Hidden Rainforest Camera Captures a Monkey on the Brink of Extinction

A new population of critically endangered Dryas monkeys turns up in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A new population of Dryas monkeys has been spotted in camera-trap footage in Lomami National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The video is causing a stir because the small primates are critically endangered and were only known to exist at a tiny site far from the park.

The footage - the first to capture the new population - was shot by researchers from Florida Atlantic University (FAU) and shows the creatures making a living just inside the park's borders. The species was previously thought only to occupy a small area north of Salonga National Park, hundreds of miles west of the Lomami site.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) "red list" of threatened species currently lists the Dryas as critically endangered. According to the organization, there may be as few as 200 of the colorful, domestic-cat-sized creatures left. Hunting is believed to be the reason behind their near disappearance.

The footage came at a high cost in preparation for the FAU team, which collaborated with the Lukuru Foundation and spent a semester's-worth of time getting camera traps in place on the ground, at mid-height and at the upper reaches of the park's rainforest.

"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," said Daniel Alempijevic, the FAU master's candidate who set the cameras, in a statement. Alempijevic had to become a quick study in the art of climbing to the treetops of the remote site.

The cameras also caught bonobos, African palm civets, and pottos going about their lives in the park, but the Dryas monkeys were the stars of the show and, given their nature, made for an exciting find for the team.

"Dryas monkeys are drawn to dense thickets and flooded areas," said Kate Detwiler, Ph.D., an FAU primatologist and assistant professor of anthropology. "When threatened, they quickly disappear into a tangle of vines and foliage, mastering the art of hiding."

The scientists, though, persevered and obtained much needed material for further study of the monkeys.

"Our goal is to document where new Dryas populations live and develop effective methods to monitor population size over time to ensure their protection," said Detwiler. "Understanding where they reside is important, because the animals living inside the Lomami National Park are protected, as it is illegal to hunt."

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