A study of the birds, small mammals, turtles and medicinal plants of Sao Tome & Principe

Philip Atkinson

Considering the small size of the four islands in the Gulf of Guinea, they hold a remarkable number of endemic animal and plant species. Sao Tome and Principe, the middle pair of islands, hold 26 endemic bird species, nine of which were listed as threatened in the Red Data Book for Africa. More remarkable is the presence of an endemic species of shrew on Sao Tome and a subspecies of an African mainland species on Principe. Neither island has ever been connected to mainland Africa and the methods in which these species became established remains a mystery. A recent ICBP survey had visited some of the areas covered and found most, but not all, of the 26 endemics. There were still four lost species: Dwarf Olive Ibis (Bostrychia bocager), Sao Tome Grosbeak (Neospiza concolor), Sao Tome Fiscal Shrike (Lanius newtoni) and Sao Tome Short-Tail (Amaurocichla bocagii), that had to be found. Many thought that they were extinct as these birds had not been seen for 62 years, or 100 years in the case of the Grosbeak. The major aim was to re-discover as many of the lost species as possible. The possibility of failure with such an aim was high, so it was planned to gather as much information on birds and their habitats as possible and carry out surveys of the endemic shrew and the use of medicinal plants. It was hoped to gather significant information which would contribute to future management and conservation strategies of the islands' natural environment.

Three of the four lost species were discovered, only the Grosbeak eluded the group. It was subsequently found by a group acting on information given by the expedition. The expedition report presents a conservation strategy for the island. With the redevelopment of the island's economy the ensuing pressure for land may well threaten the island's endemic avifauna. Conversely, this is an ideal opportunity for wildlife conservation to take a high priority among future development. It is hoped that the report together with the great enthusiasm people showed towards conservation, will in some way help preserve much of the islands' outstanding heritage.