A major taxonomic revision of the saki monkeys (genus Pithecia) has revealed the existence of five new saki species.
Saki monkeys are a secretive group of primates native to the tropical forests of South America. They are often hunted for food, even though their elusive behaviour makes them difficult to find.
The study conducted by Dr Laura K. Marsh, primate ecologist and director of the Global Conservation Institute, resulted from 10 years of research involving thorough examination of museum specimens and of photographs of live monkeys. It recognizes 16 distinct species in the genus Pithecia: five previously established, three reinstated, three elevated from subspecies level, and five newly described species.
“I began to suspect there might be more species of saki monkeys when I was doing field research in Ecuador,” said Dr Marsh. “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.”
The five new species are found in Brazil, Peru, and Bolivia – three of them are endemic to Brazil and one to Peru. This revision increases the number of primates in Brazil to 145; the highest diversity for any single nation.
“Besides being vital for their conservation and survival, the revised scientific description of these sakis is a major step in our understanding of primate diversity in Amazonia and worldwide,” said Dr Anthony B. Rylands, Senior Researcher at Conservation International and Deputy-Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) Primate Specialist Group, after whom one of the new species, Pithecia rylandsi, was named.
Primates are major components of tropical rain forest systems, and are of great importance as seed dispersers, predators, and sometimes even as prey.
“Saki monkeys, like many rain forest primates, are excellent indicators for the health of tropical forest systems,” said Dr. Russell A. Mittermeier, President of Conservation International and Chair of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group, after whom the newly described Pithecia mittermeieri was named. “This revision of the genus shows clearly how little we still know about the diversity of the natural world that surrounds us and upon which we ourselves depend so much.”
The results of the study were presented at the 25th Congress of the International Primatological Society in Hanoi last month and published in the summer issue of Neotropical Primates, a journal run by the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group and Conservation International.
The revision of saki monkeys is particularly timely with the heavy attention that was given to the emergence of primate-focused ecotourism at the International Primatological Society meeting. According to Dr 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.”
For further information, please contact:
Kevin Connor, Media Manager, Conservation International