[Alice Ward-Francis updates us on what is going on in São Tomé]
The beautiful oceanic islands of São Tomé and Príncipe are biodiversity hotspots. These two volcanic islands in the Gulf of Guinea have never been physically connected to either the African mainland or each other. As such, they each support a rich endemic fauna and flora including 28 birds, 81 butterflies, 60 snails, 3 mammals, 15 herptiles and 148 plants (14% of the country’s flora). The level of bird endemism in relation to the area of the Gulf of Guinea oceanic islands is globally unique.
Despite their importance, the species on the islands are at risk. Four are listed in the IUCN red list as Critically Endangered, one is Endangered, eight are Vulnerable and a further three Near Threatened. Since 1500, of the 146 bird species have become extinct, almost 90% occurred on islands. As far as we are aware, no endemic bird species have been lost from São Tomé and Príncipe…yet. The main causes of species extinctions (habitat destruction, the introduction of alien species and direct exploitation) are all present.
The major driver of habitat destruction on these islands is the rehabilitation of the cash-crop industry, including plans to develop palm oil plantations by the country’s Government and Agripalma, supported by Belgian investment holding company Socfinco, which may result in habitat loss from core areas for 3 Critically Endangered birds. This development includes a 25-year concessions of 5000ha, which is not comprehensively delineated, and includes, among other problematic areas, sites inside the national park. Currently, 900 ha have been cleared, including forest occupied by the Critically Endangered Dwarf Olive Ibis.
Expanding palm oil operations into the National Park would be a massive loss to São Tomé as well as the global community - the Park is an important resource for driving socio-economic development at national and local levels. The Park provides important ecosystem services, including carbon sequestration and clean water, as well as being the key remaining refuge endemic biodiversity. Over 40 rural communities live in the 200m buffer zone around Obô Natural Park, which covers nearly a third of São Tomé, often in a situation of poverty and relative isolation. They rely, in varying degrees, on extracting natural resources to support their families and as a source of income.
In 2012, an official island census counted 187,176 people, with a substantial proportion rated as poor or very poor. As economic change and development has been rapid in the last decade, there are the inevitable problems for sustainable development posed by expanding human populations confined to small, geographically isolated oceanic islands. It is essential that action is taken to maximize both conservation gain and poverty alleviation before population increase and economic development fragment and destroy the forest to such an extent that the survival of the endemic biodiversity is put at risk.
Protected areas where human activities are restricted and managed may be one of the most effective means for conservation on the islands. Yet the opportunities must be maximised for combining the conservation of biodiversity and associated environmental services, with economic gains for the country, such as those derived from ecotourism activities, sustainable non-timber forest products, nature-based enterprises and research activities.
[Chris Bowden, vulture guru, reports from Bangladesh]
The recent SAVE partners meeting in Kathmandu, Nepal successfully focused all 32 participants from four range countries on the priority areas for vulture conservation and reintroductions – the first time we've managed to get everyone together. The inclusion of Bangladesh is an important part of the jigsaw for vulture protection.
I was then able to visit Bangladesh for the first time, where I could finally meet contacts to whom I've been writing for several years, and with the help of IUCN Bangladesh and Monirul Khan, I could meet with government contacts as well as visit Dhaka Zoo which has bred oriental white-backed vultures for four years.
Aviaries at Dhaka ZooMy introductory visit culminated in talking to 50 keen birdwatchers from the Bangladesh Bird Club at Mr Enam Ul Haque's house. The group included several members who have taken the initiative with vulture awareness and diclofenac work in areas where the few remaining birds occur. It was a lively meeting, and showing our film prompted lots of discussion and the enthusiasm was wonderful. We hope that a full Vulture Safe Zone programme will result from this and draw Bangladesh and its vultures firmly into the overall programme.
Bangladesh Bird Club
[Helen Moncrieff is having her last few days in Cape Verde - here's how it all began - http://www.rspb.org.uk/community/ourwork/b/biodiversity/archive/2012/10/03/raso-lark.aspx]
Hello! We did make it back to Santa Luzia. On the way we saw hundres of Cape Verde shearwater, had great views of a single Cape Verde storm petrel and of the amazing flying fish.
Unfortunately, our first discovery was to find that most of the food we left behind had been stolen!! But the friendly Phillipino shipwreck crew have given us some fruit, cornflakes, biscuits and a tin of asparagus. Lovely people.
Once we sorted the food crisis we were able to turn to work. Our last bit of field work involved gathering cat poo! We also carried on our work to try to determine to what extent the vegetation is good for Raso lark in the hope of their re-introduction.
I'm now writing from the Biosferra office and completing the data entry. I must tell you though about a total wowee small world story. Earlier I was standing in the fisherman's camp with a pack of biccies chatting with Juan who had just returned from fieldwork at the other side of the island. I noticed three Europeans approaching. The woman seemed particularly pleased to see me and I thought it was the biscuits she was after at first. Then she said "do you remember me?" and then it twigged. I had met her on Mousa (where I am Warden) helping with an educational nature documentary in 2010!! How surprising and very wonderful to meet her again on another windswept beautiful remote island.
So, I guess with that, it reminds me that we are at the end of our adventures, normal life returns. It was amazing to contribute to this amazing project. We are most grateful for the experience. There is much work still to be done, but we are proud to have played our part in the restoration of the island.
Here's a few photos, now that we have computer...
Where we monitored Cape Verde (cane) warbler on S Nicolau
Turnstone and Iago sparrow tucking into rice
The shipwreck crew
The Raso lark