For the planet’s ever shrinking wilderness, a combination of political instability and geographic isolation could be seen as a blessing. In the few remaining places where human influence is light, nature can prosper—and even multiply.
The forests where species arise
A recent expedition led by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to a remote corner of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo uncovered six new species: a bat, a rodent, two shrews, and two frogs. The relatively “uncharted” territory of Misotshi-Kabogo Forest (formerly Mt. Kabobo) and nearby Marunga Massif has been off limits to scientists since 1960 as a result of
“If we can find six new species in such a short period it makes you wonder what else is out there,” said researcher Dr. Andrew Plumptre, director of the WCS Albertine Rift Program.
The forest survey was conducted between January and March 2007, and included participants from WCS, the Field Museum in Chicago, the National Centre of Research and Science in Lwiro, and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
In spite of the conflict and related degradation in the area, some 1,000 square kilometers have remained intact, from the shores of Lake Tanganyika to elevations of 2,725 meters above sea level. The survey team found a high level of biodiversity in the gallery forests and woodlands, including chimpanzees, bongos, buffalo, elephants, leopards, and several types of monkeys, including a subspecies of colobus only found there. The researchers also recorded a high diversity of birds, reptiles, and amphibians, as well as plants that may be new to science. As a result of poaching, however, most of the large-bodied mammals were few in number.
Human impacts on the region are currently low, with minor gold mining being the most substantial threat. Survey members met with the leaders of local villages and said that most of them support turning the region into a protected area.
“The forest has been isolated from much of the Congo Forest block for at least 10,000 years, and as a result, contains some interesting new species,” said WCS researcher Deo Kujirakwinja, one of the survey participants. “There is a real need to protect this forest and carry out more research in the area.”
As few people live in the Misotshi-Kabogo region, conservationists believe it should be relatively easy to create a park there, while supporting the livelihoods of local communities.