for National Geographic News
Six new animal species have been found in remote forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), conservationists announced yesterday.
A two-month expedition, led by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), discovered a tiny bat (see photo below), a rodent, two shrews, and two frogs previously unknown to science.
"If we can find six new species in such a short period, it makes you wonder what else is out there," Andrew Plumptre, director of WCS's Albertine Rift Program, said in a press release.
The Albertine Rift region includes the Misotshi-Kabogo Forest and nearby Marungu Massif along the western banks of Lake Tanganyika, the long skinny lake between the DRC and Tanzania (see a DRC map).
These forests have been off-limits to researchers for decades because of violence and instability in the region.
"Scientists first explored the region around Kalemie—the main town on Lake Tanganyika in DR Congo—in the early 1900s but didn't really get into the mountains on the escarpment above Lake Tanganyika until the 1950s," Plumptre told National Geographic News.
"Collections of birds were made in the 1950s and also some frogs. Mammal collections were made at some point—probably in the 1940s."
Only a small area of the forest was surveyed before the rift became inaccessible in the 1960s. According to Plumptre, no further expeditions had visited the sites along the length of the forest block until this year.
The survey, conducted between January and March, gave researchers a chance to document the rift's rich biodiversity.
In addition to the newfound creatures, scientists logged a variety of known species including chimpanzees, bongos (a type of antelope), buffalo, elephants, leopards, and several types of monkeys, birds, and reptiles.
"There is an endemic bird species, the Kabobo apalis, and a subspecies of black-and-white colobus [monkey] only from this forest," Plumptre said.
The expedition team also found several unique plant species, some of which were unidentifiable by survey botanists. Those samples will be sent to specialists for further investigation.
"Given the findings with the vertebrates, it is likely that some of the plants will represent new species as well," Ben Kirunda of WCS's botanical team said in the release.
Researchers suspect that the unusual plants and animals evolved in these forests because they have been cut off from the Congo rain forest, one of the largest in the world.
"It's isolated from the main forest block of the Congo Basin and probably has been like this for at least 10,000 years," Plumptre said.
As a result of the survey, conservationists have pegged the region that includes Misotshi-Kabogo and Marungu as one of the most important sites for conservation in the Albertine Rift.
Aside from a few instances of gold mining, there is little human impact to the forests at the moment, they note.
(Read a related feature about logging pressures in central Africa.)
And when survey members met with the heads of local villages, the team found that most leaders are supportive of turning the forests into a protected region.
"Since few people live there, it would be relatively easy to create a park while supporting [their] livelihoods," James Deutsch, director of WCS's Africa Program, said in the press statement.
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