Arunachal Pradesh: Fauna
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The Hindu, April 23, 2016
Rare primate sighted in Arunachal Pradesh
A group of wildlife photographers and biologists in India have reported sighting of a new species of primate, the White-Cheeked Macaque, in Arunachal Pradesh.
They narrowly missed being the first in the world to report the species after spotting the primate on March 30, 2015 and discovering that a group of Chinese researchers had already beaten them to it by days. The group from China, led by Cheng Li formally reported the discovery of the species, from bordering south eastern Tibet, in the American Journal of Primatology in March, 2015. Formally reporting a find in a journal takes precedence over spotting a species.
Macaques, which are distant cousins of langurs and gibbons, are a hard catch and when reported by Dr. Li, it was only the third macaque ever discovered since 1903. The Mentawai macaque (Macaca pagensis) was found in Indonesia in 1903 and Arunachal macaque (Macaca munzala) in 2005. The new species becomes the 22nd known macaque species and the 9th in India.
Uday Borthakur, a geneticist and part of the research and conservation group, Aaranyak, thought he had found something new. “It looked different …maybe a hybrid of two existing species. Later we heard about the Chinese group’s discovery,” he told The Hindu.
The researchers were confident about the newness of their find on the basis of photographic records and its several distinguishing characteristics from similar-looking macaque species, such as the Rhesus Macaque, Arunachal Macaque, Tibetan macaque and Assamese macaque. “They have an even fur, a relatively-hairless short tail, prominent pale to white side-and chin-whiskers creating a white cheek and round facial appearance, dark facial skin on the muzzle, long and thick hair on its neck, and a round male genitalia,” said a statement by Aaranyak.
Typically the process of reporting the discovery of a new species to science is rather elaborate, with a DNA sample and a requirement that a specimen of the species be deposited in an accredited registry, preceding peer review. “I’m not sure if the Chinese group has reported DNA,” said Mr. Borthakur.
Along with Mr. Borthakur, the Aaranyak team included biologists and wildlife photographers, namely Ranjan Kumar Das, Dilip Chetry — a primatologist — and professional bird guide Binanda Hatibarua. They were on a bird-watching trip to the easternmost district of India in March 2015, when they had this sighting and managed to take photographs.
“This is an important find for biodiversity in India and shows white-cheeked macaque has a wider range and population spread than we’ve thought,” said Anindya Sinha, a primatologist at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru.