Okapi evolution, new research


This is an okapi video.

From Wildlife Extra:

New study sheds fresh light on okapi genetics

Very little is known about the mysterious and elusive okapi

A pioneering genetic study of the endangered Congolese okapi, using genetic techniques similar to those employed by crime scene forensics, has helped to unravel the mysteries of the species’ evolutionary origins and genetic structure.

The study, conducted by scientists from Cardiff University and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), analysed okapi faeces collected from the rainforest, skin samples from museums, clippings of dried skin and artefacts found in villages across its range in DRC.

“Our research showed that okapi are both genetically distinct and diverse – not what you might expect from an endangered animal at low numbers,” said chief investigator of the study, Dr David Stanton from ZSL’s Institute of Zoology and Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences.

He added: “Higher genetic diversity means that the okapi are equipped with the necessary genes capable of withstanding changes to their environment. Beyond that they are also more likely to survive to produce offspring bearing their own resilient genetic traits. Consequently, the population will continue for more generations because of the success of these individuals.

“This rich and distinct genetic variation is likely to be a result of periods of forest fragmentation and expansion in the Congo Basin in the ancient past. The data show that okapi have survived through historic changes in climate, and therefore indicate that the species may be more resilient to future changes.

“There is a concern however, that much of this genetic diversity will be lost in the near future, due to rapidly declining populations in the wild making efforts to conserve the species, facilitated by the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group, critical.”

It is hoped that the new information collected during the study will prove indispensable for future conservation management of the species and, ultimately, its survival.

In the past 20 years the wild okapi’s numbers have halved. Prior to the study, little was known about the enigmatic animal, endemic to the rainforests of central and north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in Central Africa. Ongoing threat from armed conflict, habitat fragmentation, human encroachment and poaching has rendered the species endangered, according to a 2013 assessment led by ZSL and IUCN for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Only known to the Western world since 1901, when the species was discovered by a ZSL Fellow and described at a meeting of the Society, the elusive okapi is nearly impossible to observe in the wild because of its shy nature and the remoteness of the rainforests it inhabits; a trait that has helped it avoid getting caught in the cross-fire of Congo’s long-running civil conflict.

Dr Noëlle Kümpel, co-chair of the IUCN SSC Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group and ZSL collaborator on the research, said “The IUCN Red List assessment we carried out last year highlighted that the okapi is faring worse than previously thought, with okapi populations shrinking and becoming more fragmented. It’s therefore critical that we support ICCN to step up conservation efforts across the okapi’s range, and in particular ensure the integrity and security of the protected areas where okapi are found – which includes flagship World Heritage Sites like Virunga National Park and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.”

Download the full study here.

Big peat bog discovery in Congo


Wildlife Extra says about this video:

Vast peatland found in Congo Republic

An enormous peatland, the size of England, has been discovered in a remote part of Congo-Brazzaville and is thought to contain billions of tonnes of peat that date back 10,000 years. It is hoped the carbon-rich material could shed light on centuries of environmental change in this little-studied region.

Dr Simon Lewis, from the University of Leeds, said: “It’s remarkable that there are parts of the planet that are still uncharted territory. Few people venture into these swamps as they are quite difficult places to move around in and work in.”

He told The Guardian: “The Congo peatland is a major store of carbon, slowly removing carbon from the atmosphere. This should, if the region is not drained for agricultural use, store billions of tonnes of carbon for the long term, keeping it out of the atmosphere.

“Additionally, as peat develops it [retains concurrent] environmental conditions so can provide a window on the past. Pollen captured as the peat forms can be linked to the vegetation [of the] time.

“This is important for the central Congo basin region as so little is known about the region, either today or in the past. Understanding past vegetation and climatic changes can help scientists make robust assessments of how the climate will likely change in the future and how that will [affect] the swamp forest and peat.”

The bog was first found by satellite images and an expedition, starting from Itanga village in April, confirmed it was there.

From The Guardian about this:

Along the way their guide encountered a gorilla, while on a couple of nights a herd of elephants thundered past the camp. Crocodiles were also a potential danger.

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Chimpansee almost died, now freed


This video from Congo says about itself:

Wounda’s Journey: Jane Goodall releases chimpanzee into forest

17 Dec 2013

This video documents the story of Wounda, one of the more than 160 chimpanzees living at the Jane Goodall Institute’s Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center in the Republic of Congo.

Thanks to the expert care provided at Tchimpounga, Wounda overcame significant adversity and illness and was recently relocated to Tchindzoulou Island, one of three islands that are part of the newly expanded sanctuary. Dr. Jane Goodall was on hand to witness Wounda’s emotional release, and now you can too.

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Four new African mammal species discovered


This video is called Fruit Bats in the Congo.

From the Field Museum in the USA today:

Four new mammal species discovered in Democratic Republic of Congo

32 minutes ago

Julian Kerbis Peterhans, a Roosevelt University professor and adjunct curator at The Field Museum who has conducted extensive studies on mammals in Africa, has announced the discovery of four new species of small mammals in the eastern section of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The mammals were found during an expedition to the Misotshi-Kabogo highlands led by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and in another nearby forest with the Centre de Recherche en Sciences Naturelles (CRSN) Lwiro – areas that were previously unexplored. “Our discoveries demonstrate the need for conserving this isolated reservoir of biodiversity,” Kerbis said.

“Three new species from a single forest (with a fourth from a nearby forest) is quite unique,” Kerbis added. “More often such finds would be made on island ecosystems. However, the highlands in which these species reside are isolated from adjacent forests and mountains by savannah habitats and low elevation streams.”

In two new papers published in the German journal Bonn Zoological Bulletin, Kerbis and his colleagues describe the two new species of shrews and the two new species of bats.

WCS and CRSN scientists together with Trento Science Museum in Italy are in the process of describing three new frog species and possibly a new chameleon from the same area from these surveys. The team also confirmed the presence of a unique squirrel and monkey whose existence had been recorded in historical surveys and collections dating from the 1950s.

Remarkably, all of these species were found during the course of a short survey of less than 30 days in 2007. “Given the clear importance of this site, we are working closely with the local communities and the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo to protect this unique area,” reported Dr. Andrew Plumptre, director of WCS’s Albertine Rift Program. “The local community has elected to create a new national park here to protect these unique species, but concerns over mining concessions that have been granted in the area are hampering its creation.”

Kerbis’ colleagues included scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (New York) the Centre de Recherché des Sciences Naturelles (Lwiro, Democratic Republic of Congo) and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

See also here.