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New monkey species found in Colombia

A previously unknown monkey species has been discovered in the Colombian jungle.

The small, cat-sized animal – officially named Callicebus caquetensis – is the fourth species of titi monkey now known to live in the South American country's southern forests.

Scientists found the primate during an expedition in the forests of Caqueta, a region close to the border with Peru and Ecuador, which had been off-limits to scientists because of the risks posed by armed insurgents and drug smugglers. The forests have been a sanctuary for guerrilla groups since the 1970s, the last time a scientific expedition in the area had noted the presence of an unusual species of titi monkey. "This discovery is extremely exciting because we had heard about this animal, but for a long time we could not confirm if it was different from other titis," said Professor Thomas Defler, a researcher with Conservation International based in Washington DC. "We now know that this is a unique species, and it shows the rich diversity of life that is still be to discovered in the Amazon."

The titi has greyish-brown hair and lacks the typical white bar on the forehead that other titis possess. Its small face is framed by a bushy red beard and its long, prehensile tail is stippled with grey fur. Unlike most other small primates, titis are monogamous, and rear just one baby a year.

Professor Defler said that the discovery was made with the help of his student Javier Garcia who is from the region. "His father was a veterinarian well known in southern Caqueta where the monkey was said to live," Professor Defler wrote in his expedition blog.

"Javier had no idea that I had been waiting for someone like him for years. I proposed the project, and he was immediately interested. He only need direction, and I was ready to direct," he added.

The scientists located the titis by listening out for their complex, early-morning calls, which are used to demarcate individual territories.

Using GPS technology, the scientists believed they located 13 groups of titis and estimated a total population of less than 250 individuals, which is far lower than the many thousands that constitute a healthy population. Researchers believe that the habitat of the titi monkeys have been fragmented by the creation of open grassland and barbed-wired fences.

The small population size and threatened habitat mean that the new species is critically endangered with a high risk of becoming extinct, said the scientists at Conservation International. Jose Vicente Rodriguez, the head of science at Conservation International in Colombia, said: "When world leaders meet later this year in Japan for the Convention on Biological Diversity, they must commit to the creation of many more protected areas if we want to ensure the survival of threatened creatures like this in the Amazon and around the world."