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Gulf of Guinea Expeditions 

May 3, 2013

The Race: GG VII—We Reunite and Part Again

After two hectic weeks of education activities on São Tomé, Rayna Bell (Cornell University) arrived and the four of us joined the botanists, Tom Daniel, Jim Shevock, Miko Nadel, Tamas Szuts (our spider guy) and Andrew Stanbridge (our photographer) on Príncipe.   I  have asked Andrew, a veteran of three Gulf of Guinea expeditions, to illustrate some of what transpired while the group was divided.

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Our botany team, day one on Principe: Jim Shevock, Tom Daniel and Miko Nadel.

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Botany team en route to climb the mesa. Back left in the yellow hat is our guide Baloo.

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Jim on the “trail” to the mesa.

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Male Leptopelis palmatus found on the trail to the mesa. The females are the largest tree frogs in Africa.

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Tom discovers Principina, a unique sedge.

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Miko on top of the mesa

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Jim and Tom collecting specimens along the route to Roça Sundy.

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First Academy visit to the offshore island “Jockey’s Bonnet”.

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Bonnet seedeater, unique to the small island of “Jockey’s Bonnet”.

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Tom carrying specimens upriver.

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Tamas and “Bobby” Bronkhurst pooting spiders on Jockey’s Bonnet.

 

Here is the parting shot.

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All images by Andrew Stanbridge

PARTNERS:

We are most grateful to Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, Victor Bomfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for their continuing authorization to collect and export specimens for study, and to Ned Seligman, Roberta dos Santos and Quintino Quade of STePUP of Sao Tomehttp://www.stepup.st/, our “home away from home”. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences for largely funding our initial two expeditions (GG I, II). The Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden provided logistics, ground transportation and lodging (GG III-V), and special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who made the GG III-V expeditions possible: George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor, Velma and Michael Schnoll, and Sheila Farr Nielsen; GG VI supporters include Bom Bom Island and the Omali Lodge for logistics and lodging, The Herbst Foundation, The “Blackhawk Gang,” the Docent Council of the California Academy of Sciences in honor of Kathleen Lilienthal, Bernard S. Schulte, Corinne W. Abel, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, John S. Livermore and Elton Welke. GG VII has been funded by a very generous grant from The William K. Bowes Jr. Foundation, and substantial donations from Mrs. W.H.V.“D.A.” Brooke, Thomas B. Livermore, Rod C. M. Hall, Timothy M. Muller, Prof. and Mrs. Evan C. Evans, Mr. and Mrs. John L. Sullivan Jr., Clarence G. Donahue, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, and a heartening number of “Coolies”, “Blackhawk Gang” returnees and members of the Academy Docent Council. Once again we are deeply grateful for the continued support of the Omali Lodge (São Tomé) and Bom Bom Island (Príncipe) for both logistics and lodging and especially for sponsoring part our education efforts for GG VII.

Our expeditions can be supported by tax-deductable donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”


January 4, 2013

The Race: Peregrinations of a Pinniped (Our Islands get Seal of Approval)

I have recently learned from my island friend Madalena Patacho of Bom Bom Island that a Cape fur seal (Arctocephalus pusillus) was seen and photographed on a beach at the north end of Príncipe Island and was also later seen by a number of islanders along the São Tomé coast.

The Cape (South African) fur seal, Arctocephalus pusillus at Praia Sundy, Principe Id. December 2012. photo by Jamili

Why is this noteworthy? It is special because although vagrant individuals of this large species have occasionally been seen as far north as the southern border of Angola, the nearest breeding colony of Cape (or South African) fur seals is just under 2,700 km south of Príncipe, at Cape Cross Namibia!  This is almost exactly the same distance as between Príncipe and Kampala, Uganda.

My colleague, Bastien Loloum works for MARAPA, an NGO on the islands heavily involved in marine life and conservation. Bastien is coordinator of a cetacean  monitoring program there. So far they have recorded ten species of cetaceans but he informs me that there are no formal records of the Cape fur seal in the islands waters.  However, he and his colleagues think that this is may be the second or third account of a vagrant fur seal there during the past decade.  This would be rare indeed, but for reasons given below, I am not too surprised.

Map from  IUCN Red list.

