Newly Discovered Primate is Already Critically Endangered

There are only about 200 or so Popa langurs left in Myanmar.

Popa langur
The monkey is known for its gray fur and white eye rings.

©Thaung Win

Researchers have discovered a new primate species in Myanmar and the striking monkey already faces risk of extinction.

The species has been named the Popa langur (Trachypithecus popa) after its home on the extinct volcano Mount Popa. Scientists estimate that there are only 200-250 animals of the new species alive.

This is a significant yet bittersweet discovery, researchers say.

“It is important because the few individuals that remain of the species will now be recognized as the unique and distinctive species they are, and hopefully this will encourage more efforts to specifically protect the remaining four populations and the forests they inhabit,” Roberto Portela Miguez, senior curator in charge of mammals at London’s Natural History Museum, tells Treehugger.

“It is bittersweet because the low numbers of individuals and the level of habitat degradation in the areas where they live are extremely worrying. It was very exciting to work with all the international colleagues on this comprehensive project and to describe the new species, but it is hard to take the fact that the Popa langur is critically endangered already.” 

The Popa langur was described using a combination of methods including field surveys where researchers collected fecal samples from wild populations in Myanmar and tissue samples from museum specimens. Researchers obtained samples of all 20 known species of Trachypithecus.

They also studied specimens at museums around the world in order to compare the physical characteristics of the new species with those of some of its closest relatives.

They found subtle differences in the color of its fur, length of its tail, skull shape, and the size of its teeth that hinted they were dealing with a new species.

“Once we analyzed all the data, and looked at everything that was already known for this genus, we were able to confirm that we were dealing with something new,” Miguez says.

The results were published in the journal Zoological Research.

A Solid Bedrock

One of the important keys to unlocking the new species’ identity was a more than century-old specimen that was stored at the Natural History Museum. It was collected in 1913 by British zoologist Guy C. Shortridge, who collected thousands of specimens in the early 20th century.

The newly discovered primate is dark brown or gray-brown with a light gray or white underside and black hands and feet. The animals have distinctive white rings around their eyes, a crest of fur on their heads, and a long tail.

It’s “quite simply a beauty!” Miguez says. “Just look at the picture. Mesmerizing.”

Researchers are still waiting to uncover more.

“Unfortunately there haven’t been any ecological studies on this species yet. Even for its close relatives little has been done in terms of documenting their behavior, ecology, etc…all that still to come,” he says.

“At least now we have a better understanding of the evolutionary history and species diversity for the genus Trachypithecus. This is a solid bedrock to build on future projects that will generate more knowledge about these animals.”

View Article Sources
  1. Briggs, Helen. "Newly Discovered Primate 'Already Facing Extinction'". BBC News, 2020.