Feb. 3 (UPI) -- A team of scientists from Florida Atlantic University has recorded the first-ever video footage of the Dryas monkey, a little understood and rarely seen species of monkey endemic to a small portion of the Congo basin in Central Africa.
"The Dryas monkey is extremely cryptic and we had to think of a creative strategy to observe them in the wild," primatologist Kate Detwiler, an assistant professor of anthropology at Florida Atlantic University, said in a news release.
The species was first reported in 1932, but its elusiveness has made it extremely difficult to study. Hunting pressures and deforestation have shrunk the population, further complicating observation.
It was believed there was was only a single population of 200 Dryas monkeys living on the banks of the Congo River. But the new video footage suggests the presence of another population within the Lomami National Park, a 2.2 million-acre park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Researchers had seen a dead monkey -- later confirmed as a Dryas monkey -- at the edge of the park, but needed more proof to encourage local officials to ramp up conservation efforts.
Looking for monkeys the size of a house cat in dense jungle isn't easy. So researchers had to be strategic.
"Dryas monkeys are drawn to dense thickets and flooded areas," Detwiler said. "When threatened, they quickly disappear into a tangle of vines and foliage, mastering the art of hiding."
Detwiler and researcher Daniel Alempijevic, now working on a master's degree at FAU, set up a series of camera traps on the ground and in trees where they expected to find the monkeys. Alempijevic went to Panama to earn a special certificate in tree climbing prior to the field work.
"This was an opportunity of a lifetime," said Alempijevic. "It was an incredible experience to work in the canopy of such a remote site, and to get the first camera-trap videos of an extremely rare and elusive species."
Their cameras and the resulting footage continue to provide useful information about local species in Lomami National Park, including other monkey species, like the bonobo, African palm civet and potto.