Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Lesula

Yesterday in the journal PLOS ONE -- part of the Public Library of Science, a nonprofit publisher and advocacy organization dedicated to open access sharing of information that can help spread knowledge  to raise awareness of the importance of preserving biodiversity and treating overlooked diseases -- a team of biologists comprised of John A. Hart, Kate M. Detwiler, Christopher C. Gilbert, Andrew S. Burrell, James L. Fuller, Maurice Emetshu, Terese B. Hart, Ashley Vosper, Eric J. Sargis, and Anthony J. Tosi published a stunning article that has captured the hearts and imagination of all who have seen it (or the photographs contained in it).

The study, entitled "Lesula: A New Species of Cercopithecus Monkey Endemic to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Implications for Conservation of Congo's Central Basin," details the discovery of a new species of guenon, a genus of monkey found in sub-Saharan Africa designated Cercopithecus by Linnaeus (a Latinized word composed of two Greek roots, cerco- [from Greek kerkos] meaning "tail" and -pithecus [from Greek pithekos] meaning "monkey," hence: "tailed monkey").  The genus Cercopithecus is extremely speciated (it is a genus with a huge number of different species) -- "the most speciose clade of extant African primates," according to the report.  The piece reports the discovery of a distinctive species of Cercopithecus living in the remote Lomami Basin in the Democratic Republic of Congo and then presents arguments for ruling that it forms its own species, distinct from another guenon found nearby and designated Cercopithecus hamlyni.  The new species is known in the local vernacular as the lesula, and has been designated Cercopithecus lomamiensis, after the river that dominates the region in which it is found.

The entire article can be found online at the link above, and it makes for fascinating reading as the authors explain the features of C. lomamiensis that argue for its designation as a separate species.  The article provides touching stories of the first scientific discovery of a lesula -- a captive juvenile female which was being raised  by the director of a primary school in Opala, DRC (near the banks of the Lomami River):
The scientific discovery of Cercopithecus lomamiensis was made in June 2007 when field teams saw a captive juvenile female of an unknown species at the residence of the primary school director in the town of Opala (S 0.50721°, E 24.22713°). The school director identified the animal as a “lesula” a vernacular name we had not recorded before, and said that it is well known by local hunters. He reported that he acquired the infant about two months earlier from a family member who had killed its mother in the forest near Yawende, south of Opala and west of the Lomami River (S 0.99772°, E 24.29810°). We took photographs of the animal and made arrangements for its care. We observed and photographed this animal regularly over the next 18 months.
But what really seems to capture the imagination of those who have commented on the various news stories that have reported on this important discovery are the photographs of the lesula monkeys included in the report, particularly their expressive eyes and haunting facial features. Their wistful eyes seem to provide evidence to support the theory that spiritual consciousness inhabits the different beings (animals and plants etc) and takes on different shapes depending on the "shape" or features characteristic to their different forms.  See for example the discussion in Schwaller de Lubicz's Esoterism & Symbol, chapter 13:
Innate consciousness is inscribed in matter and is subject to all its transformations, birth and death, while preserving its essential characteristics, which are transmitted. [. . .]

Let us take an example from the following illustration.  Directly or indirectly, solar radiation is what makes the plant.  This radiation makes a pine tree or an ear of wheat.  The radiation is impartial and universal, but through the seed it is specified as pine tree or wheat.  

From this moment on, it is characterized by the particular innate consciousness of one of these plants.  

When this same radiation returns to its source, after passing through its material form, it bears this innate consciousness.  53.
Or again, the passage from Ross Hamilton cited in this previous post, in which he says of the human consciousness:  "In the body, however, the spiritual currents of the little soul become plastic in order to fit the mold of the human being by way of the nerve fibers" (26).  

Looking into the faces of the lesula monkeys found in the recently-published report, it is hard to deny the possibility that these "spiritual currents" might "mold themselves" into the different nerve fibers and brain matter of the other animals that inhabit this planet with us, projecting their consciousness in a way that is necessarily different from ours (since their nervous systems and brains are different in shape and "wiring"), but also in a way that is akin to ours (one can get the same feeling when gazing into the eyes of a well-known pet dog or cat).

Beyond that, the discovery of this new and amazing species of monkey demonstrates that -- even in this modern decade, at a time when most people might think that every species that can be discovered has been discovered, at least for the larger and more obvious animals such as monkeys -- there are creatures in this world that have yet to be brought to the attention of biologists.  

Just yesterday, in a blog post about the discovery of a species of (presumably extinct) ancient lobe-finned fish designated Laccognathus embryi, reference was made to the coelacanth, a type of lobe-finned fish long declared to have become extinct about 70 million years ago, but which astonished scientists by swimming into a fisherman's net in 1938 (numerous other living specimens have been found in the decades since).  Those who confidently assert that nothing of this sort will ever be discovered again should realize the need to be more cautious in making such pronouncements, when they observe new species such as C. lomamiensis (the lesula) being discovered for the first time, in our very own twenty-first century.

Further, the extremely high speciation of Cercopithecus monkeys -- between 23 and 36 species, according to The Guenons: Diversity and Taxonomy in African Monkeys, by Mary E. Glenn and Marina Cords (2003), with 55 subspecies as of that publication's date (see page 10) -- should remind longtime readers of this blog of the arguments of the eminent 20th-century botanist J. C. Willis, who believed in evolution but argued that Darwin's proposed mechanism was incorrect and that the distribution of speciation within a genus was powerful evidence for a very different mechanism.

Dr. Willis argued that Darwin's theory, in which species slowly changed through mutations and that the new and more successful variations survived (due to natural selection) while the previous and less successful variations died out, was wrong.  He argued that what we find in nature is the evidence of an entirely new genus arising by some force (possibly mutations of a much less gradual type than those proposed by Darwin), which then begins to branch out into a wide variety of species, some very closely related to one another and barely distinguishable.  

If one takes the time to read the careful and extensive arguments of Dr. Willis on this subject (found for instance on pages 65 to 73 of his 1940 text The Course of Evolution by Differentiation or Divergent Mutation rather than by Selection), one might conclude that the diversity and taxonomy of Cercopithicus -- and the new arguments that C. lomamiensis represents a new species, distinct from its "nearest cogenor and sister species, Cercopithecus hamlyni" seem to support the arguments of Willis and not those of Darwin.

Clearly, the discovery of the lesula is an extremely important and significant event in the annals of science, and one fraught with ramifications for our understanding of the world we live in.

If you are moved by these amazing and shy fellow denizens of our planet, and want to learn more about them, be sure to read the entire report linked above, and in particular be sure to listen to the audio files in which their amazing "booms" are recorded (the males apparently issue these echoing calls around dawn each day).  You may even want to change your telephone's ringer to a lesula boom!

We should all be grateful to the work of the authors of this study, and do what we can to protect and preserve these amazing newly-discovered primates.