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Africa
11 Sep 2014

Unravelling mysteries for conservation of birds in São Tomé e Príncipe

Dwarf Ibis (Photo: Nik Borrow)
By Obaka Torto

Quite a number of knowledge gaps have continued to hinder conservation efforts directed towards the threatened birds of SãoTomé e Príncipe. Such has been the case for the critically endangered Dwarf Ibis (Bostrychia bocagei), only found on SãoTomé island. Among others, the breeding biology of this bird has remained poorly described thus making it difficult to decide on conservation interventions required duringat this crucial stage in its life cycle.

Thanks to the efforts of the Association of Biologists Sãotomense (ABS) in partnership with BirdLife International, a team of researchers led by Hugulay Maia was able to describe some important aspects of the breeding behaviour of this bird. The results of their study conducted in 2009, have now been published in the most recent issue of the Bulletin of the African Bird Club (Volume 2, issue number 2 published in September 2014). This discovery is significant for the survival of the species.   

Deforestation in São Tomé seems to be  the threat to the reproduction of the Ibis, and the main cause of the bird’s extinction on the sister island of Príncipe. 

The study was conducted at Monte Carmo, the southern part of the island of São Tomé, which currently has the largest oil palm plantation in the country. Like many discoveries, this finding happened accidentally during a research mission on a day of heavy rain. A healthy nest was discovered around an area undergoing systematic monitoring. The authors reveal that the discovery was made, thanks to the local community  in Emolve (also called Ribeira Peixe) , for their keen interest in bird  conservation. ABS has been conducting conservation activities with the local community since 2005.

Indeed Jose Correia, the ornithologist who led an expedition to the Gulf of Guinea would be happy to know that he was right when he observed a female in its reproductive phase in November 1928.This fact was confirmed 81 years later, with the discovery by ABS which occurred on 29 November 2009, showing that the breeding period of the ibis is from November to January. ABS has also determined that the bird lays two eggs per nest and that the male and female part ways during the incubation period.

Besides the research trying to unravel the ecology of the threatened endemic birds of SãoTomé e Príncipe, ABS has also been working with the communities of Angolares, Ribeira Peixe, Malanza, Dona Augusta and YoGrande, near the area where the ibis was found, to create their awareness of the need for biodiversity conservation.

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In February 2014, an Action Plan for the conservation of threatened endemic birds was approved in an event  attended by members of BirdLife International partnership, the General Directorate of Environment, directors ( ofthe Obo Natural Park in São Tomé and Príncipe), ABS, other NGOs and members of the local community. The plan describes measures that would make a difference in reducing threats to these birds.

In conclusion, in order to protect the threatened birds of São Tomé e Príncipe, it is crucial to solve the problem that jeopardizes their survival: deforestation and uncontrolled hunting. These two, currently constitute the greatest threat. Deforestation is believed to be the main cause of the bird's extinction on the sister island of Principe, we must not allow it to happen on São Tomé as well.

Story by ABS

 

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