Welcome to Losekola and the Mystery Monkeys

Those Puzzling Primates of TL2 !

Papa John waiting for monkeys
Waiting for the UNKNOWN. Conveniently this unknown is a ground monkey (Lesula) so John’s comfortable position is appropriate with a cup of coffee to keep the eyes keen.

There are monkeys out there between the three rivers that no one recognizes. They are not in our field guides. We’ve sent photos to the most renown of African Primatologists. Result: a lot of raised eyebrows. And the more we find out the higher our eyebrows go.

The field teams cover hundreds of kilometers on each exploration circuit, and always with limited supplies and limited time. If they see something bizarre, unidentifiable, they will write it down, try to get a photo but then move on.
ngoyi-blanc looking on
The mystery monkey, ngoyi-blanc, looking down on the field teams.

If we suspect something really unknown (and we do), we have to be in one place to watch, to record and to watch some more. We have to send samples for genetic analysis. Are we sure these primates are not just a handful of hybrids? What do they eat? How do they forage? How social are they?
a great team at Losekola
Losekola has a great field team. Kahindo, standing, has been receiving dawn to dusk training from John who says he is well on the way to being an inveterate naturalist.

The following is from John’s notes:
We explained our needs in Obenge. Jean Mutetela , a local hunter-fisherman, suggested we set up a study area at his camp in a stretch of forest, west of Obenge, along the Losekola river. When we described our two biggest mysteries – he said we would find them there.
mutetela & lesula food
Jean Mutetela holding Lesula-shedded stems of their favorite Marantaceae food

The two mystery monkeys are Lesula – a secretive ground monkey and Ngoyi a confusing canopy species. We eventually realized that the confusion came from the fact that the same local name- Ngoyi – was given to two different monkeys. Ngoyi 1 is a little known variety of the blue monkey and the other -Ngoyi 2 – well, whatever it is; it is certainly less known than Ngoy1.
lesula_opala3_web
We were first alerted to the unknown, Lesula, when we saw this captive in Opala.

Not only was Jean Mutetela happy to come on as a guide, he quickly agreed that there would be no further hunting on the study area. “I’ll stay busy with my fish traps on the Tutu River, when I am not with you looking for monkeys.”
MamaMadawa _  Losekola cuisine
Mama Madawa from Obenge tends the Losekola kitchen and about everything else that needs tending in camp

Over the past week Kahindo and I, accompanied by Washie, local guide and experienced monkey hunter, have developed a profile of the Losekola monkey community. Eight species of monkey along with the bonobo roam the 4 km2 study area.. The red colobus is the most spectacular with startlingly bright russet coat. They travel in large loose groups of up to 75 animals or more, invariably accompanied by one or two other species spread through the tops of many trees. Because of the thick fretwork of branches and leaves, it takes a lot of watching to see who all is above us.
thollon's red colobus.
The red colobus taking a closer look

Washie uses hunters’ tricks to excite the animals into calling, so that we can locate and identify them. One of the more effective is his imitation of the rasping squeal made by fighting monkeys, which invariably elicits “comment” from other monkeys hidden in the treetops.

My favorite though, is Washie’s imitation of the shrill call of the Crowned Eagle, Africa’s largest raptor, and a monkey-hunting specialist. Using a leaf blade to gain the proper cadence and tremolo, Washie produces a remarkable eagle imitation that raises a chorus of alarm from dispersed monkeys. Amazingly, they don’t flee.
washie_eagle call2
Washie in perfect imitation of the Crowned Eagle

Sometimes Washie will rapidly whip a thin branch, with a tuft of leaves at the tip to imitate the sound of the powerful wing beats of the eagle. His finale (performed only rarely so as not to habituate the monkeys to the “cry wolf”) is his combination of wing beats, foot stomping and the anguished cry of a monkey in the talons. The sound of the combat is irresistible, especially to the red colobus, some of whom swing down close to peer at us.

Terese: Can you tell from the above? John is very excited. As he says, these new discoveries send his old field naturalist blood racing. HOW IS IT THAT THESE NEW MONKEYS WENT UNDISCOVERED. John’s assessment : this area is so remote that we are the first binocular sporting biologist to venture into the depth of the TL2 and any primate specimens from Obenge arrived as heavily smoked and unrecognizable bushmeat in centers like Kisangani.

And here is the thrill: I (Terese) am on my way to Losekola tomorrow. First to Kisangani, then a very long day on a motorcycle to Opala and three days in the dugout to Obenge, then a day on foot to Losekola. This will be my last post until the end of the MONTH but then – a first-hand account!
john at Lusekola primate camp
A beaming John sending me an email from Losekola via Bgan. “Make sure you and Ashley bring chocolate and good coffee”

8 Comments

  1. michael
    Posted 2008-05-05 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    remember the “what is this?” monkey of ashley. its a ngoy-blanc.
    can not get enough of this fascinating
    stuff.
    i’am working on a database of the cuvette centrale. for sure tl2 will be
    one of the most interesting areas.
    terese wish you a good trip.

  2. Posted 2008-05-06 at 12:50 am | Permalink

    Wow, this is quite an adventure. It seems that despite our best efforts to destroy this planet and all it’s non-human life, we’re still able to find new species. I’m looking forward to hearing more about them. I hope Terese didn’t forget the chocolate. 🙂
    s.

  3. Greg Davies
    Posted 2008-05-06 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful post (as usual) and most exciting too!

    Have a good trip!

    Greg Davies (Natal Museum, S. Africa)
    P.S. Any Congo Peafowl at Losekola or hunted out?

  4. michael
    Posted 2008-05-06 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

    for sure its not hunted out

  5. Posted 2008-05-07 at 12:30 am | Permalink

    Boy, we learned about these Crowned Eagles, at Simons blog. Really amazing predators! Just the size of their talons, is impressive. It is indeed heartening to know that their are still undiscovered species out there…I too await hearing more about these different primates. Bring on the chocolate as well!

  6. Terese Hart
    Posted 2008-05-07 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Chocolate is on its way — as far as Kisangani so far although already in a slightly lumpy melted condition. Tomorrow Opala. And yes, Michael is right, Congo peafowl are throughout the TL2. I will try particularly to get more information.

  7. Petie
    Posted 2008-05-15 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    You look very happy out there John –Glad Terry is coming with coffee and chocolates…

  8. julian kerbis
    Posted 2008-09-12 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    Hi John and Terese:

    Let me know if you have targeted any crowned eagle nests and want the bones identified.
    Congratulations on this exciting stuff!
    julian kerbis, field museum, chicago

3 Trackbacks

  1. […] with Ashley and we were bringing gear needed to keep the teams on the ground through June (and coffee and chocolate to John). At the Lobaye River crossing we met some of Major John’s men patrolling bicycle packs to […]

  2. […] had a joking relationship with Madawa, the woman who managed the Losekola primate camp. As we hiked out to the camp she and John were constantly teasing each other “Ahh, […]

  3. […] exciting time in Kisangani even without a prison escape.   We are almost certain we have found a new species of monkey in the least known of Congo’s forests – the TL2 wilderness. Maurice and Gilbert  just returned […]

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