Ex-Massey man discovers monkey species

LUCY TOWNEND
Last updated 12:48 30/10/2012
monkey
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OOH-OOH-AH-AH: Lesula, the new species of monkey found in the Congo - the second such discovery in the past 28 years.
Ashley Vosper
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ON A MISSION: Ashley Vosper worked as part of a team in the Congo.

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A former Manawatu man has made a major scientific discovery in the Congo, revealing to the world a new species of monkey.

Conservationist Ashley Vosper was part of a team that discovered the new species, called Lesula, whose males have distinctive blue bottoms.

The group first caught a glimpse of the monkeys in the remote village of Opala in 2007, but it took years of testing and paperwork to confirm the new banana-loving breed.

Speaking from London yesterday, Vosper said a typical Lesula is a slender, slight mammal with a bare face, a grizzly golden mane, and the males boast blue bottoms.

"That's what made it interesting, there's no other monkey that had unusual markings like that."

It's a social species, hanging out in groups of 10 to 15, and is a ground-dweller that feasts on fruit and vegetation, Vosper said.

Before getting into conservation, the 47-year-old Englishman studied computing in Sussex.

Romance brought him to New Zealand during the 1990s, where he followed his now wife, Anne, to Whanganui before studying zoology and ecology at Massey University.

He returned to England to complete a master's in primate conservation at Oxford University in 2002, and began conservation expeditions into the Democratic Republic of the Congo soon after.

"I've always been passionate about wildlife; maths was just easy," he said.

"I knew what I wanted to do, I just didn't have the guts to do it."

For Vosper, who has been working in the Congo for more than seven years, discovering the Lesula was exhilarating. "Congo is a difficult country to work in, it's very dangerous and there are so many other things going on.

"But it's very exciting to work on saving the species and saving the area." He has travelled through more than 40,000 kilometres of unexplored rainforest, bargained with rebel leaders, and found himself in some "hairy situations" in his quest for conservation in Central Africa.

"When I was negotiating with one rebel leader, he was screaming and shouting at me, accusing me of being an assassin, it's insane," he said.

Lesula is only the second new species of African monkey discovered in the past 28 years and, because it's hunted regularly by Congolese, there are only a few thousand left.

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The challenge now was to protect the species, he said.

- Manawatu Standard

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