Dryas monkey: Critically Endangered? Not anymore.

We are in the era of imminent extinctions. How does something almost gone become — well — not almost gone ?

Discovering abundance is a lot of foot-slogging, balance and sweat.

Future abundance belongs to animals in the human shadow: cockroaches, rats…. For most animals the future is shrinking: dung-beetles, honeyguides, okapi and on and on. Chain-saws, bottom trawls, John Deere tractors, bucket wheel excavators, dynamite, tarmac… Animals are slipping from Vulnerable, to Endangered and worse.

Two patrol teams before launch

Two biomonitoring patrols in the Lomami National Park before they split to follow their separate circuits from way-point to way-point.

So, it is a joy when TL2 explorations make enough widespread observations to pull a species from the Extinction waiting room.

This is the story of the Dryas monkey:

In 2008 the IUCN CITES Red List assigned Cercopithecus dryas the dire status of “critically endangered”. Human knowledge gave it only one small bit of rainforest on the globe: Kokolopori-Wamba.

In 2014 a freshly killed monkey was hung out for sale 400 km to the southeast in the village of Likanjo, near our base at Bafundo. Our field staff JP Kapale and Henri Silegowa did not recognize it. John Hart agreed, this was new.

Bafundo moneky 2014

This was the female monkey hung out for sale.

After seven years of exploring the TL2 forests, how could something new turn up now?

According to the hunter who put the female Dryas up for sale: the Inoko (local name) is too small to send to market. Most hunter’s have never followed it. It’s usually hidden low in the forest in a tangle of lianas.

In fact it is the smallest monkey in the Cercopithecus genus, and probably the most secretive.

John drilled the Bafundo field base patrol teams. This is what we are looking for and this is where we will look. By the end of that year, 2014, the teams had found Inoko in two more locations, both in the park, one on the edge of the Lomami River. But no good photos…the monkeys had hidden in dense understory and sat immobile.

C dryas distribution

Inoko occured in two widely separated sites, in each area it has been sighted in several places spread up to 50 km from each other.

Daniel Alempijevic, a graduate student from Kate Detwiler’s primate lab at Florida Atlantic University, came in October 2016. He set up camera trap columns near Bafundo and at one of the sites in the Park, Bartho. The cameras surveyed different heights in the forest: ground, understory and canopy. Daniel got videos of Inoko at both sites.

The TL2 project assistant Koko Bisimwa went through the 2019 arboreal videos and produced a clip of several camera trap sequences.

In November 2016, John called team leaders from a number of patrol posts to Bafundo. Everyone should be looking out for Inoko. Daniel and his TL2 assistant Pablo showed a video clip of Inoko and a hand held photo Pablo had taken.

Team leaders came to Bafundo to hear about Inoko from Daniel, Pablo and John.

Jean Marie Bushiri, field camp leader for Djekoshilo, returned south and called together the hunters. This part of the TL2 area has a different ethnic group, Bangengele not Balanga, and importantly it is a very different forest: Sand soils with little clay, flooded prairies, gallery forest and “scrub” forest as well as high forest. But some of the hunters said they knew the monkey in the photos Jean Marie showed.

Jean Marie told them the Dryas monkey was totally protected — NO shooting, — please, no dead animals. Nevertheless, anyone who saw an Inoko and could describe the place in detail for verification, would get a bar of soap. The first report came in 2017, but there were no photos and it could not be substantiated. Then, in 2018, the chief took blurry telephone photos (telephones are not very important in Djekoshilo where the nearest network is 60 km distant in the town of Kindu). He had found a second hunter with an Inoko in hand.

Inoko photos snapped by the Chief of Djekoshilo

Here are the blurry, but unmistakable photos taken by the chief with his own photo snapped as the final MOV (Means of Verification)

It was at this time that John, Kate and collaborators wrote a new Red List classification for the Dryas monkey. The species moved out of Critically Endangered to Endangered.

In the meantime there had been another sighting on the west bank of the Lomami River near the village of Kakongo. No photo, but it was reported by JP one of the team leaders who found the first Inoko in Likanjo/Bafundo.

Inoko has been found in seven widely separated locations in the TL2 area to date.  Habitats include mature upland forest, seasonally flooded riverine forest, gallery forests in prairie ecotones and secondary regenerating forest.  In all locations the monkeys are found in micro-sites with liana thickets and dense understory vegetation.

And now the most recent observation near Lifale River, March 2019, is in the Lomami National Park, but north, in the province of Tshopo. The patrol team first saw the strange little monkey on the ground. It climbed out of view into a mat of lianas. They waited 30 minutes to finally get the photo documentation – below.

March 2019_Inoko sighted in at Lifale

Inoko – no doubt about it.

Are we headed from Endangered towards Least Concern? And besides Inoko, what is next?

patrol team on circuit

The patrols continue. We hope to be able to cover more of the buffer zone soon.

DR Congo’s forest redoubts likely still mask plant and animal surprises that we cannot yet fathom. Just 15 years ago the middle Lomami where we have now found new species and new distributions was considered moderate to low priority for biodiversity conservation. But the more we look, the more amazing plants and animals we find. The new Lomami National Park is now among the most important places for conservation in Congo.


  1. michael
    Posted 2019-04-14 at 2:14 pm | Permalink


  2. Daniel Alempijevic
    Posted 2019-04-15 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Great coverage on the Inoko story. Koko did a wonderful job with the video. What a monkey!

  3. Rafael Reyna-Hurtado
    Posted 2019-04-15 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    Fantastic news and great job !!

  4. Stuart Nixon
    Posted 2019-04-16 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    What a stunning primate ! Lomami keep turning up surprises, congratulations to the team on these inspiring discoveries.

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