By Dr. Aida Cuní Sanchez – TBA alumna, Kirindy 2005
Northern Kenya conjures up images of deserts, nomadic camel pastoralists and, unfortunately, the devastating effects of recurrent droughts. However, there are a few forest islands located on top of high hills and mountains. These forests survive because of the mist they trap from the clouds, which is why they are called cloud forests.
Cloud forests are of particular interest, for their species richness and endemism. For example, three chameleons are endemic to three of these forests in northern Kenya: Trioceros marsabitensis, T. narraioca and Kinyongia asheorum, which inhabit Mt Marsabit, Mt Kulal and Mt Nyiro forests respectively. These cloud forests also provide a habitat for several endangered species of plants and animals, such as the tree Prunus africana, Grevy’s zebra and elephants.
Filming in the forest of Mt. Kulal
Most importantly, cloud forests are vital because of their high water yield. In the African drylands, this water yield is crucial to surrounding communities, particularly during droughts. In spite of their important role, little is known about how these forests function, and how sensitive they might be to overexploitation and climate change. So, for the past two years, I have made these fascinating ecosystems the focus of my research.
Two of the three bats of Madagascar are categorized as endangered according to the IUCN red list, but all of them are heavily threatened by habitat loss and severe hunting. In some areas of Madagascar, they are considered as a threat to fruits of economic importance such as the lychee (Litchi chinensis) and the Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki) and are therefore persecuted in the trees where they feed at night (Andrianaivoarivelo et al. 2007). For these reasons, I led a research project on the dietary behaviors of the fruit bats to investigate whether they prefer food from natural habitats over alien, economically Important fruit species or vice versa (Andrianaivoarivelo et al. 2012).
While the dodo is famous around the world as the symbol of extinction, the country it once used to inhabit may be less known. That country is my home island, Mauritius, that little speck in the South Western part of the Indian Ocean.
As my mentor has explained to me once, Mauritius despite its size is a very interesting case study for conservationists. It is one of the last country to be colonized and yet it has shown one of the fastest and greatest biodiversity loss. As an island, it also has high endemicity among its native species, meaning many species lost here are completely gone. 30 unique plant species, 2 unique bat species, 8 unique bird species, 5 unique reptile species and so many more invertebrate species, ALL robbed from us.
Paradoxically, Mauritius has also been an international model of conservation success in the past decades with its successful bird recovery programmes. With species like the Mauritian Kestrel being brought back from the brink of extinction, when there was only 4 individuals left in the 1970s.
But today, Mauritius is a model of another kind. It is showing the world how facts and scientific-based arguments can be completely ignored during decision making, despite these being communicated to policy makers. It is showing the world how international agreements like the Convention on Biological Diversity, of which Mauritius is a signatory, can be easily disregarded by decision-makers in favor of questionable decisions. Continue reading “Vacancy for a new dodo”
Flying foxes, commonly known as bats are the second most diverse and abundant of mammals with great physiological and ecological diversity.
Previously unknown to science and considered mysteries, bats play important ecological roles in seed dispersal and pollination, which help to maintain plant communities, and insect control, which limits the distribution and abundance of many pests responsible for spreading human diseases and causing significant economic damages to crops and livestock.
Unfortunately, despite their numerous benefits, poor understanding of their ecosystem benefits, along with negative perceptions and traditional beliefs have often resulted to habitat destruction and direct killing attempts at roost sites.
Hands of Ghanaian Tropical Biology Association Alumni on Deck
The Ghana worm lizard is an endangered reptile, endemic to Ghana; more so, it is restricted to only the Bandai Hills Forest Reserve in southern-eastern Ghana. Since its discovery in 1987, and claims of its last sighting in 2005, there had not been any dedicated focal surveys to locate the species Thus there is missing knowledge on its biology and ecology, a major drawback for the successful management and conservation of the endangered worm lizard. Continue reading “Hope in Sight for the re-discovery of the lost Ghana Worm Lizard (Cynisca kraussi)”
The Mulanje Mountain Chameleon, Nadzikambia mlanjensis and the Mulanje Pygmy Chameleon, Rampholeon platyceps are dwarf chameleons endemic to Mount Mulanje in south eastern Malawi. The plateau area of the massif is characterised by isolated montane forests in a grassland matrix. A majority of these forest patches are rich in biodiversity and provide habitat for these two endemic dwarf chameleons. The chameleons have also been recorded at lower altitudes of the mountain and along the mountain slopes. Currently, very little information exists on population size, distribution and habitat preference of both species on the mountain. In addition, local attitudes towards the chameleon are rooted in mythical description that clouds the harmless nature of these small animals. Oral tradition recalls a story that puts the chameleon in bad light, and so the chameleons have remained in negative light in Malawian cultural beliefs.
The aim of the study was to collect primary data on the habitat ecology and conservation status of the N. mlanjensis and R. platyceps; and specifically, to identify habitat preference; map distribution of chameleons to delineate area of occupancy estimate. The project also aimed to interact with local residents to document the (negative) mythology associated with chameleons on the mountain and gather their knowledge of the dwarf chameleons. The data from this project will be used to inform a reliable IUCN assessment for evaluation of these species as a Red list candidates.
Presently, a total of 13 sites have been visited and searched for chameleons, 7 sites on the plateau and 6 sites on the lower slopes. N. mlanjensis was not found at any of the sites visited during this study. However, 45 individuals of the Mulanje Pygmy Chameleon, R. platyceps were found. All individuals were found perched on vegetation near running streams. Questionnaire responses showed that a lot of people were not aware of the existence of any dwarf chameleon. Most people knew the big horned chameleons better. People who knew about the dwarf and pygmy chameleons were mainly porters and guides based at the Likhubula valley. These results indicate that N. mlanjesis may be critically endangered. The team is currently finalising the study by searching two other possible sites for N. mlanjensis.
These are preliminary results of the research project being undertaken by the Malawi TBA Alumni Group (TBAMA) under the TBA Small Grant Scheme for alumni groups. The project is examining the status and threats to a chameleon found in the Ruo Gorge forest on Mount Mulanje in Malawi. Results show that the Mountain Dwarf Chameleon, N. mlanjensis is found in areas in forest patches on the plateau and on the lower slopes. Further surveys are required to ascertain their full distribution and whether seasonality is a factor. But there appears to be little movement of the chameleons in the habitats where they were found. Results indicate that the species’ dietary preference is not specific to a particular plant type which may be an advantage for the species adapting to any future environmental change. However, deforestation could pose a major threat as the Chameleon’s habitat is forest patches and they require large trees for perching.
Tiwonge G. (05/1, Kibale),
Coordinator, Malawi TBA Alumni Group (TBAMA)
Prolemursimus (formerly known as Hapalemur simus) is one of the most critically endangered lemurs if not the most endangered one. Commonly known as the greater bamboo lemur, fossils records indicate that it was once widespread on the island of Madagascar. However at present, its populations are patchily distributed and restricted to rainforest areas in eastern and southeastern Madagascar, occupying less than 5% of its former range. As the name implies it is the largest of the bamboo-eating lemurs. Feeding is their second main activity with a specialized diet comprising mostly of one species of bamboo: Cathariostachys Madagascariensis (95% of the diet).
The first threatened species to be featured on the blog is the Round island boa also known as the Round island keel-scaled boa (Casareadussumerii). It is the only member in its genus and one of the rarest snakes in the world. Endemic to Mauritius (Indian Ocean), it used to occur on the main island and some offshore islets. However past habitat loss and introduction of invasive species have restricted its population to a single 215 ha islet, Round Island, found off the northern coast.
Round Island, the only place where the boa is found (and also a pandora’s box for herpetologists)