The Cape or South African fur seal is the largest of its kind (Otariidae= fur seals + sea lions; true seals lack external ears and belong to a different family, the Phocidae); males reach 2.27m in body length and 360kg in mass. Females are much smaller. As the map shows, this species lives and breeds along the South African and Namibian coast. There are about 23 major breeding colonies, and there are population estimates of over one million individuals. In 1992,  I was fortunate to explore the Skeleton Coast of Namibia by air from Capetown to about 16º south latitude, and the Cape fur seal colonies were impressive to say the least.

Above the Namib coast;  RCD photo 1992

Above the Namib coast;  RCD photo 1992

Later and somewhat farther north, we were able to approach a colony by land as there were intervening rocks disguising our presence.

On the Namib Coast.  RCD phot. 1992

On the Namib Coast. RCD phot. 1992

Note the conspicuous external ear which is one characteristic that differentiates these mammals from true seals. RCD phot. 1992

The key to understanding how these enormous populations of large pinnipeds are sustained, and how one individual might have arrived in the Gulf of Guinea 2700 km to the north lies in understanding the nature of the Benguela Current which flows up the west coast of southern Africa. The Benguela is a cold current and is thus highly oxygenated water. This supports vast amounts of plankton which in turn provide sustenance for a huge marine fauna “higher up the chain.” In fact, the Benguela Current is one of the richest fisheries in the world.

Notice the persistent, thick, slightly discolored foam on the shore which indicates high plankton content in the water. RCD phot. 1992

A major factor important to our seal story and indeed, perhaps to the early colonization of the Gulf of Guinea islands’ unique plants and animals, is the fact that the Benguela Current flows from South to North and has undoubtedly done so since the Atlantic Ocean opened up in the Cretaceous.

Dominant currents in  the Gulf of Guinea and South Africa.  CAS construct

As the map shows, the Benguela flows north past the Congo River Delta. At the same time, the Guinea Current flows West to East across the Niger Delta. These two currents converge in the Bight of Benin to form the South Equatorial Current, and this major current flows due West, directly through the Gulf of Guinea Islands and across the Atlantic.

Hypothesized raft. artwork by Richard E. Cook. insert photos D. Lin GG I and II

Because these two major currents cross the deltas of two of the mightiest rivers in Africa each with huge interior drainages, then change direction westward through São Tomé and Príncipe suggested to us that many of the endemic plants and animals on the two islands arrived there millions of years ago by rafting.  We suggested that the raft(s) would be large chunks of riverbank which broke off and floated to the sea. Our hypothesis that the rafts would have been very large is supported by the fact that a significant percentage of the unique reptiles (and one amphibian) of both islands are burrowing species (see inset, above), unlikely to cross ocean barriers on small floating objects.  We published this hypothesis in the Journal of Biogeography in 2007.

With respect to our Cape fur seal visitor, a closer look at the first image reveals that this animal ran afoul of a fishing operation of some sort; note the blue polyethylene rope or netting around its neck which may have come from a trawling operation to the south.  While it is highly unlikely that the poor creature was dragged 2700km, it IS possible that having been entangled, and then escaping, the seal became disoriented and probably very much weakened.  It seems likely that the “line of least resistance” would be to follow the Benguela Current until it converged with the South Equatorial Current, ultimately depositing the animal in the waters off São Tomé and Príncipe. This, in a sense, would be following part of the same dispersal pathway as the original plant and animal colonizers of the islands if our rafting hypothesis is correct.  It is impossible to know for sure, but this seems to me a possible scenario.

Here’s the parting shot:

Blue-breasted kingfisher. This one hangs out above Bom Bom Island, Principe. Weckerphoto -GG III

PARTNERS
We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, (GG I, II), the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden for logistics, ground transportation and lodging (GG III-V), STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to collect and export specimens for study. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who made the GG III-V expeditions possible: George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor, Velma and Michael Schnoll, and Sheila Farr Nielsen; GG VI supporters include HBD of Bom Bom and the Omali Lodge for logistics and lodging, The Herbst Foundation, The “Blackhawk Gang,” the Docent Council of the California Academy of Sciences in honor of Kathleen Lilienthal, Bernard S. Schulte, Corinne W. Abell, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, John and Judy Sears, John S. Livermore and Elton Welke.
Our expeditions can be supported by tax-deductable donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”.


November 16, 2012

The Race: Flat Worms, A New Doctor and an Island Education Video

One of our most consistent and knowledgeable colleagues on the island of São Tomé has been Ricardo Lima, up until recently a graduate student at the University of Lancaster.

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Ricardo Lima crossing the Rio Lemba, Sao Tome. (unknown phot)

Ricardo has been studying the effects of land use changes on the distribution of the endemic birds of São Tomé, and I am delighted that (1) he has just completed his PhD, (2) he has published a fine article on his research in the journal Diversity and Distribution, and (3) he is back on the big island having found funding for the continuation his research. This funding will also allow the reprinting of the biodiversity posters we distributed during GG V in 2011. Readers will recall we were able produce only 200 of these (see March – April 2011 posts).

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Dr. Ricardo Faustino de Lima being savaged by a Sao Tome malachite kingfisher (unknown phot)

Over the several years I have known him, Ricardo has sent us images and/or specimens of great interest to us both, including a freshwater fish we missed in our 2001 and 2006 river surveys (we still have not analyzed one), and especially the specimens of the endemic shrew, Crocidura thomensis which we subsequently studied genetically. Dr. Lima will be one of the authors when the shrew paper is completed. A year or so ago, Ricardo sent us some pictures of a strange, brightly colored flatworm called a terrestrial planarian or geoplanid.

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Terrestrial planarian (geoplanid) (R. Lima phot.]

As delicate as these little terrestrial creatures appear, they are actually voracious predators upon snails, slugs, insects and earthworms. The known species have very narrow, specific habitat preferences and thus can be used as indicators of habitat types. Readers will recall that over 60% of the snails of São Tomé and Príncipe are found nowhere else in the world, including an endemic genus, Bocageia; if this geoplanid is an invasive, it may well be a real threat to the populations of endemic snails.

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Terrestrial planarian (geoplanid) (R. Rocha phot.)

Even with a better image in hand (above) we could not put a name on this animal. We have many experts here at CAS, but none specializes in this class of invertebrates, the Platyhelminthes. During GG VI last April, Miko Nadel, our lichenologist graduate student collected a specimen way up at 1700 meters on Pico do São Tomé (see Mountains that Glow, April 2012) and brought it back.

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Miko Nadel (l) and Jim Shevock on Sao Tome [A. Stanbridge phot. GG VI]

Now with a specimen in hand, we needed to find an expert. Thanks to Dr. Shannon Bennett, Head of our Department of Microbiologist, we discovered Dr. Ronald Sluys, of the Netherlands Centre for Biodiversity Naturalis. Dr. Sluys has been sent the specimen and is “willing to give it a try!”. Apparently, there are not all that many experts in this field, and Ron says he will have to section our one specimen with a microtome in order to try to identify it. If it is new, we will try to get more for him; if it has a name, we can add yet another species to the remarkable biota of the islands.

Finally, our readers will know that since GG IV in 2010 we have been developing a biodiversity education program for the youth on both islands. Our volunteer group has put together a video describing the bio-ed project; this will be the first time I have tried to post a video on this blog. It is about 7 minutes long, and if it works, my thanks to Jim Boyer for his expertise.

YouTube Preview Image

Here’s the parting shot:

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Picos Joao Dias Pai e Filho (father and son), Principe  [T. Daniel phot. GG IV)

PARTNERS
We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, (GG I, II), the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden for logistics, ground transportation and lodging (GG III-V), STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to collect and export specimens for study. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who made the GG III-V expeditions possible: George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor, Velma and Michael Schnoll, and Sheila Farr Nielsen; GG VI supporters include HBD of Bom Bom and the Omali Lodge for logistics and lodging, The Herbst Foundation, The “Blackhawk Gang,” the Docent Council of the California Academy of Sciences in honor of Kathleen Lilienthal, Bernard S. Schulte, Corinne W. Abell, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, John and Judy Sears, John S. Livermore and Elton Welke.
Our expeditions can be supported by tax-deductable donations to  “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”.


December 16, 2011

The Race: Our Omali Base and Year’s Odds and Ends.

Year’s end and things are busy, even in Academia. Here at the Academy, we are already in planning mode for GG VI but more on that in coming months. We are awaiting the publication of more of our discoveries, and I will report them here as they appear. In the meantime this is a good opportunity to thank all of you who have helped make next year’s expedition a probability: the Herbst Foundation, the “Blackhawk Gang”, and the California Academy of Sciences Docent Council.

As readers know, our mission is not only to discover and scientifically describe what is on these wonderful old islands but to let others know about it, especially the citizens. But, this also includes the business visitor and tourists primarily interested in fishing or ocean activities. The neat unique critters we are studying are not just isolated up in the higher reaches of the forest; many can be found right downtown. You just have to look.

On the beach of Praia Lagarto, between the airport and downtown São Tomé, lies the Omali Lodge. Originally built by a Mr. Hellinger, I remember it in its original incarnation as the Marlin Beach Hotel, one of the best bars in the islands– a real gathering place. It is small and quite upscale but it retains its original flavor. Folks who know the islands or have been well informed stay at the Omali; it attracts rather fascinating people.

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Omali Lodge. [Photo and toes - V. Schnoll GG V]

The Omali is pretty fancy digs for a bunch of bush biologists like us but luckily, the Omali’s owners have supported our work by allowing us to stay there during our last three expeditions. As comfortable and friendly as the Omali is, the central thing for our work is a dependable power source (although a post-fieldwork dip in the pool is not too shabby!)

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The Omali. [Weckerphoto GG III]

So as a new visitor, if you walk through the foyer and bar out to the back to the pool, you will first be struck by the enormous coconut palms. Ignore them for now; to the left around the back of the kitchen, and behind the rockwork in the pool (above) are several other palm-like trees that aren’t!

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Pandanus thomensis fruit (r) and prop roots (l). [T. Daniel GG III, IV]

These are the São Tomé screw pines, Pandanus thomensis. You can tell them from the palms by the fact that the base of each tree is supported by a number of prop roots (see right, above). Obviously, these are neither pines nor coconuts; the important thing to know is that these trees are found only on São Tomé, nowhere else in the world.

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Trachylepis maculilabris [D. Lin, GG II]

As you walk along the pool, the first quick movement in the grass is likely to be a speckle-lipped skink, particularly common during the heat of the day. These lizards are not unique to the islands but they are very good dispersers across oceanic barriers, and they are found on many of the Atlantic and Indian Ocean islands. Some of our colleagues have looked at the genetics of the São Tomé and Prìncipe skinks and suggest that while they are not endemics, they have been on the islands since long before man arrived.

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Lygodactylus thomensis. [J. Uyeda, GG III]

On the walls surrounding the pool and rooms lives the São Tomé day gecko, Lygodactylus thomensis, which shuttles in and out of the shade in search of insects. Most geckos are nocturnal creatures, but this group is secondarily diurnal. L. thomensis is a true endemic whose ancestors probably reached São Tomé millions of years ago; the same is true of its closest relatives, the Prìncipe day gecko, L. delicatus, and the Annobon day gecko, L. wermuthi.

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Homoptera. (True bug).  [Weckerphoto, GG III

Most of the Omali plants are ornamentals from other parts of the world of course, but this does not mean they do not harbor fascinating species. Our photographer on GG III, Wes Eckerman took the photograph above of a homopteran bug on a bush near the Omali pool. Our entomologists have not been able to identify it beyond the Family Scutellaridae! It is highly likely that an enormous number of the islands’ insects remain to be discovered and described scientifically.

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Common waxbill, Estrilda astrild [Weckerphoto, GG III]

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Blue-cheeked cordon-bleu, Uraeginthus cyanocephala [Weckerphoto GG III]

Bird life around the pool is plentiful and entertaining. The most commonly seen birds in the Omali bushes are various finches and waxbills that are of African origin and possibly brought over from the mainland as pets by the Portuguese colonials (above). But the real specialty is the São Tomé Prinia. Prinias are Old World insectivorous warblers; there are about 30 species divided between Africa and Asia. Prinia molleri is the only member of this group in the islands and it is found only on São Tomé, from downtown all the way to the top of Pico at 2,000 meters. As common and seemingly fearless as this endemic little bird is, it is extremely difficult to photograph. It just won’t hold still.

