Wildlife photographers discover new primate species in Arunachal

GUWAHATI, April 22 - In yet another validation of the North East’s remarkable faunal diversity, a group of wildlife photographers and biologists has discovered in Arunachal Pradesh a species of primate new to India.

The white-cheeked macaque (Macaca leucogenys), which was spotted and photographed in Anjaw district in the eastern corner Arunachal Pradesh is, in fact, a species new to science. It was first reported by Dr Li Cheng and his group from Modog in south-eastern Tibet in China in 2015.

This unprecedented discovery, which has ensured an invaluable addition to the list of India’s primates, has been made by the team comprising Dr Ranjan Kumar Das, Udayan Borthakur and Dr Dilip Chetry.

The team, accompanied by professional bird guide Binanda Hatibarua, was on a bird-watching trip to the easternmost district of India in March 2015, when they had this sighting. On the basis of the photographs of a group of macaque taken during the trip, it has now been confirmed to be the white -cheeked macaque.

The species has been discovered on the basis of photographic records and it differs considerably from all potential sympatric macaque species, such as Rhesus macaque, Arunachal macaque, Tibetan macaque and Assamese macaque.

It exhibits a suite of pelage characteristics, including relatively uniform dorsal hair pattern, hairy ventral pelage, relative hairless short tail, prominent pale to white side, and chin-whiskers creating a white cheek and a round facial appearance, dark facial skin on the muzzle, long and thick hair on its neck, and round rather than arrow-shaped male genitalia.

“On the basis of our observations, the photographs and experts’ comments, we have come to the conclusion that the macaques we observed and photographed in Anjaw district of Arunachal Pradesh are white-cheeked macaque,” Dr Dilip Chetry, primatologist and the head of Primatology Division at wildlife NGO Aaranyak said.

Dr Ranjan Kumar Das, a bird expert from the region and Associate Professor in the Department of Geography, Tinsukia College, was able to get one of the first few photographs of this species during the trip.

“I am truly excited to be a part of this discovery and to contribute to the understanding of the species through my photography work,” Das said.

Udayan Borthakur, wildlife photographer and head of Wildlife Genetics Division at Aaranyak said that the discovery of the macaque would boost biodiversity conservation in the region and give thrust on more field studies, research and conservation initiatives.”

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