Newly discovered primate in Myanmar 'already facing extinction'

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  • The Popa langur, named for an extinct volcano home to its largest population, has been around for at least one million years
  • Only 200 to 250 remain in the wild today, meaning the species is ‘critically endangered’
Agence France-Presse |
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In this undated handout photo released by the German Primate Center (DPZ), the newly discovered primate named Popa langur (Trachypithecus popa) is seen on a tree branch on Mount Popa, Myanmar. Photo: AFP

In a rare find, scientists have identified a new species of primate, a lithe tree-dweller living in the forests of central Myanmar with a mask-like face framed by a shock of unruly grey hair.

The Popa langur -- named for an extinct volcano home to its largest population, some 100 individuals -- has been around for at least a million years, according to a study detailing the find, published Wednesday in Zoological Research.

But with only 200 to 250 left in the wild today, experts will recommend that the leaf-eating species be classified as “critically endangered”.

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“Just described, the Popa langur is already facing extinction,” said senior author Frank Momberg, a researcher at Flora & Fauna International (FFI), in Yangon.

Throughout its range, the lithe monkey with chalk-white rings around its eyes is threatened by hunting and habitat loss, he said in a statement.

The first evidence of the new species was found not in the wild but the backrooms of the London Natural History Museum, where genetic analysis revealed that specimens gathered more than a century ago when Burma was a British colony were something new.

Samples of Popa poop collected by Momberg and his colleagues in the forest matched those from the museum, and showed that the previously unknown langur was still roaming the wild.

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The reclusive monkeys were finally captured on film in 2018, revealing their distinctive fur colouration and markings.

Trachypithecus popa, or T. popa for short, has a grey-brownish and white belly, with black hands and wrists that look a bit like gloves.

Its agile tail -- at nearly a metre -- is longer than its body, with the creature weighing about eight kilograms (18 pounds).

“Additional field surveys and protection measures are urgently required and will be conducted by FFI and others to save the langurs from extinction,” said Ngwe Lwin, a primatologist with FFI’s Myanmar programme.

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