What do we mean by “New”?

According to a recent article in the New York Times, scientists have discovered a new species of monkey in Africa. They have given it the name Cercopithecus lomamiensis.  Genetic analysis of tissue samples prove that it is a distinct species.  Its most notable characteristic is the male’s vivid blue rear end.

Very fascinating, and it’s wonderful to know about this creature.  But I wonder what makes it “new.”  According to the article, the people of the region not only already are familiar with this monkey, so it is not new to them, but they already have a name for it, the lesula.  Schoolgirls keep them as pets, and bushmeat hunters bag them for food.  A sure sign that a creature is well known is that people are not afraid to eat it.

In fact, a schoolgirl’s pet was the first specimen the Western scientists saw–so I think that young lady should be given as much credit for the discovery as the scientists; her name should be included as a lead author of the article in PLoS One.  But of course she wasn’t.  Apparently something is not known until it is identified and given an unpronounceable name by Western science.  Never mind that local people have always known it.

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