A new macaque has been discovered in southeastern Tibet, distinguished by a few different traits from the four other species already known in the region. The discovery was detailed in a paper published in the American Journal of Primatology.
Though the newly identified monkey is called the white-cheeked macaque (Macaca leucogenys), it's not actually the cheeks that set it apart from the other macaques in the Tibetan state of Modog. Rather, it's the monkey's dark and hairy scrotum and rounded glans penis, as well as the thick and long hair around its neck, that led scientists to consider it a species entirely its own.
Modog's terrain is highly varied, made up of low-lying grasslands, alpine meadows and evergreen and tropical forests that serve as habitats for a wide range of species. The white-cheeked macaque forages through a number of these habitats, thriving in tropical forests at altitudes over 4,500 feet and mixed forests full of conifers and broad-leaves.
The Tibetan state has not been fully explored, so scientists are confident that there are other species yet to be discovered.
Chao Zhao, a researcher from the Institute of Himalaya Biodiversity Research at the Dali University in China, and colleagues set up cameras across four gorges in the area to capture over 700 photos of macaques. The photos were then analyzed and compared with photos of macaque species that have already been identified.
"Our photos clearly showed some morphological differences between the new species and other known species," said Peng-Fei Fan, also from Dali University and co-author for the study.
But while the white-cheeked macaque is visibly different, Michael Schillaci, a University of Toronto, Scarborough anthropologist, said that pictures are not enough to identify the monkey as a completely new species. Only a DNA test will confirm that the white-cheeked macaque is indeed distinct from other macaques.
Though the discovery of a new macaque species is good news, it doesn't change the fact that the monkeys are threatened by local hunters and planned development in the region. Hydropower stations, for one, will result in the destruction of forests and flooding along rivers. These are potential habitats for white-cheeked macaques, so disruptions in the area will definitely affect the well-being of the monkey.
"Discovery of this new primate species further highlights the high value for biodiversity conservation of southeastern Tibet and calls for more intensive surveys, studies, and environmental protection in this area," wrote the researchers.
Cheng Li also contributed to the study.