lab­o­rat­ing with sci­en­tists at the Lukuru Foun­da­tion for more than eight years. She also helped to dis­cover a new species, the Lesula mon­key, in that same park in 2012. “Dryas mon­keys are drawn to dense thick­ets and flooded areas. When threat­ened, they quickly dis­ap­pear into a tan­gle of vines and foliage, mas­ter­ing the art of hid­ing,” Detwiler says.

Lomami National ParkLomami National Park in the Demo­c­ra­tic Repub­lic of Congo.
Credit: Lukuru Foun­da­tion.

Detwiler jumped at the oppor­tu­nity to bring the dryas project to her lab when her col­lab­o­ra­tor John Hart, sci­en­tific direc­tor of the Lukuru Foun­da­tion, revealed the dis­cov­ery. For years, the Lukuru Foundation’s TL2 Project team mem­bers have been sur­vey­ing the rain­forests for the pres­ence of DRC’s endemic and endan­gered species, and dis­cov­er­ing diverse fauna includ­ing the Dryas mon­key. Their efforts were the impe­tus for the DRC to offi­cially estab­lish the Lomami National Park within the Tshuapa-​Lomami-​Lualaba (TL2) con­ser­va­tion land­scape last July, and is the country’s first national park in more than two decades. FAU is the first uni­ver­sity in the United States of Amer­ica to con­duct pri­mate field research in the Lomami National Park and greater TL2 Landscape.

Try­ing to cap­ture the mon­keys by video in the mid­dle of the rain­for­est was no easy feat and required unusual tac­tics. Detwiler reached out to then 24-​year-​old Daniel Alem­pi­je­vic, now a master’s degree can­di­date in FAU’s Envi­ron­men­tal Sci­ences Pro­gram, to help accom­plish the task. To get the job done, Alem­pi­je­vic had to learn how to climb trees — really tall trees — and received a tree-​climbing cer­tifi­cate from the Insti­tute of Trop­i­cal Ecol­ogy and Con­ser­va­tion in Bocas del Toro, Panama. He is the first per­son to con­duct an arbo­real cam­era trap sur­vey in the TL2 Land­scape, and spent a semes­ter there climb­ing very remote rain­for­est trees to set up the cam­eras. The cam­eras are placed in strate­gic loca­tions on the ground, mid-​range and in the canopy to deter­mine what level of the for­est the Dryas mon­keys prefer.

Charis­matic Ani­mals Found in the Congo Basin in Cen­tral Africa:

(Source: Florida Atlantic Uni­ver­sity YouTube channel)

This was an oppor­tu­nity of a life­time,” said Alem­pi­je­vic. “It was an incred­i­ble expe­ri­ence to work in the canopy of such a remote site, and to get the first camera-​trap videos of an extremely rare and elu­sive species.”

Video footage from these cam­era traps are pro­vid­ing vital infor­ma­tion about this crit­i­cally endan­gered species as well as an array of other charis­matic ani­mals such as the bonobo, African palm civet, and potto who also inhabit the Lomami National Park.

The Congo Basin rain­for­est is the second-​largest rain­for­est in the world, and con­tains some of the least known species on the planet, many of which are threat­ened from hunt­ing pres­sure and defor­esta­tion,” said Detwiler. “Our goal is to doc­u­ment where new Dryas pop­u­la­tions live and develop effec­tive meth­ods to mon­i­tor pop­u­la­tion size over time to ensure their pro­tec­tion. Under­stand­ing where they reside is impor­tant, because the ani­mals liv­ing inside the Lomami National Park are pro­tected, as it is ille­gal to hunt.”

In addi­tion to much needed con­ser­va­tion efforts, Detwiler and her team also are work­ing to solve the evo­lu­tion­ary puz­zle of the Dryas mon­key using genomic research to test the hypoth­e­sis that this species is a close rel­a­tive of the Vervet mon­key. Since 2014, the Detwiler lab­o­ra­tory has been study­ing a free-​living pop­u­la­tion of Vervet mon­keys that have remark­ably sur­vived for decades in a nar­row strip of dense man­grove swamp next to the air­port in Fort Laud­erdale. Alem­pi­je­vic used this pop­u­la­tion to prac­tice his cam­era trap meth­ods and hone in his obser­va­tion skills before leav­ing for the Dryas field study in the Congo forests.

More infor­ma­tion on the Lukuru Foundation’s TL2 Project and the work con­ducted by Detwiler and Alem­pi­je­vic is avail­able on the web­site Search­ing for Bonobo in Congo (field notes from Dr Theresa Hart).

(Source: Florida Atlantic Uni­ver­sity press release, 01.02.2017)

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