- In late 2020, scientists announced that the Popa langur, which was already speculated to be in existence, has been classified as a new species of monkey. Populating the central forest of Myanmar, It’s estimated that 200-260 Popa langurs still remain in existence, and they’ve been listed as an endangered species.
- Populations of this monkey are shrinking due to habitat loss and hunting.
- The monkeys are found in a small forest surrounding an extinct volcano named Mount Popa, which is an important pilgrimage site for Nat tradition Buddhists. These yearly pilgrimages have caused tourism to increase in the area, which also threatens the Popa langur’s existence.
There’s a new monkey on the scene — but it’s already on the verge of extinction.
Scientists stumbled upon a new primate in Myanmar‘s central forest. Called Popa langurs, the average individual sports grey fur on its back, white hair on its belly, and weighs about 18 pounds. Strikingly, they have light-colored patches around their eyes that look like permanent goggles!
For years, researchers speculated about an undiscovered regional monkey, but an actual sighting eluded them. However, a team of crackerjack primatologists from Leiden, London, New York, and Singapore dug up old samples and stats that had sat dormant for decades and got to work. Coupled with Myanmar’s increased openness to international scientific research, the stage was set for discovery! And voila! They cracked the case.
New Monkey Discovered: What We Know About Popa Langurs
Popa langurs diverged from other species about a million years ago. But sadly, though these new monkeys are a recent discovery, only 200 to 260 remain. Due to their dwindling numbers, the IUCN has already classified them as Critically Endangered.
Scientists assigned Trachypithecus popa as its taxonomic label. Trachypithecus is a genus of Old World primates that live throughout Southeast Asia. The Popa Langur has been in existence a long time, and no doubt is a familiar creature to generations of people from that area, but was previously classified as a sub-species by scientists. With the new lab discoveries, scientists have elevated the Popa Langur to the “species” category, which is a practice that can help ensure that an animal group at high risk receives the proper protection it needs to survive.
The new monkeys are social and live in four isolated populations across protected forests near Mount Popa.
Popa Langur: Tourism Spells Doom For Newly Discovered Monkey
Normally, discovering a new monkey is a celebrated scientific event, but the Popa langur story isn’t as rosy. Researchers are confident that the remaining populations are vulnerable to habitat loss and hunting.
“Sadly this is a bittersweet discovery due to the limited number of individuals left in the wild and fragmented populations,” explained Roberto Portela Miguez, a museum curator.
However, Miguez did speak encouragingly about the collaborative efforts employed in making the discovery. “Monkeys are one of the most iconic groups of mammals,” he said, “and these specimens have been in the collections for over a hundred years. But we didn’t have the tools or the expertise to do this work before.”
Christian Roos from the German Primate Centre spoke about the new monkey’s decline. He lamented: “Hunting is a big problem, but the bigger threat is the habitat is almost gone, and it is reduced, fragmented and isolated due to human encroachment.”
When speaking with BBC News, Frank Momberg of Fauna & Flora, a conservation group, opined: “The Popa langur, just newly described, is already critically endangered and facing extinction, so it’s absolutely critical to protect the remaining population and to engage with local communities as well as private sector stakeholders to safeguard its future.”
Culture Corner: What is Mount Popa? Why Is it Sacred?
You can only find Popa langurs in a small forest, with a deep spiritual legacy, in the middle of Myanmar.
A now-verdant, extinct volcano in Southeast Asia, Mount Popa is an important pilgrimage site for Nat tradition Buddhists. Known as “Burma’s Mount Olympus,” adherents believe 37 powerful spirits — known as “Nats” — occupy the area. In days of old, regional kings secured the spirits’ blessings before commencing their reigns.
One of the world’s postcard-perfect landscapes, a near-mystical monastery of gold floats in the heavens atop a peak named Taung Kalat. To reach the summit shrine, visitors must ascend 777 steps, which takes about two hours.
Yearly, faithful pilgrims make their way to Mount Popa to participate in full-moon festivals in the spring and autumn. Increased tourism has sparked development, which, in turn, is threatening the area’s wildlife — like the new monkey Popa langur.
Conservationists are working with locals to curb destructive practices, but it may not be enough.
Popa langurs aren’t the only species facing worldwide extermination. Click here for a list of animals on the verge of extinction. For something a bit more uplifting, head to our list of the 10 friendliest animals on Earth.
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The photo featured at the top of this post is © Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com
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