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Celebrity monkey fans wowed by new genus

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Rungwecebus kipunjiZoologists have described the first new genus of African monkey in 83 years. The new species, named Rungwecebus kipunji, is so different from other monkeys that a new grouping had to be specially created.

Rungwecebus kipunji (pictured) was first described in 2005 from two sightings in Tanzania. Based on photographs, it was originally placed in the preexisting Mangebey genus Lophocebus.

A young male specimen captured by a farmer in a cornfield outside the forest has allowed the team a more detailed look at the mysterious primate, though.

Writing in the journal Science Express, zoologists from the Wildlife Conservation Socity, Yale, the Field Museum of Natural History, and the University of Alaska say the most distinctive characteristics of Rungwecebus are its white mohawk and "honk-bark" call.

Its genetics put it closest to burly ground-based baboons. The shape of its skull marks the lithe 90cm tall, 4kg tree-dwelling scamp as something more novel, however. Lead study author Dr Tim Davenport said: "The discovery of a new primate species is an amazing event, but the discovery of a new genus makes this animal a true conservation celebrity. The scientific community has been waiting for eight decades for this to happen."

The new genus is named after Mount Rungwe in Tanzania, where it is most abundant. Temperatures at the high altitudes Rungwecebus inhabits frequently drop below zero; its long grey coat is an adaptation to the harsh conditions.

Conservationists involved in the study warn that the new genus is already under threat from habitat destruction and hunting. Dr John G Robinson said: "It would be the ultimate irony to lose a species this unique so soon after we have discovered it." ®

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