‘Extinct’ monkey lives!
Student rediscovers ‘extinct’ monkey
By Diane Luckow
Deep in Indonesian Borneo’s Wehea Forest last summer in East Kalimantan province, PhD student Brent Loken set camera traps in hopes of capturing photos of the elusive Bornean clouded leopard.
Instead, he bagged the find of a lifetime—photos of the critically endangered Miller’s Grizzled Langur, which had never been documented in the 38,000-hectare Wehea rainforest and was thought to be possibly extinct.
The American Journal of Primatology is publishing an online article about the find this month.
“It was a challenge to confirm our finding as there are so few pictures of this monkey available,” says Loken, who is studying resource and environmental management.
“The only description of Miller’s Grizzled Langur came from museum specimens. Our photographs from Wehea are some of the only photos of this monkey.”
A former school principal and science teacher, Loken holds both Trudeau and Vanier scholarships, and spends up to six months each year in Borneo, where he runs Ethical Expeditions. He co-founded the non-profit organization three years ago to help the indigenous Wehea Dayak people fight back against deforestation.
Borneo has lost 65 per cent of its rainforest, largely due to palm-oil plantations and coal mines.
“Finding Miller’s Grizzled Langur in a forest outside of its known geographic range highlights how much we don’t know about even the basic ecology of this monkey,” says Loken.
“We need more scientists doing research in Borneo to help us learn about under-studied species such as Miller’s Grizzled Langur and clouded leopards. The rapid degradation of Borneo’s forests makes it difficult to learn about and adopt conservation strategies in time to protect species.”
Loken’s camera traps were part of a larger biodiversity study he organized in collaboration with the Wehea Dayak to investigate the variety and abundance of animals living in the forest.
The local community and government are using the results to help develop conservation strategies to protect the Wehea, one of Borneo’s last intact rainforests.
Miller’s Grizzled Langur Presbytis hosei canicrus
Miller’s Grizzled Langur (above) belongs to the small primate genus Presbytis, which is found across Borneo, Sumatra, Java and the Thai-Malay Peninsula.
The monkey had previously only been documented in Indonesia’s Kutai National Park in northeastern Borneo.
Today, however, fire and deforestation have eradicated 95 per cent of the park’s primary forest, with much of its secondary growth converted to agriculture and other uses.
The shy Miller’s Grizzled Langur is extremely well camouflaged and has never been studied so no one knows the possible extent of its habitat.
Finding it in the Wehea Forest, 150 km west of its last sighting in northeastern Borneo, was a surprise for both Loken’s expedition and another group of scientists from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, who were there at the same time. Together, they produced the paper in this month’s American Journal of Primatology.
Loken says there are now plans to study the endangered primate. “We may be able to track the monkeys by their loud calls in the morning,” he says. “If we can learn their calls, then we can pinpoint them elsewhere to help estimate how many there are in Wehea Forest.
“It’s a race against time,” says Loken, who returns to Borneo next month. “We hope to learn more about this monkey, including how much forest they need and how many may live in and around Wehea Forest. There are still a lot of unanswered questions.”
Borneo visit led to ethical expeditions
A former science teacher and secondary school principal and now a PhD student in the School of Resource and Environmental Management, Brent Loken has travelled the world as an educator.
But a visit to Borneo where he witnessed first-hand the devastation of the forests brought him to a full stop. He and his wife Sheryl Gruber dropped their teaching careers three years ago to establish Ethical Expeditions, a non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to building sustainable and resilient social-ecological systems in Borneo.
“We’re building a large conservation centre, supporting education for the local Dayak people and establishing a strong research program in the forest,” explains Loken.
Organizations including Europe’s Rufford Small Grants Foundation, the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and Vancouver’s Lush Cosmetics are funding his work, supported by a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship and the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation.
This summer, an Ethical Expeditions field school on tropical ecology, conservation and development will accept 12 university students from around the world to help conduct further research into the Miller’s Grizzled Langur and the Bornean clouded leopard. More: http://at.sfu.ca/UWFqZJ.
It is not common to rediscover a species considered to be extinct, but it does happen. Here is a short list:
- Cuban soleno don: rediscovered in 2003 after almost 30 years of oblivion. Only 37 specimens have ever been caught and none were seen or found between 1890–1974.
- La Palma giant lizard: lost for 500 years, a single specimen was found in the La Palma region of the Canary Islands in 2007.
- Large-billed reed-warbler: known only by a single specimen collected in 1867, this bird was believed to be extinct until a wild population was found in Thailand in 2006, with DNA matching that of the original specimen.
- Nelson’s small-eared shrew: last seen 111 years ago in southern Mexico, researchers rediscovered it in a small patch of forest in 2009.
- Pygmy Tarsier: This tiny mammal (above) was last seen in Indonesia in 1921. In 2000, scientists accidentally trapped and killed one while trapping rats. In 2008, researchers found live pygmy tarsiers on a mountain in Lore Lindu National Park in Indonesia.
Animals on the critical list
Borneo’s rich animal diversity is shrinking due to deforestation, as farmers turn to the lucrative business of planting palm oil trees and the mining industry seeks coal. For his PhD thesis, Brent Loken is studying the Bornean clouded leopard, one of the least-known large cat species, in hopes of protecting its habitat before it is too late. “We don’t know how many there are, what they eat or where they live,” he says.
SFU archaeology professor Birute Galdikas is known for her work with Bornean orangutans, also on the endangered list. Some more common mammals listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List are: