Scientists at the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) in Kolkata have discovered a new species of macaque monkey that roams the forest of Arunachal Pradesh.
Genetic analysis by a team of scientists, led by Mukesh Thakur, revealed that this monkey is genetically different from the other species of monkey found in the western and central region of Arunachal Pradesh.
The researchers have named this new species as ‘Sela macaque’ (scientific name: Macaque selai) after the Sela Pass.
This mountain pass separates the new species from the Arunachal macaque, an endangered and recently discovered cercopithecine primate, which is found in the Tawang district.
Scientists at ZSI collected DNA samples from the Sela macaque species and carried out a detailed phylogenetic analysis. They found that the Sela macaque is genetically closer to the Arunachal macaque. Further, members of these two species also share some physical characteristics like a heavy-built shape and long dorsal body hair.
However, the individuals of the two species acquired some distinct morphological features when they evolved separately. According to the researchers, this happened because Sela Pass acted as a barrier and restricted the mixing of these two species for nearly two million years.
“On genetic analyses of Arunachal macaques, we observed spatially distributed substantial inter-species genetic divergence among the samples collected from Arunachal Pradesh. The results suggested that Arunachal macaque evolved into two phylogenetic species about 1.96 mya following allopatric speciation by means of Sela mountain pass in Arunachal Pradesh, India,” notes the scientists.
The Sela macaque has a pale face and brown coat colour, while the Arunachal macaque has a dark face and dark brown coat colour.
It has been observed that some Sela macaque is used to human presence while others avoid humans. The villagers also reported that the Sela macaque is known to destroy crops in the West Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh.
The new research has identified gap areas for undertaking further surveys to document populations of macaques through multinational, multi-lateral cross border collaboration.
ZSI scientists are confident that these findings will help in the conservation efforts of the Arunachal and Sela macaque.