The Kipunji (Rungwecebus kipunji) is an extremely endangered species of African monkey. The species was independently discovered by two separate research teams in 2003 and then again in 2004, making it the first new monkey discovered in Africa in 20 years. Kipunjis are found only in Tanzania, and the two known populations, in the Ndundulu and Rungwe-Kitulo areas, are separated by 250 kilometers (155.3 miles) of non-forested land. The total range of both populations combined is only a tiny area of 26 square kilometers (12.8 square miles), when the extant range occurrence threshold for being considered Critically Endangered by the IUCN is 100 square kilometers (62.1 square miles).
Not only is the range of these monkeys extremely small, but their numbers are extremely small. In 2008 the Rungwe-Kitulo population was estimated to be around 1,042 with 25 to 39 individuals in the scattered groups of the region. The Ndundulu population was only around 75 and is probably no longer viable today.
The main threats to the species are continued degradation of their arboreal habitats. The areas where they are found are largely unprotected and subjected to logging, charcoal making, hunting and otherwise unregulated extraction of resources. Forests are becoming increasingly fragmented, which has divided the Rungwe-Kitulo population into several sub-populations that are becoming increasingly isolated. The Kitulo National Park on Mount Rungwe is helping to protect some groups living in the Livingston Forest area. The Ndundulu forests are actually in pristine condition compared to the bulk of the Rungwe-Kitulo region, but the population there is much too small to be sustainable for much longer. Unfortunately, Kipunjis are one of three endangered monkey species to be discovered in the mountains of southern Tanzania.
Kipunjis are medium-sized, long-tailed monkeys with a light to rufous brown coat. They have darker lower forelimbs, black hands and feet, and an off-white stomach as well as end to their tail. They have long cheek whiskers and a crest of hair on the crown frame of their faces, which are black. They have a longer coat than most monkeys, and it is believed that it was intended to tolerate the higher altitudes of their range. Their unique and loud call is another feature establishing them as a distinct species. It is described as a low-pitched honk-bark, and is extremely different from the calls of all other known monkeys.
They were originally believed to be a subspecies of mangebay (Lophocebus) and were originally called the Highland Mangebay. Genetic and morphological studies indicated otherwise, and showed that Kipunjis are an entirely new genus, more closely related to baboons than mangebays. Because of the recent discovery and rarity of the species, not much is known about their habits.