Menu mobile menu

New primate species discovered in Myanmar

100 year-old London museum sample gave decisive hints
Adult female and juvenile Popa langur (Trachypithecus popa) in the crater of Mount Popa, Myanmar. Photo: Thaung Win
Präparierter Holotyp (NHMUK ZD.1914.7.19.3) des neubeschriebenen Popa-Languren (Trachypithecus popa) im Naturhistorischen Museum, London, UK. Foto: Courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London
Stuffed holotype (NHMUK ZD.1914.7.19.3) of the newly described Popa langur (Trachypithecus popa) in the Natural History Museum, London, UK. Photo: Courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London
PD Dr. Christian Roos ist Wissenschaftler in der Abteilung Primatengenetik am Deutschen Primatenzentrum. Foto: Karin Tilch
PD Dr. Christian Roos is a scientist in the Primate Genetics Laboratory at the German Primate Center. Photo: Karin Tilch

A new primate species dubbed the Popa langur has been discovered in Myanmar after years of extensive study, including analysis of a 100-year old specimen kept in the London Natural History Museum. The Popa langur (Trachypithecus popa) is described in a new scientific paper released today that documents the extensive genetic and morphological studies and field surveys undertaken by the German Primate Center (DPZ) – Leibniz Institute for Primate Research in Göttingen and conservation NGO Fauna & Flora International.

The Popa langur only occurs in central Myanmar and is named after the sacred Mount Popa, which holds the largest population of the species with about 100 animals. Mount Popa is an extinct volcano, which features an important wildlife sanctuary, as well as a sacred pilgrimage site, home to Myanmar’s most venerated spirits, known as ‘Nats’. Altogether there are only 200 to 250 animals of the new species, which live in four isolated populations. Throughout its range the langur is threatened by habitat loss and hunting, and the new species can be considered critically endangered. “Just described, the Popa langur is already facing extinction,” says Frank Momberg at FFI.

Researchers of the DPZ and FFI in collaboration with partners from other non-government organizations, universities and natural history museums, investigated the evolutionary history and species diversity of langurs in Myanmar. Their study resulted in the description of the new langur species, the Popa langur.

The Popa langur differs from known species in fur coloration, tail length and skull measurements. Genetic studies revealed that the new langur species separated from known species around one million years ago. The DNA for genetic analyses was obtained from fecal samples collected by FFI staff in the wild, as well as from tissue samples of historical specimens from the natural history museums in London, Leiden, New York and Singapore.

Christian Roos, scientist in the Primate Genetics Laboratory at DPZ says, ”The DNA analysis of a museum specimen collected for the London Natural History Museum more than 100 years ago has finally led to the description of this new species, confirmed also by samples collected from the field by FFI’s research team.” “Additional field surveys and protection measures are urgently required and will be conducted by FFI and others to save the langurs from extinction,” says Ngwe Lwin, a primatologist with FFI's Myanmar program.

Original publication

Christian Roos, Kristofer M. Helgen, Roberto Portela Miguez, Naw May Lay Thant, Ngwe Lwin, Aung Ko Lin, Aung Lin, Khin Mar Yi, Paing Soe, Zin Mar Hein, Margaret Nyein Nyein Myint, Tanvir Ahmed, Dilip Chetry, Melina Urh, E. Grace Veatch, Neil Duncan, Pepijn Kamminga, Marcus A. H. Chua, Lu Yao, Christian Matauschek, Dirk Meyer, Zhijin Liu, Ming Li, Tilo Nadler, Pengfei Fan, Le Khac Quyet, Michael Hofreiter, Dietmar Zinner, Frank Momberg (2020): Mitogenomic phylogeny of the Asian colobine genus Trachypithecus with special focus on Trachypithecus phayrei (Blyth, 1847) and description of a new species. Zoological Research,