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Prinia molleri on Omali window sill [Weckerphoto GG III]

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Prinia molleri [Weckerphoto, GG III]

Finally, lying around the Omali pool it is impossible not to notice the noisy action up at the top of the palm trees. Part of the year the palm fronds seem to be inhabited mostly by vitelline masked weavers. Even when they are not around their distinctive nests from the year before are obvious.

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Vitelline masked weaver [Tanzaniabirds phot]

These weavers are native but not unique to the islands although some ornithologists recognize them as a distinct race (or subspecies, Ploceus velatus peixotoi) indicating that they may have been isolated from the mainland long enough to be recognizably different from the mainland species. These weavers are not found on Prìncipe. All who know them would agree that weavers are a noisy group in general.

When we are working on the islands, usually March-May, the weavers are rather scarce and instead, their place in the palm trees seems to be taken up with the large island fruit bat, Eidolon helvum. These large bats are common on the African mainland where they are migratory; the São Tomé populations are thought to be the same species but do not migrate. They are eaten by many local people.

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Eidolon helvum [RCD, GG V]

An hour or so at the Omali pool at the right time of year is enough to learn that Eidolon is a very noisy animal as well. They seem to argue and fuss all day when they should be sleeping; the sight of the entire group flying off to feed at dusk is unforgettable.

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Fruit bats taking off at sunset. [V. Schnoll, GG V]

Bats are a group much in need of genetic study. There are a number of endemic species recognized by anatomical characters, but in most cases their true species status has not been tested molecularly as we have done with the Sao Tome shrew (see earlier blogs). The expert on the bats of these islands is my colleague Dr. Javier Juste of the Doñana Institute in Seville, Spain. In an earlier blog I reported that Dr. Juste was involved in the description of a new pipistrelle bat from Prìncipe – this is not yet published and is based in part on genetics. During the past few weeks, I have sent Javier some images of bats we have taken during past expeditions, and he has kindly tried to identify them for us.

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Principe bats at Nova Cuba [Weckerphoto, GG III]

This is a group of bats we found at the old plantation of Nova Cuba, on Prìncipe. Currently recognized as Hipposideros ruber guineensis, they are thought to be a race of the red bat common on São Tomé but it would not surprise me if further analysis might prove them to be a distinct species.

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Hipposideros ruber guineensis. [Weckerphoto, GG III]

The photo below was taken by Wes during the day, on the ridge above Lagoa Amelia at about 1400 meters on São Tomé. Javier thinks it might be the endemic Hipposideros thomensis.

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Hipposideros thomensis, Lagoa Amelia [Weckerphoto, GG III]

A final note on spiders; two previous blogs this year have dealt with spiders we have found in gardens, one of which turned out to be an endemic species. A few days ago, my colleague Angus Gascoigne of the Instituto Superior Politecnico sent me several photos of the spider below:

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Argiope orb weaver [Manuel Morais]

I took the photos in to our spider experts and they got quite excited. It is an orb weaver of a widespread genus but “this one is really different!” I suppose I should not be surprised, and Angus is collecting more as I write.

For all of you who observe them, Happy Holidays!

Here’s the Parting Shot:

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The Raison d’Etre.

PARTNERS

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, (GG I, II), the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden for logistics, ground transportation and lodging (GG III-V), STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bonfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study, the support of Bastien Loloum of Zuntabawe and Faustino Oliviera, Curator of the Herbarium at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who have made the last three expeditions possible: George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor, Velma and Michael Schnoll, Sheila Farr Nielsen, Corinne W. Abel and Mr. and Mrs. John Sears. Our expeditions can be supported by tax-free donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”.


June 30, 2011

The Race: A New Species, Birds and Special People

Readers will recall our bryophyte expert, Jim Shevock, tireless companion on GG IV in 2010.  He is certainly one of the best field men I have met, and as I reported earlier, he collected around 700 specimens of mosses, hornworts and liverworts on São Tomé and Prìncipe.  The first fruit of his labors has just been published in the journal, Tropical Bryology; the description a new endemic species of moss from the island of São Tomé, a new species record for the island, and three new records for the country as a whole.

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Jim Shevock with type of Porotrichum saotomense Enroth & Shevock- RCD phot.

