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First surveys of Tanzanian mountains reveal 160+ animal species, including new & endemic

Further conservation needed to protect forests from destruction

The first field surveys of the Rubeho Mountains in Tanzania revealed over 160 animal species--including a new species of frog and eleven endemic species--according to an article published in the African Journal of Ecology this month.

The findings elevate the importance of protecting this biologically-rich wilderness area and the broader Eastern Arc Mountain range from destructive activities underway such as clear-cutting for agriculture, logging and poaching.

"The wealth of life that's supported by the Rubehos is typical of Tanzania's Eastern Arc Mountain range," Dr. Neil Burgess, co-author of the article and African conservation scientist, World Wildlife Fund. "We've documented some destruction already underway so protecting this mountain range's an urgent priority not just for its unique wildlife, but also for the people and economy of Tanzania. The Eastern Arc catches and gathers water for Tanzanians--generating about 50 percent of the nation's total electricity through its hydropower."

For a total of 112 days over two years, an international team of scientists from the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group, Oxford Brookes University, and the Zoological Museum of Copenhagen conducted surveys using a variety of methods including tracking, phototraps and audio recordings. The phototraps captured mammals like a Mountain dwarf galago (Galagoides orinus) and a red duiker (Cephalophus natalensis).

Using a tape recorder and directional microphone, researchers recorded the calls of two species of galagos. Galagos are small, nocturnal primates with large, round eyes commonly known as bushbabies. Some people believe "bush baby" refers to the animal's cries which can sound similar to the cries of human babies.

In one small valley, Nike Doggart of the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group discovered a new species of frog (Arthroleptis nikeae) hiding among the leaf litter under the forest canopy. The smooth-skinned, brown patterned frog measures about 2.25 inches from snout to bottom.

"Surveying just one section of the Eastern Arc, we discovered a little frog no one knew existed," said Nike Doggart, lead author of the article and Technical Advisor, Tanzania Forest Conservation Group. "Imagine what other wildlife we may discover if we can help preserve the whole mountain range."

Researchers found eleven species endemic to or found only in the Eastern Arc Mountain range. Among these eleven species are the Mountain dwarf galago, two chameleons, the checkered elephant shrew (Rhynchocyon cirnei) and several birds. The Eastern Arc forests have the densest occurrence of endemic species in all of Africa.

Over the course of the survey, researchers also observed some alarming encroachments into the forests where these animals live even though the forests are within official reserves. The team observed about 49 acres of one forest reserve had been cleared for bean and tobacco farms. Elsewhere, there was evidence of logging and hunting camps. These observations underscore the urgent need for additional conservation investment in the area and in helping limited forestry department staff with tiny budgets effectively manage the forest reserves.

The Rubeho Mountains are part of the Eastern Arc Mountain range in eastern Tanzania and located north of the city of Morogoro. Its forests are often covered in a blanket of mist during the night and help collect water for two nearby rivers which in turn provide water for several settlements and a town. As a crucial source of water and home to unique and threatened wildlife, World Wildlife Fund considers the Eastern Arc Mountain range and coastal East Africa a conservation priority and works with local communities and partners to protect the natural richness of the region.

Kathleen Sullivan | EurekAlert!
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