Those Puzzling Primates of TL2 !
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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!
A beaming John sending me an email from Losekola via Bgan. “Make sure you and Ashley bring chocolate and good coffee”