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.

Good African gorilla news

This is a western lowland gorilla video from the Central African Republic.

From Wildlife Extra:

Gorillas reintroduced into Congo & Gabon are thriving

October 2013. The Aspinall Foundation’s reintroduction of western lowland gorillas to areas of Africa where they have been hunted to extinction appears to be working, according to a new scientific study.

Critically Endangered

Western lowland gorillas are classified by the World Conservation Union as Critically Endangered, based on a projected 80% decline in the wild over just three generations, ranking them alongside the most threatened species on the planet. Reintroduction of gorillas to protected areas from where they have previously been exterminated is still considered controversial, but a pioneering, long-term programme to do just that is starting to show it may be possible after all.

Congo & Gabon

Two gorilla populations are currently in the process of being re-established in the neighbouring African republics of Congo and Gabon, by the UK-based charity The Aspinall Foundation in collaboration with the respective governments.

Fifty-one gorillas were released between 1996 and 2006, 25 in the Lesio-Louna Reserve in Congo, and 26 in the Batéké Plateau National Park in Gabon. Most of the released gorillas are rehabilitated orphans of the illegal bush-meat trade, taken as young babies from their slaughtered mothers by opportunistic hunters. The majority of orphaned gorillas die of depression and mistreatment, but a few survive long-enough to be confiscated and handed over to long-term rehabilitation programmes.

In the Gabon project, in addition to the wild-born orphans the released gorillas also include seven captive-borns, sent back to Africa from The Aspinall Foundation’s successful captive-breeding population at Howletts and Port Lympne Wild Animal Parks in the UK.

Good levels of survival, births and dispersal

Dedicated field staff have been monitoring the released gorillas for over ten years at both reintroduction sites. A previous analysis, published in 2012 in the International Journal of Primatology, illustrated that the reintroduction programme had been successful in terms of post-release survival, birth rates and dispersal, all of which were comparable with wild populations. The new study goes a step further, using this information to develop a computer simulation model of the growth of the two reintroduced gorilla populations over a 200-year period.

Lead author of the new study, The Aspinall Foundation’s Conservation and Reintroduction Co-ordinator Tony King, explained, “We have seen with our own eyes the remarkable ways in which the released gorillas adapt to their new homes, and have celebrated numerous successful births to orphaned gorillas who never had the chance of a normal upbringing in a gorilla family – but this is the first time that we have put all this together to help predict the future success of the reintroductions.”

3 more gorillas released

The results of the study suggest that the reintroduced gorilla populations have a good chance of sustaining themselves for 200 years and more, but illustrated that reinforcement of the populations by further releases could significantly improve probabilities of population persistence and retention of genetic diversity. Damian Aspinall, chairman of The Aspinall Foundation, said, “This is incredibly useful information. Only last week three more gorillas were released in Gabon, and we are currently preparing an entire family group for imminent release.”

Slow reproduction

Developing the model was a challenge. “Gorillas can live for over forty years, usually don’t reproduce until they are at least 10 years old, and females produce one surviving off-spring only every five years or so,” added co-author Christelle Chamberlan, who has worked with both reintroduced lowland gorilla populations and the wild mountain gorillas of Rwanda. “Even after a decade of monitoring our released gorillas, there are still many aspects of their life-history patterns that we don’t know. We tested our model to see which factors were most significant in changing the predicted success of the reintroduction. Relatively small changes to annual birth rates or to female survival rates made big changes to the predicted long-term growth of the populations. Good numbers of healthy, reproducing female gorillas are therefore critical to population persistence.”

“It is definitely an ambitious project,” King concluded. “Results so far have exceeded most expectations. The gorillas are still living on a knife-edge though. Small reintroduced populations are always susceptible to crashes due to random changes in any number of factors. We plan to release more gorillas at both sites, which will increase the chances that the populations will survive. In reality we are still only just beginning.”

The study was published in the international conservation journal Oryx.

British cuckoos arrive in Congo

This video from England says about itself:

21 Aug 2013

Discover more about the story of cuckoos on Dartmoor and hear about an exciting project that will be tracking their migration to Africa.

From Wildlife Extra:

BTO cuckoos now in Congo Rainforest

Cuckoos have reached their wintering grounds

October 2013. Since the last update there has been a flurry of activity as the BTO Cuckoos have moved further south. The cuckoo called Nick’s tag has not been heard from for a while but regular transmissions are still coming in from all the others. There are now five Cuckoos in the heart of the Congo Rainforest; Chris, Waller, David, Livingstone and Tor.


Chris is now in the area in Congo that he has spent most of the last two mid-winter periods, close to Congo’s border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He arrived here on 26 September, just a day later than he arrived at this location last year.


Waller has travelled south to the DRC and for a short time was our most southerly Cuckoo. He is only 115km (71 miles) to the east of Chris’s location (and a little south), with the Congo River running between the two positions.

David – Further south

David has also been busy. From his position in Sudan he flew over the Central African Republic to arrive in the Salong National Park in DRC by 5 October. He’s roughly 160km (100 miles) north of the area he wintered in last year, having arrived on 24 October 2012. This wintering location is one of the furthest south we have seen from our Cuckoos since the beginning of the project. Only a small number of tagged Cuckoos have flown that far south, including David in 2012, Lloyd in 2012 and Kasper in 2011.


Livingstone has recently joined the list, however, heading directly south from his location in the Central African Republic. By 6 October he was close to the Odzala-Kokoua National Park in northern Congo. From here he travelled further south, joining David and our other very southerly wintering Cuckoos.

Other cuckoos

Just further north of those five in the rainforest, Skinner is close, by on the outer edges. Having backtracked to Niger, by 3 October he had carried on to central Nigeria. A series of locations later that evening show him continuing on into Cameroon, continuing to travel south during the 5 and 6 October. His most recent location on 8 October places him 88km (55 miles) north of Cameroon’s border with Congo. It’s likely it won’t be too long before he heads into the depths of the forest too.

The latest movements include Patch’s movement of 1000km (600 miles) from Chad to Cameroon. At first a signal indicated he was in DRC but we were surprised to see that further signals received on 9 October showed that Patch had moved from DRC to Cameroon, a distance of over 1000km (620 miles), in less than an hour! Clearly this was very odd. As these signals in Cameroon continued, it was clear to see that the location pinpointed in DRC was an error location and that Patch was most definitely in Cameroon. He will have moved here directly from Chad (and not via DRC), which is a distance of over 1000km (600 miles).

Whortle covered 730km (450 miles) southwards within Nigeria and yesterday morning was in the Cross River region of southern Nigeria.

Meanwhile, Sussex and Ken are still both in Central African Republic. Chance and Derek, in northern Nigeria, and BB, in southern Chad, are currently our most northerly Cuckoos. We have heard from all the Cuckoos in the last ten days except for Nick. His last location was on 24 September from Cameroon. Could this mean he is feeding up and getting ready to make his move south? Keep an eye on the blogs for more information next week.

Take a look at the blogs and maps at www.bto.org/cuckoos.

How Birds Cooperate to Defeat Cuckoos: here.