Five new species of ‘flying’ monkeys identified

Study shows Brazil has the highest number of saki monkeys, an indicator of health of tropical forest systems

By Kanika Kumria
Published: Tuesday 09 September 2014

White faced saki monkey is the most common species of sakis (Source Wikipedia) Five new species of the “flying monkeys” or sakis have been identified following a revision of taxonomy of the monkeys found in South America and known for their elusive behaviour. The findings were revealed at the 25th Congress of the International Primatological Society in Hanoi, Vietnam. This brings the total count of saki species to 16 as opposed to the previously estimated number of five; six more species, which were earlier seen as subspecies, have been added to the list.

The Saki monkeys are primarily found in Bolivia, Peru and Brazil, and are known for their colourful facial hair and bushy coats they puff out when threatened. The research was carried out by Laura K Marsh, director and co-founder of the Global Conservation Institute. “I began to suspect there might be more species of saki monkeys when I was doing field research in Ecuador,” Marsh said. “The more I saw, the more I realized that scientists had been confused in their evaluation of the diversity of sakis for over two centuries,” she is quoted as saying in a news release.

The study was published in the summer issue of Neotropical Primates, a journal run by the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group and Conservation International (CI), and involves 10 years of research involving the examination of specimens in 36 museums in 17 countries in North America, South America, Europe and Japan. During the course of the research, Marsh discovered that speciation of saki monkeys was a complex process as monkeys within a species vary in colour and shape.

“The range of the saki monkeys covers a big chunk of Amazonia, including the Guiana Shield and Amazon Basin, which harbour some of the last truly intact wilderness areas,” said Russell A Mittermeier, president of Conservation International and long-time chairperson of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group. “Saki monkeys, like many rain forest primates, are excellent indicators for the health of tropical forest systems,” he added. According to Mittermeier, “these animals are becoming increasingly important in the economies of local communities for ecotourism, based on the model of bird-watching and bird life-listing that has become a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide.” This revision has highlighted that Brazil has the highest number of saki monkeys, with the number of primates up to 145 and eight species of sakis, two of which are endemic to Peru.

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