The new species (of the Family Neckeraceae) is just the beginning.   Shevock and colleagues have another paper in press on the hornworts and liverworts (moss relatives) of the islands,  and the rest of the mosses are still being analyzed.  Jim expects many new species and records among this latter group, and all of this continues to show how rich and unique the biota of the islands is and at the same time, how poorly known.

Early readers of the blog will know that I only include experts on poorly-known groups of plants and animals on these expeditions. Thanks to the excellent doctoral work of Dr. Martim Melo, who employed molecular as well as morphological analysis, we know more about the birds of São Tomé and Prìncipe than any other vertebrate group and for that reason, we have never been accompanied by an ornithologist nor have I written much about them in this blog. That said, I must confess to being an unabashed birder of many years, a passionate bird “freak” with a life list that I keep on Facebook.

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Birding on Principe – note puddle.  Desjardin phot.  GG III

The birds (avifauna) of these two islands are remarkable.  One of the commonest birds on São Tomé, even in the densely populated capital, is the endemic warbler, the São Tomé Prinia.  You cannot miss them and yet, I have never been able to photograph one– they just don’t stop moving!  So early in GG V I challenged my two colleagues, photographer Andrew Stanbridge and Poster Project Head, Velma Schnoll to take just one photograph of the critter.  Here are the results (bear in mind these were taken on the grounds of the Omali Lodge, the upscale hotel of our supporters, Africa’s Eden)—decide for yourselves who won:

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São Tomé Prinia,  Prinia molleri . A. Stanbridge phot GGV

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Prinia molleri – V. Schnoll phot  GG V

Martim Melo and his colleagues have suggested that, taken together, the islands of São Tomé and Prìncipe have, per unit area, the highest concentration of endemic (unique) species in the world!  Below is a simple comparison between the heavily studied Galapagos Islands with a surface area of 8,000 km2 and our islands with only 1/8th the size.

bird comparison

The comparison above only tells part of the story; the  twenty two species of endemic Galapagos birds are basically descended from but three lineages: the mockingbirds, the flightless cormorant and the famous Galapagos finches; this is not surprising, given the great distance between the archipelago and South America.  On the other hand, the endemic birds of São Tomé and Prìncipe are from all over the phylogenetic map: flycatchers, pigeons, weavers, sunbirds, warblers, etc. etc.  Moreover, some workers recognize up to seven endemic genera here.  Here are just a few:

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São Tomé forest weaver, Ploceus sanctithomae. Weckerphoto GG III

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(l) Sao Tome Speirops, Zosterops lugubris; (r) Principe Speirops, Zosterops leucophaeus. RCD and J. Uyeda phots. GG III

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Newton’s sunbird, Anabathmis newtoni. Weckerphoto – GG III

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Sao Tome thrush, Turdus olivaceofuscus.  J. Uyeda phot- GG II

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Principe golden weaver,  Ploceus princeps. Weckerphoto  GG III

There are many other spectacular endemics on both islands; I have mentioned the island phenomena of gigantism and dwarfism in earlier blogs.  São Tomé Island is also home to the world’s largest weaver (Ploceus grandis), the world’s largest sunbird (Dreptes thomensis) and the world’s smallest ibis (Bostrychia bocagei)!

Many people support our work in the islands, and as you know I acknowledge financial help at the end of each blog.  Still others are old friends who live on the islands through whom we work and who welcome and assist us on each expedition. These too have appeared many times in the blog and they include the people of the organization STeP UP, where it all started (Ned Seligman, Quintino Quade and Roberta dos Santos), and our friend, Sr. Arlindo Carvalho, Director General in the Ministry of the Environment.

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Arlindo Carvalho, Ministry of the Environment.  A Stanbridge phot GG V

Dr. Carvalho told me that during the past year, he has  shown this blog to delegates at a number of international meetings on Climate Change he has attended representing the Republic… a great honor for us.

GG V was unique in that it was dedicated to biodiversity awareness not pure science; because we were less in the bush and more in the inhabited areas, it led to our meeting some remarkable people who actually joined our efforts simply out curiosity about and interest in our activities.

eddie @ angolares

Velma Schnoll, Eddie Herbst and me at Angolares. A. Stanbridge phot. GG V

I first met Eddie Herbst at the Omali Lodge during GG IV where I gave one of my slide shows on island biodiversity.  Eddie was seriously interested in what we were doing at the time, and during GG V he actually joined us while we distributed our posters down the east coast of São Tomé (above).

