Although the extinction of animal species poses a serious threat to nature, the appearance of new species is not necessarily a pleasure. This is the case with the mysterious monkey from Borneo, which turned out to be a hybrid, that is, a hybrid of two increasingly endangered species.
Six years ago, Brenden Miles, a guide from the Kinabatangan Reserve, encountered a monkey like he’d never seen before. He took a few pictures of her to get a better look at her when he got home. “At first I thought it was an unusually colored silver langur,” Brenden Miles told Science News. But then he noticed other small details. “The monkey had a long nose like that of a Sunda, and the tail was thicker than that of a langur,” said the guide. He posted the photo on Facebook and forgot about the matter.
However, his photo and other photos taken in the same area in recent years have been analyzed. Their results suggest that the mysterious monkey is a hybrid of two distantly related primate species living in the same habitat, broken up into smaller and smaller fragments. In a recent article published in the International Journal of Primatology, researchers investigating the case concluded that the previously unknown monkeys observed were the offspring of male Sundayas (a species known for memes) and female Silver Langur.
This is terrible news, especially for both types of monkeys. Hybridization, ie the mating of individuals of different species, is sometimes observed in captivity, but in the wild it is a rare and disturbing phenomenon. “Different species, even of the same genus, when living in the same habitat, can interact with each other, but usually do not form pairs. This type of hybridization only occurs when there is significant ecological pressure,” said primatologist Nadine Ruppert of Universiti Sains Malaysia on the island of Penang.
In the state of Sabah, where the Kinabatangan Reserve is located, forest cover decreased by 40 percent between 1973 and 2010 and the main cause of deforestation was logging for oil palm plantations. “In some areas, both species are compressed into small patches of forest along the river. This leads to increased competition for food, sexual partners and other resources. The animals are unable to disperse and the larger male proboscis monkey can easily take the place of the male silver langur. .
There have been more documented sightings of the mysterious monkey since 2016, although these have been infrequent. So far, scientists have been unable to collect stool samples for genetic analysis, but Nadine Ruppert and her team compared photos of the likely hybrid with those of putative parent species, both visually and by measuring limb ratio. “If an individual were from one of the two parent species, all of its dimensions would be similar to one of these species. And that’s not the case with this animal,” says the primatologist.
The researchers’ conclusions are corroborated by a photo of a male proboscis monkey mating with a female Langura, and a growing number of sightings of boat guides and oxen claiming to have seen male proboscis in the company of groups of female langurs. Sightings of a mysterious new monkey arouse great excitement among tourists, but scientists are far from satisfied. They worry about the future of both species. Further loss or fragmentation of monkey habitats in Borneo will lead to more and more inter-species matings.
The mysterious monkey was last photographed in September 2020 with swollen nipples and holding a baby monkey, suggesting the animal is a fertile female. This is another surprise to scientists, as most hybrids are sterile. So there will likely be more hybrids at the expense of the original species already considered endangered.
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