BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of the Congo, April 17 (UPI) -- The Bouvier's red colobus monkey is not extinct. Researchers can now say so for sure, thanks to the first-ever photograph of the rare Old World Monkey.
Bouvier's red colobus monkey was once considered a sub-species of Pennant's colobus monkeys, a variety endemic to Central Africa. But most scientists now believe Bouvier's red colobus (Piliocolobus bouvieri) to be its own species, found only in the forests of the Republic of Congo.
No specimen had been seen in more than a half-century. But on a recent trip into the wilds of Ntokou-Pikounda National Park, independent researchers Lieven Devreese and Gael Elie Gnondo Gobolo photographed the elusive monkey.
"Our photos are the world's first and confirm that the species is not extinct," Devreese told the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Aided by locals with intimate knowledge of the wildlife -- and with the vocalizations of colobus monkeys -- Devreese and Gnondo located not just one but a whole group of the monkeys living in the swamp forests that abut the park's Bokiba River.
"We're very pleased indeed that Lieven and Gael were able to achieve their objective of not only confirming that Bouvier's red colobus still exists, but also managing to get a very clear close-up picture of a mother and infant," Dr. Fiona Maisels, an ecologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, said in a press release. "Thankfully, many of these colobus monkeys live in the recently gazetted national park and are protected from threats such as logging, agriculture, and roads, all of which can lead to increased hunting."
First observed in 1887, the scientific understanding of the rare monkey has been limited to analysis of just two specimens in museum storage, collected more than a century ago. Nature expeditions sometimes returned with reports of sightings, but until now, no photographic evidence existed.
Now that biologists know an intact population can be found within the confines of Ntokou-Pikounda National Park, researchers plan to study the rare species in greater detail.
Red colobus monkeys, of which there are several species, are consistently endangered in their native habitat as they lack a strong fear of humans -- making them especially vulnerable to hunting.
While the species' health is precarious, researchers say it is a positive that the monkeys have an established wildlife preserve.
"Confirmation that Bouvier's red colobus still thrives in the this area reminds us that there remain substantially intact wild places on Earth," said James Deutsch, vice president of conservation strategy at WCS, "and should re-energize all of us to save them before it is too late."