But Eddie’s real job is senior pilot for Africa’s Connections, the small airlines that serves both islands and various mainland cities around the Gulf (he is also an ordained minister, but that is another story), and he is usually in the cockpit when we travel between the two islands.

Eddie Herbst

Eddie Herbst’s day job.   RCD phot GG V

During GG V, I asked Eddie if he could fly over a large mesa in the remote southwest corner of Príncipe, as I have always wanted to study the top and wondered about access routes.  I should mention that this is definitely not the usual approach route to the Prìncipe landing strip! To give you an idea of how rugged and difficult the southern part of the island is, below is a topographic image of this part of the island.

Bobke

Topo map of SW Principe. red and yellow dots on mesa.

as mesa

The mesa from the air.  RCD phot. GG V

And here is the view we got from Eddie’s flyover which, I might add, was an experience the other passengers will probably never forget!

On that same plane was a remarkable Portuguese couple, Frank and Ana. They were both fluent in English, warm and friendly, and we became friends almost immediately.

Frank and Ana

Ana and Frank on Principe.  RCD phot. GG V

Bear in mind that these two were full-paying guests at Bom Bom which is by far the most upscale and expensive venue on Prìncipe; yet rather than lying on the beach, or fishing or whatever,  Frank and Ana joined us each day as translators as we drove from school to school distributing our posters.  Through sheer good will and friendliness, they added greatly to the effectiveness of our small team.

F and A trans

Anna and Frank translating. A. Stanbridge phot.  GG V.

Believe it or not, also on Eddie’s plane was a fabulous lady named Marnie Saidi, also bound for Bom Bom Lodge  but not as a tourist.  Marnie is the new Project Manager for the Africa’s Eden Belo Monte project (which I will perhaps describe in another blog).  Like Frank and Ana, Marnie joined us for fun and acted as translator on our various daily tasks, including our meeting with the Regional President of Prìncipe, Toze Cassandra and the subsequent local television interview.

Marnie 2

Marnie Saidi translating during TV interview.  A. Stanbridge phot. GG V.

Marnie 1

Marnie Saidi and Velma Schnoll, Principe primary school. A. Stanbridge phot. GG V.

These serendipitous meetings were not limited to Prìncipe; during our final week on the big island we met a young Portuguese business man named Antonio Fernandes.  Just like Marnie, Frank and Ana, Fernando joined us on some of our longest poster trips during our last week… and I should mention he also had a functioning vehicle!. This is part of GG V I have not yet described.

antonio at ISP

Antonio, me and Quintino before ISP conference on Sao Tome.  A. Stanbridge phot. GG V.

Antonio trans

Antonio translating at Sao Tome secondary school. A. Stanbridge phot. GG V.

Finally, individual personalities are very important on expeditions; a little friction now and then is to be expected but on a research expedition which is mostly out in the bush,  this matters somewhat less than on an expedition such as GG V.  We were in daily contact with the citizens, teachers, ministers and other government officials and each of us had to be goodwill ambassadors every hour of every day.

My colleagues on this trip, Velma Schnoll, who took over the poster project here in the States and brought it to completion, and Andrew Stanbridge, the world’s largest and sneakiest photographer were both exactly that and much  more.  They will be more than welcome back on the islands at any time.

at Monte Cafe

Andrew Stanbridge at Monte Café, Sao Tome.   RCD phot. GG V

me and velma

Velma Schnoll and me at Principe primary school.  A. Stanbridge phot. GG V

Here’s the parting shot:

parting shot

“Education is an act of love and courage.”  Principe Secondary School, A. Stanbridge phot.  GG V.

PARTNERS

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden for logistics, ground transportation and lodging, STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim, Salvador Sousa Pontes and Danilo Barbero of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study, the continued support of Bastien Loloum of Zuntabawe  and Faustino Oliviera, Curator of the Herbarium at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals, George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor, Velma and Michael Schnoll and Sheila Farr Nielsen for helping make these expeditions possible.  Our expeditions can be supported by donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”.



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