Studies indicate that West African and Congo basin isolates of monkeypox virus (MPXV) are genetically distinct. Here, we show Congo basin MPXV-ZAI-V79 is more virulent for cynomolgus monkeys as compared to presumed West African MPXV-COP-58. This finding may explain the lack of case-fatalities in the U.S. 2003 monkeypox outbreak, which was caused by a West African virus. Virulence differences between West African and Congo basin MPXV are further supported by epidemiological analyses that observed a similar prevalence of antibodies in non-vaccinated humans in both regions, while >90% of reported cases occurred in the Congo basin, and no fatal cases were observed outside of this region. To determine the basis for this difference in virulence, we sequenced the genomes of one human West African isolate, and two presumed West African isolates and compared the sequences to Congo basin MPXV-ZAI-96-I-16. The analysis identified D10L, D14L, B10R, B14R, and B19R as possible virulence genes, with D14L (ortholog of vaccinia complement protein) as a leading candidate.