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Borneo’s ‘mystery monkey’ is raising concerns over deforestation

Scientists have released information on a ‘mystery monkey’ discovered in the Kinabatangan River in Malaysian Borneo, which might be part of a rare incidence of hybridization between distantly related primate species. The study, which was published last month in the International Journal of Primatology, describes the finding of a hybrid monkey, which seems to be the child of a male probosci’s monkey, Nasalis larvatus, and a female silvered leaf monkey, Trachypithecus cristatus.

The images of the hybrid monkey were evaluated by a team of experts for the study. To reach this conclusion, the researchers compared the putative hybrid to its likely parent species using a set of category traits and metric measures. According to the study, a nonmetric comparison revealed that this ‘mystery monkey’ is intermediate in various characteristics.

According to their findings, the mystery monkey represents a cross between two distantly related primate species that occupy the same fragmented habitat. When asked about the result, research author and primatologist Nadine Ruppert told Science News that various species, even those from the same genus, may interact with each other when they share a habitat, but they seldom mate. This type of cross-genera hybridization occurs only when there is environmental pressure.

Scientists believe that manmade alterations to the landscape are to blame for the ecological strain that has compelled these monkeys to breed. Proboscis monkey and silvered leaf monkey have been limited to small riverine woodland sections in the Kinabatangan due to the expansion of oil palm plantations. According to a 2014 research, the state of Sabah, where the Kinabatangan River is located, lost around 40% of its forest cover between 1973 and 2010.

The loss of forest cover due to deforestation and palm oil plantations has limited the native habitat of these monkeys. The paper also notes that uncontrolled deforestation may have conservation ramifications, indicating reduced mating access and dispersing chances for these imperiled monkeys. Tour guides in the area have also contributed to the study’s conclusions. According to Science News, boat operators and tour guides have reported seeing a solitary male proboscis monkey hanging out with a tribe of female silvered leaf monkeys.


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