The Dryas monkey is one of the most elusive primates known to science. Found only on the left bank of the Congo River, there are only as many as 200 cat-sized, highly social individuals living today. This incredibly small population has led to it being classified as “Critically Endangered” – one step away from Extinct (in the wild) – by the International Union for Conversation of Nature.
Researchers have long dreamed of stumbling across a new population of these monkeys in the hope that their numbers aren’t quite as limited as estimates suggest. Now, thanks to an exploratory band of researchers from the Lukuru Foundation, we now know that a second population has been hiding within another part of the Democratic Republic of Congo all this time.
Stepping into the Yellowstone National Park-sized Lomami National Park, the team of primatologists found a hunter standing beside a dead monkey, which turned out to be a Dryas monkey. This, of course, meant that there were likely others sneaking around in the rainforest, so the Foundation – in conjunction with Florida Atlantic University (FAU) – decided to place a few stealthy cameras around the area.
“The Dryas monkey is extremely cryptic and we had to think of a creative strategy to observe them in the wild,” Kate Detwiler, an assistant professor of anthropology at FAU and a longtime collaborator with the Lukuru Foundation, said in a statement. “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.”
A clip of the new populaiton of Dryas monkeys. Florida Atlantic University via YouTube
Dryas monkeys tend to stay away from clear, open spaces and were thought to stick to the lofty heights of the trees, which meant that the camera-trap equipment had to be hoisted up there too.
In order to do this, a nifty Masters student was recruited by FAU’s lead researcher to learn how to climb trees. In fact, he was so good at it that he received a tree-climbing certificate from Panama’s Institute of Tropical Ecology and Conservation.
Sure enough, the FAU were thrilled to discover that they were the first researchers in the world to capture footage of this previously unknown Dryas monkey population. It’s early days, and numbers are yet to come in, but the group of primates seem healthy at the very least.
Dryas monkeys sadly suffer from the same threats that most wild primates do these days – hunting, deforestation, and environmental degradation. Fortunately, as they’re in a national park, they are protected for the most part from such nefarious activities.
Now that this new population has been identified, work can begin to ensure that they don’t meet an early demise at the hands of our own species.