Extremely Rare Primate, Believed Nearly Extinct, Discovered in Remote Borneo Forest (PHOTOS)

Miller's Grizzled Langur by Eric Fell

An extremely rare and little-known species of monkey — Miller’s Grizzled Langur (Presbytis hosei canicrus) — previously believed to be extinct*, or nearly extinct, has been discovered in the remote Wehea Forest in East Kalimantan, Borneo.

An international team of zoologists and anthropologists has confirmed the Grizzled Langur’s existence through a combination of direct observations at ‘mineral licks’ (mineral deposit sites, usually containing quantities of salts, that animals lick for mineral nutrients) and camera traps spread over several locations in the forest.

Confirming the identity of the primate was initially challenging, as previous descriptions of P. h canicrus were based solely upon museum specimens. The photos from this exhibition represent some of the only photos known of the monkey.

The photos also provide documentation that the monkey’s habitat range extends further than previously thought, which will significantly aid future research and conservation efforts.

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Miller's Grizzled Langur, East Kalimantan, Wehea Forest, Borneo (click to enlarge) CREDIT: Eric Fell

The rare primate’s previously known habitats are spread across Sumatra, Java and the Malay Peninsula, with its habitat in Borneo restricted to a small area in the country’s northeast. Most of the these habitats have suffered major losses due to a combination of fires, human encroachment, and land use conversion for mining and agriculture.

Discovery of the monkey in the Wehea Forest of East Kalimantan, Borneo, came as a bit of a surprise to researchers, although they were prompted to investigate the area because of scattered report of an unknown primate living in the forest. Wehea is a 38,000-hectare, mostly undisturbed, rain forest, and is also home to some nine species of primate, including the Bornean gibbon and orangutan (whose habitat is also being lost rapidly).

“Concern that the species may have gone extinct was first raised in 2004, and a search for the monkey during another expedition in 2008 supported the assertion that the situation was dire,” stated team member Brent Loken, from Simon Fraser University Canada.

While these findings confirm the langur’s existence in East Kalimantan, in all likelihood, the monkey remains one of the world’s most endangered primate species (note: the langur is currently listed among the world’s top 25 most endangered primates).

Borneo is also home to many other endangered or threatened animal species.

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A camera trap captured this image of a young Grizzled Langur (credit: Eric Fell)

“I believe it is a race against time to protect many species in Borneo. It is difficult to adopt conservation strategies to protect species when we don’t even know the extent of where they live. We need more scientists in the field working on understudied species such as Miller’s Grizzled Langur, clouded leopards and sun bears,” stated Loken in a Life Science News press release.

As to the Grizzled Langur, one fundamental question remains. Quoting from the just published paper’s abstract:

‘It is not known whether the population of P. h. canicrus within Wehea Forest is large and stable enough to be considered viable but it is likely part of a larger population that may possibly occur across surrounding protected forests and logging concessions. Surveying this potentially large population, and securing its protection, should be a priority measure for ensuring the continued existence of P. h. canicrus.’ 

This discovery was the result of an international collaboration between Western and Indonesian scientists, students, NGOs and members of local governments and communities.

* Conservationists usually qualify their claims of “extinction” by using the term “functionally extinct” to indicate that, while the animal may technically still exist, its numbers in the wild are not large enough to sustain the continued, “viable” existence of the species.

The paper entitled “Discovery of Miller’s Grizzled Langur (Presbytis hosei canicrus) in Wehea Forest confirms the continued existence and extends known geographical range of an endangered primate” was published today, Jan. 20, 2012, in the American Journal of Primatology. Co-authors and lead researchers were:

  • Lhota, Stanislav; University of South Bohemia, Department of Zoology; Ústí nad Labem Zoo, Ústí nad Labem
  • Loken, Brent; Simon Fraser University, Resource and Environmental Management
  • Spehar, Stephanie; University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Anthropology Department
  • Fell, Eric; University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Anthropology Dept.
  • Pospěch, Alexandr; Wolf Springs Reserve, White Carpathians
  • Kasyanto, Nunuk; Badan Pengelola Hutan Lindung Wehea

Photos: Eric Fell

Thanks to Ashley Huston, publicity asst. at Wiley-Blackwell

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