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New Monkey Reports Show Critical Bias

There are exciting reports from Tanzania of a monkey species new to science.  The highland mangabey is a medium-sized monkey, about 3 feet (90 cm) tall with a long tail, long brown fur, a black face, hands and feet.   Adults make a distinctive, loud, low-pitched "honk-bark" call. They live in mountainside trees at elevations of up to 8,000 feet (2,400 meters).  Reports say that the highland mangabey is the first new species of monkey identified in 20 years.

"This exciting discovery demonstrates once again how little we know about our closest living relatives, the nonhuman primates," said Russell Mittermeier, chairman of the Primate Specialist Group of IUCN-The World Conservation Union's Species Survival Commission.  "A large, striking monkey in a country of considerable wildlife research over the last century has been hidden right under our noses."

Not quite true.  The reports themselves say that local hunters were well aware of the monkeys and had described them to the scientists prior to their "discovery" by science.  They had, in fact, "been hidden" under the noses only of the scientists. The implication that what natives know is of little importance has a long and troubling history.  In a small way, the highland mangabey story is just another example of Columbus "discovering" America even though tens of millions of people were already living there.

We denigrate and ignore (consciously or otherwise) the knowledge of "primitive" peoples at our peril.

May 19, 2005 in Science | Permalink


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