In the lush forests of Angola, scientists have come across a new species of galagos or bushbabies - tiny nocturnal primates native to continental Africa. They first discovered its existence during their field work in Kumbira forest, in north-western Angola.
Bushbabies are typically recognisable thanks to a high-pitched crescendo call and their miniature size. Here, the researchers had the surprise of discovering that what seemed like a galago call belonged to species reaching a size of 17 to 20 centimetres in length, with a 17 to 24 centimetres long tail.
This is three time the size of previously known galagos making it a "giant among the dwarfs". Because it appears to be only endemic to Angola, the scientists called it the Angolan dwarf galago.
Field surveys and recordings
The scientists decided to compare the newly encountered galago's morphology and call structure with that of other closely related species of galago.
They conducted field surveys in three forest habitats of Angola - Kumbira Forest, Bimbe Area, and Northern Scarp Forest - collecting photographs and vocalisation recordings as well as information about the small primate's behaviour. They also conducted more detailed measurements on museum specimens, making comparisons of twelve linear measurements of skulls and teeth.
The data they ended up with led them to conclude, in a study now published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, that this species is unique due to its loud calls, fur colouration, and body size. "This new species has a crescendo call like galagos from West Africa, but its call also has an extra twitter at the end, which has not been heard before", lead author Magdalena Svensson of Oxford Brookes University, told IBTimes UK.
Its morphology and call structure are in fact so different that there was no need to resort to genetic techniques to check if it really was a distinct new species.
Dr Russell Mittermeier of Conservation International commented: "This new Galago species is a very exciting discovery. It is only the fifth new primate described from the African mainland since 2000 and only the second species of galago. What is more, it is from Angola, where there has been very little primate research to date."
Protecting the Angolan dwarf galago
In the last fifty years, the number of dwarf galago species recognised has slowly climbed from six to 19 species, including this new Angolan species. For scientists, this is a sign of the diversity of undocumented species that still remain in the world and it points to importance of Angolan forests as refuges for endemic biodiversity.
However, there are concerns about how to ensure that the Angola dwarf galago is adequately protected. Angolan forests, due to commercial logging, are increasingly threatened by deforestation. Urgent conservation measures would be needed to make sure the tiny primate can thrive.
"Deforestation in Angola is a huge problem. It is an oil country and with oil prices going down, Angolans are turning to timber. They are calls to make an area of Kumbira forest - home to many species of birds - protected. But we cannot be sure that this will be enough to protect galagos", Svensson said.
Scientists now need to conduct more research to better understand the Angolan Galago's behaviours and how adaptable it is to climate and habitat changes.