An international team of scientists, which included University of Wisconsin Oshkosh anthropology assistant professor Stephanie Spehar and student Eric Fell, found one of the rarest and least known primates in Borneo, Miller’s Grizzled Langur.
This species was suggested to be extinct or on the verge of extinction, but the team’s findings, published in the American Journal of Primatology, confirmed the continued existence of the endangered monkey and revealed that it lives in an area where it was previously not known to exist.
The discovery is still new, but Spehar indicated that many researchers within the scientific community are very excited about this finding and were greatly anticipating the publication of this research. However, more research needs to be done to begin protecting this species.
“We’re hoping this next summer that we’re going to start the surveys; we’re going to start collecting some of this behavioral data,” Spehar said. “I’m also hoping that Eric will come along with us and be involved in that since he was the one who actually found these guys.”
Spehar, who is an assistant professor of anthropology, has a semi-permanent research site in Borneo where she conducts research each summer on the behavior of several different primate species. This last summer, as part of the collaborative grant program at UW Oshkosh, Fell travelled to Borneo with Spehar to conduct separate research of his own.
His research project was to observe and document animals in the area that were using mineral licks, ponds with natural mineral deposits where animals can obtain essential nutrients.
During his process of documenting the area, he spotted a monkey that looked similar to another langur he was familiar with, but he couldn’t identify the exact species in his field guide.
“I was sitting in a blind, so they couldn’t see me, but this one was 15 to 20 feet from where I was standing,” Fell said. “None of the other monkeys had come that close.”
After sharing photographs with Spehar and other members of the research team from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC, who had also, independently, spotted the primates while in the field, the monkey in the photograph was identified by a local primate taxonomist as Miller’s Grizzled Langur. Spehar said the identification was not only unexpected but is “a big deal” for the team.
“I do not study mineral licks,” said Spehar. “Nobody would have been there to see these monkeys if Eric had not done this project and if he was not there observing the mineral licks. Without him doing this work, this discovery wouldn’t have happened.”
The team’s expedition took them to Wehea Forest in East Kalimantan, Borneo, a large area of 38,000 hectares (nearly 94,000 acres) of mostly undisturbed rainforest. Over the last three decades, Kutai National Park, the area where this species was known to have lived, has been heavily degraded by fire and illegal logging. This, along with other human interference, has been the leading cause for the declining numbers in the Miller’s Grizzled Langur population.
While Fell was interpreting his findings, another research team had simultaneously discovered a separate population of Miller’s Grizzled Langurs about 13 km away from his mineral lick.
“The two places where Eric sited them and this other team that sited them are separated enough that these are two separate populations, which is significant because it indicates that it’s not just one isolated group,” Spehar said. “Because we found these two groups at the same time, that’s an indication that there may be a substantial population of these animals living there.”
Spehar said the next step is to do more extensive surveys of the region so the team can get an idea of how many animals live in the area and start collecting basic behavioral and ecological data so they plan for the langurs’ conservation.