They may be small, but they sure are mighty. Researchers have described what they think is a new species of dwarf galago, or bushbaby, except there’s a catch: It’s three times the size of all other known species of dwarf galagos.
Discovered in the rainforests of Angola, Southern Africa, the bushbaby is only the fifth new species of primate to be discovered on the African continent since 2000. With typically big eyes, perky ears, and bushy tail, the Angolan dwarf galago (Galagoides kumbirensis) has a distinctive white stripe that runs between its eyes. But what sets it apart from other bushbabies that are more comparable in size to this new species is its vocalizations.
“When we first encountered the new species in Kumbira Forest in north-western Angola, we heard a distinctive ‘crescendo’ call similar to that of a tiny galago, but upon seeing one, we were struck by its remarkably large size,” said Magdalena Svensson, who led the study published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. “Until now, call types have been the most reliable way to distinguish galago species, and to find one that did not match what we expected was very exciting.”
While the new species may be a giant among its dwarf peers, the primate is still pretty tiny, with a body measuring just 16 centimeters (6 inches) and an impressive 18-centimeters-long (7 inches) tail tacked on the end. Spending most of their time at the top of trees, and only active at night, they can be quite difficult to monitor, hence the use of their calls in order to identify them. In fact, the morphology of the little primate and its strange calls were so distinctive that the researchers didn’t even need to turn to genetics to discover it was a new species.
As is often the case, however, with the joy of finding a new species comes the depressing news that the Angola dwarf galago is also probably already endangered. The researchers were able to identify at least 36 of the primates in the wilds of Angola, but the forests in which they live are already threatened with destruction.
The intense civil war that has raged in the country from 1975 to 2002 has had a heavy toll, not only on the people but on the environment too. Deforestation from commercial outfits is rapidly increasing in the region that the bushbaby was discovered, which not only threatens the survival of this primate, but also countless other species that are likely to be living in the vastly understudied nation.