I’m currently in DR Congo, in the capital Kinshasa, to be precise, waiting for a dawn flight to Kisangani in the Northeast. I’m volunteering with a team of scientists led by Drs. John and Terese Hart, who are leading a push to establish a new national park in the east, straddling the borders of Maniema and Orientale provinces. The Harts announced today the discovery of a new species of monkey in the forest where I’ll be working for the next few months. It’s an exciting announcement, the first new monkey species described for 29 years. The story of this little beast, known as the Lesula, is pretty poignant- a team of Congolese field researchers working for the park project noticed an unusual monkey coming ashore off a pirogue from a remote upstream region in the arms of the local schoolmasters’ daughter, Georgette (pictured above).
They took pictures of the monkey and showed them to the Harts, who recognized a previously undescribed species, closely related to the obscure Owlfaced Monkey. They sent word to Georgette to keep the monkey around and began paying regular visits to observe its development and eventually confirm, through genetic analysis, that it was indeed a new species. It’s a bright spot in the tide of dark news we’ve come to expect from Congo. So often all we hear is of war and devastation and deprivation- a story like this goes a long way to remind us that we don’t know as much as we think we do, and that the world is still rich and fraught with treasures untold. I’m going to that forest in a week. I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for Lesula, although not for Georgettes- after she let it off its leash, it vanished- most think into a neighbors’ cooking pot. You can follow my wildlife-ID art project here. I’ll be taking the bandanas I screenprinted to the village of Obenge, a more-or-less notorious village full of poachers and exiled criminals within the park boundary, that is in the process of being relocated.