On The Hunt For New Species In Nigeria

On The Hunt For New Species In Nigeria

A team from Chester Zoo is heading to a remote, mountainous region in Nigeria to assess what species live in an area where few surveys have been conducted.

On The Hunt For New Species In Nigeria

Chester Zoo is a zoological garden at Upton-by-Chester, in Cheshire, England.

They are set to carry out the first biodiversity assessment in the Gashaka Gumti National Park.

The area is said to be home to the last viable population of the endangered Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes ellioti).

The 12-strong team will travel out to Nigeria in late March for two weeks.

"Obviously it would be great to find a big, sexy bug or frog but it is hard to tell you how likely that will be because we do not know what is there," explained Chester Zoo director general Mark Pilgrim.

"But there is a good chance that there are a lot of things there that we currently do not know about. Whether it is a brightly coloured big thing or not, we will have to wait and see."

Biodiversity hotspot

The park, located in eastern Nigerian on the border with Cameroon, is the country's largest national park and is considered to be one of the continent's most important biodiversity hotspots.

Dr Pilgrim said that the zoo had been funding the core support facilities a research field camp in the park for more than a decade, but was now becoming directly involved.

"The field camp was mainly set up to look at and protect the Nigerian chimpanzee, which is a sub-population of chimpanzee," Dr Pilgrim added.

On The Hunt For New Species In Nigeria

The Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee is under threat. Conservationists say that high levels of exploitation, loss of habitat and habitat degradation has led to the species experiencing a "significant population reduction" over the past 20-30 years.

The total population is estimated to be in the region of 6,500, with up to 1,500 found in the Gashaka Gumti National Park.

It is one of four subspecies of the primate, although some recent research suggest that the differences between the subspecies are too small to warrant such classifications.

The camp allows about 20 students each year to work on projects researching the area's population of primates, led by Prof Volker Sommer from University College London.Dr Pilgrim said that the presence of the research projects was "what helps protect the forests".

"By having these strange foreigners wandering around, looking for primates is what keeps the forest safe," he observed.

As the zoo would become more involved in the field project, Dr Pilgrim said that it was also an opportunity to widen the focus of the research carried out from the camp.

"Of course, the flagship research remains the Nigerian chimpanzee, which is what makes the area so special and important. But because the zoo has wider expertise than that, we are taking out a range of experts to also look at the frogs, birds, small mammals etc because those areas have had very little in the way of surveys in the past."

"This is really the first biodiversity assessment of this forest."

Dr Pilgrim said that he hoped the data gathered during the the field trips will allow partnerships to be forged with scientists working in Nigerian universities.

"For example, it may be that we turn up a number of strange beetles that we do not have the expertise to identify," he suggested.

"This will be an intense, short trip but there will be more follow-up trips to get some really strong scientific papers out of the project." Gashaka Gumti, known as a biodiversity hotspot, is the largest of Nigeria's seven national parks.

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