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Species of titi monkey found in Colombia is new to science -- and in danger of extinction

August 12, 2010 |  2:14 pm

Titimonkey

Biologists with the group Conservation International hope the discovery of a species of titi monkey previously unknown to science will lead to new efforts to protect it and other species in the Amazon.

The presence of a distinct type of titi monkey in the Colombian department of Caquetá, near the country's borders with Ecuador and Peru, was suspected for decades, "but for a long time we could not confirm if it was different from other titis," said Dr. Thomas Defler, a primatologist and professor at National University of Colombia in Bogotá, who led the research team. "We now know that this is a unique species, and it shows the rich diversity of life that is still to be discovered in the Amazon."

Biologist Martin Moynihan reported observing the species when he traveled to the area in the mid-1970s. Other scientists were eager to confirm Moynihan's report and learn more about the Caquetá titi monkeys, but years of insurgent violence made traveling to the region too dangerous.

In 2008, research student Javier Garcia, a Caquetá native, was able to make an extensive survey of the region and discovered 13 populations of the Caquetá titi monkeys there.

Caquetá titi monkeys can be distinguished from many of their closest cousins because they lack a signature white strip of fur across their foreheads exhibited by many titi monkeys. Caquetá titis are similar in size to domestic house cats and have bushy red beards.

Caquetá titis -- like most, and perhaps all, titi species -- form monogamous, lifelong bonds, the researchers say. Titi-monkey couples are often observed sitting together on tree branches with their tails entwined. Monogamy is rare among primate species.

According to Conservation International officials, the species is struggling to survive as a result of deforestation and habitat fragmentation. The organization says Caquetá titi monkeys fit the criteria to be classified as critically endangered; only a few hundred are believed to exist in the wild.

"This discovery is particularly important because it reminds us that we should celebrate the diversity of earth but also we must take action now to preserve it," José Vicente Rodríguez, head of science at Conservation International in Colombia and president of the Colombia Assn. of Zoology, said in a statement.

Conservation International is urging world leaders to create more protected habitat areas to ensure the continued existence of species, like the Caquetá titis, that are in danger of extinction.

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-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Javier Garcia / Conservation International

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