Brazilian scientists say they have discovered a new monkey species overlooked in the receding rain forest of the country's northeast coast, although other experts believe the primate may have been documented before.
Antonio Rossano Mendes Pontes, a professor of zoology at the Federal University in Pernambuco, said in a telephone interview on Thursday that the discovery of the monkey, dubbed Cebus queirozi, showed how little is known about Brazil's flora and fauna even in developed areas.
He spotted the monkey near the Pernambuco state capital of Recife, about 1,200 miles northeast of Rio de Janeiro.
"As soon as I saw the monkey with its golden-yellow hair and the white tiara on its head, I knew it was a new species," Pontes said.
A scientific description of Cebus queirozi, which has longish golden-yellow fur and a snow-white cap on the front half of its head, was published in the international scientific journal Zootaxa earlier this month.
A male adult weighs about 6.4 pounds and measures 32 inches from head to tail, according to the description.
But some primatologists questioned whether the species was in fact new to science.
A rediscovered species?
Some suspect Pontes merely rediscovered a monkey called Simia flavia, named and depicted in a drawing by German taxonomist Johann Christian Daniel von Schreber in the 18th century but never seen since.
Mario de Vivo, a primatologist at the University of Sao Paulo not involved in the new finding, said the monkeys look almost exactly alike.
"But we don't know, because Pontes didn't keep a specimen of the monkey," he said.
Scientific descriptions usually require that scientists kill a specimen and deposit it in a museum for future examination, though there are exceptions.
Pontes said he captured, examined and photographed one of the monkeys but returned it to the wild because of the small number of individuals surviving in nature.
Pontes said he had identified about 32 individuals belonging to the species in an area covering some 500 acres of forest and swamplands.
Debate over markings
Vivo conceded that the monkey in Schreber's drawing differs from Cebus queirozi in that it lacks the distinctive white band stretching from ear to ear, but he said that may have to do with the age of the specimen in question.
"Even if it is only a rediscovery it is important that such a large monkey could go unnoticed for so long," Vivo said.
Pontes said the monkey, which he was calling the blond capuchin in English, avoided detection for so long by hiding inside the swamp.
He said he stumbled on the species by accident during a five-year forest survey in Pernambuco state.
Pontes said the monkey appeared in the last of 24 forest fragments he was studying along with his students at the Federal University of Pernambuco, and when their guide told him there was a monkey species living in the area he didn't believe him because the area was so small.
"It's incredible that in the 21st century there hasn't been an extensive survey of medium and large mammals in that area," Pontes said.
Only about 7 percent of the Atlantic rain forest, which once lined much of Brazil's coast, remains standing, compared with the better-preserved Amazon rain forest to the north, of which about 80 percent remains intact.
There are more than 300 known monkey species in the world, including 111 that are endemic to Brazil.