Willem is a wildlife artist based in South Africa. He says "My aim is simply to express the beauty and wonder that is in Nature, and to heighten people's appreciation of plants, animals and the wilderness. Not everything I paint is African! Though I've never been there, I'm also fascinated by Asia and I've done paintings of Asian rhinos and birds as well. I may in future do some of European, Australian and American species too. I'm fascinated by wild things from all over the world! I mainly paint in watercolours. . . but actually many media including 'digital' paintings with the computer!"
Something extra-special for you all this time! This is a Lesula, Cercopithecus lomamiensis. Incredibly, the species was utterly unknown to science until 2007. This monkey with its captivatingly human-looking face occurs only around the basin of the Lomami, a tributary of Africa's greatest river, the Congo. Locals know the species well, and the first one seen by European scientists was a captive female. 'Lesula' is the native name of the species; it is one of Africa's huge diversity of small, long-tailed, arboreal monkeys, of which the vervet, De Brazza's monkey, and the moustached guenon are also examples. It is fairly large for a guenon, the male reaching 7.1 kg/15.5 lbs in bodyweight. Quite unique, it is nevertheless somewhat similar to the Owl-Faced Guenon, which also occurs in the DRC but more to the east. The owl-faced guenon has a dark face with a bold white stripe down its nose; the lesula has a lighter, pink face, with a cream-coloured patch running down its nose. It also has a yellowish 'beard'. The male has a large patch of naked, bright blue skin around his naughty bits. This is not unusual for African primates, but the lesula's nekkid bits are bigger and bolder than those of other small monkeys. The rest of the body is covered in blackish-brown fur, apart from an ochre-coloured patch running down the length of its back.
Seeing as how recently we even became aware of this species, we still don't know much about it. It seems to be more terrestrial than many other guenons, eating fruits, leaves and sometimes flowers of low-growing herbs and shrubs of the forest understory. The male has a loud, booming call, descending the scale, by which he proclaims his territory. Like other forest monkeys, these are quite sociable, forming large troops, and the males often call together in the mornings – a wonderful chorus of booms which must give the forest around their range a unique ambience. Apparently you can stimulate the males into calling, by mimicking an eagle call!
So what is it about the lesula's face? Most monkeys don't have prominent noses. They tend to have rounded muzzles with slit-like nostrils set close together. Human noses are actually quite weird compared to those of other primates … we're among the only ones in which the nose prominently sticks out of the rest of the face (another species where this is so is the weird Proboscis Monkey of Asia). But the lesula, while still having a muzzle similar to those of its relatives, has the nose highlighted by that light stripe, which also makes the nose look very long. This gives the face a human look. But surely those expressive, pensive, somewhat sad-looking eyes are more than a mere visual effect! This monkey has character. And certainly, it uses its face a lot to communicate with its fellows, expressing emotions and more.
Sadly, pretty much immediately upon discovery, this monkey went into the category of being vulnerable to extinction. As far as we know, it occurs only in a limited range of rainforest, where people are hunting it. Human populations can grow and shift in these regions, meaning the species can be apparently safe today and gone tomorrow. Proposals for nature reserves are on the table – let's hope they pan out. But for now this new species conveys the plight of so many of Africa's rare and unique species with its sad and knowing eyes.