OSLO (Reuters) - A new type of snub-nosed monkey has been found in a remote forested region of northern Myanmar which is under threat from logging and a Chinese dam project, scientists said Wednesday.
They said hunters in Myanmar's Kachin state said the long-tailed black monkey, with white-tufted ears and a white beard, could often be tracked in the rain because its upturned nostrils made it prone to sneezing when water dripped in.
"It's new to science. It's unusual to travel to a remote area and discover a monkey that looks unlike any other in the world," Thomas Geissmann, lead author of the study at the University of Zurich-Irchel, told Reuters.
Studies of a carcass and four skulls showed the monkey differed from snub-nosed monkeys in China and Vietnam. The experts had no photos of a live Myanmar monkey.
The scientists estimated there were between 260 and 330 of the monkeys living in an area of about 270 sq km (100 sq miles) and believed the species to be critically endangered.
"The hunting pressure is likely to increase considerably in the next few years as new dam construction and logging roads invade" the monkeys' habitat, they wrote in the American Journal of Primatology.
"The future of the snub-nosed monkey lies in Chinese hands," said Frank Momberg, of Fauna and Flora International and a co-author of the study. Monkeys were hunted for meat or fur and their body parts were used in traditional medicines in China.
He said China Power Investment Corp., leading the dam project further down the valley on a tributary of the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar, had an economic interest in preserving the forested region where the monkeys live.
More roads and logging would cause erosion around the watershed that could clog up the new reservoir with silt, reducing power generation, he said. He praised China for carrying out a study of the dam's possible effect on the environment.
The discovery of the snub-nosed monkey contrasts with a rising trend of extinctions, caused by factors such as land clearance, expansion of cities, pollution and climate change.
A U.N. conference in Nagoya, Japan, this week is looking at ways to safeguard biological diversity after the world failed in a goal set in 2002 of a "significant reduction" in the pace of extinctions of animals and plants by 2010.
A separate study in the journal Science showed growing numbers of the world's birds, mammals and amphibians had moved closer to extinction in recent decades. A fifth were classified as threatened.
Editing by Andrew Dobbie