NAIROBI (Reuters) - The discovery in Kenya of a new population of monkeys far from their normal habitat is a sign of how climate change may already be changing Africa's ecology, a leading conservationist said on Wednesday.
The white-bearded De Brazza's monkeys were found in the Great Rift Valley, a place they had never been spotted before, Richard Leakey, a prominent white Kenyan credited with ending the slaughter of the nation's elephants, told Reuters in Nairobi.
"That is telling us a lot about the climate change scenarios we are looking at now," he said. "It puts climate change as the most critical consideration as we plan for the future."
The monkeys had moved into an area of forest which had dried out as Kenya's climate had become more arid.
Africa is expected to be hit hardest by global warming blamed on carbon dioxide emissions from industry, transport and modern lifestyles in rich countries.
It is also the continent least ready to cope with the droughts, floods and extreme weather predicted by scientists.
Leakey, whose paleontologist father, Louis, caused a radical rethink of human evolution with key fossil finds in east Africa, said African governments lacked funds to do their own climate change studies, and so had to rely on researchers who he said were typically more focused on temperate regions.
But he said he had witnessed dramatic ecological changes in northern Kenya himself, including a 50-foot (15 meter) fall in the level of Lake Turkana over the last four decades. African leaders were not taking the climate threat seriously, he added.
Governments must be urged to save indigenous forests, plant trees, utilize rainwater and ban charcoal burning, he said.
"Why do we think that we are somehow not going to have to deal with this issue?" he asked.