Deep in the Amazon rainforest, a new species of fluff-covered monkey had been hiding in plain sight, disguised as similar species that we already knew about. The newly named Plecturocebus parecis was first spotted over a century ago in Brazil’s dense rainforest, but it was assumed to just be Plecturocebus cinerascens, aka the ashy black titi monkey.
But in 2011, Mariluce Messias of the Federal University of Rondo?nia became suspicious that there might be an undescribed species when she was studying the impacts of Brazil’s rampant deforestation on titi monkeys. Now, scientists have conducted an in-depth analysis of the monkey’s characteristics and DNA, concluding in Primate Conservation that it is in fact a brand-new species distinct from other titis.
Titi monkeys are a group of fluffy New World monkeys found across South America. They are fairly small and equipped with a very long tail to help them balance in the tree canopy. The new addition – the third new species of monkey to be found in Brazil this year – lives in areas of high elevation, such as the Parecis Plateau after which it is named. However, the researchers note that the geographical distribution of these monkeys is “still poorly defined”.
What made P. parecis stand out to Messias is its distinct coloration. The monkeys are mostly gray but have “distinctly reddish chestnut” fuzz on their backs, short pale hairs on their hands and feet, and a whitish beard and sideburns. They also have light gray fur at the ends of their tails, differentiating them from the more uniformly dark ashy black titi.
The team behind the new species description advise that the monkey be listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN’s Red List due to habitat loss and fragmentation throughout its home range. It lives in an area described as the “Arc of Deforestation” where vast swathes of rainforest have been decimated to make way for soybean and corn plantations as well as cattle farms. The construction of highways and ever-increasing numbers of wildfires purposely ignited to clear land are also putting this species – and many, many others – at risk.
The detection of a new monkey in Brazil’s Amazon, along with other unique primates recently identified in the same area, signals that a wealth of creatures have yet to be discovered in this rich and unique ecosystem. However, with the nation in the hands of Captain Chainsaw himself, President Jair Bolsonaro, the future of the Amazon and its wildlife looks bleak. In July 2019, deforestation in the country was up 278 percent compared to last year, while last month saw an increase of 104 percent on last year.
Unfortunately, Bolsonaro would rather exploit the Amazon for financial gain than protect it for future generations, despite the fact that an intact rainforest can boost the economy much more than tearing it down. We’ll have to wait to see what the future holds for the little titi monkeys that call Brazil home.