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One rare breed

A new species of monkey has been discovered. But how much longer will it survive?

For centuries, explorers, mapmakers, zoologists and botanists have been criss-crossing and cataloguing the Earth and everything that's in it. But Mother Nature retains her ability to surprise us, as we are reminded again by the confirmation that a monkey first identified by scientists in 2007 is indeed a genetically distinct species, Cercopithecus lomamiensis.

To the people of the sparsely-populated area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo where it lives, this little primate with its hairless face is known as Lesula. Scientists first spotted one five years ago, in a cage, in an area not (yet) much mined or logged. Years of tests have now confirmed that it is only the second new monkey species identified in the last 28 years.

To be sure, new species are found and named regularly, but most are bacteria, fungi and the like; there are only about 5,500 mammal species. So the identification of our new distant relative is mildly pleasing, the more so because Lesula is a photogenic little character.

But most of us would find more satisfaction in this news if only our new cousin were not already deemed "vulnerable" - that is, at some risk of extinction - and that from local hunters alone. Our own species, homo sapiens, has got to start coexisting more peacefully with our neighbours.

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