In the first explorations in a remote portion of the Democratic Republic of Congo in half a century, the Wildlife Conservation Society has discovered six species never before described by science -- a bat, a rodent, two shrews and two frogs. (See pictures below.)
The Wildlife Conservation Society appears to be laying the groundwork for a push to protect the region as a wildlife preserve. It emphasized the support that idea has among some local indigenous leaders.
The forest west of Lake Tanganyika has been off limits to scientists since 1960 because of violent unrest in the region. The two-month expedition earlier this year included the Field Museum in Chicago, the National Centre of Research and Science in Lwiro, and the World Wildlife Fund. In addition to money from some of those groups, funding came from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Daniel K. Thorne Foundation.
"If we can find six new species in such a short period it makes you wonder what else is out there," said WCS researcher Andrew Plumptre, director of the society's Albertine Rift Program. The forest, which includes hundreds of square miles of intact forest, also includes more familiar species like chimpanzees, bongos, buffalo, elephants, leopards, several types of monkey.
The biologically rich forest also includes an array of lizards, birds and other life, including possibly unique plant life -- researchers could not identify 10% of plant samples they gathered. "There is a real need to protect this forest and carry out more research in the area," said WCS researcher Deo Kujirakwinja, one of survey's participants.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has experienced unrest since the 1960s, when Laurent Kabila, father of the current president, set up a base of operations in the Misotshi-Kabogo forests in his attempt to overthrow the regime of Joseph Mobutu, former president of the country (then called Zaire). Kabila succeeded in becoming president himself in 1996, and civil war ensued.
Some local leaders now support protecting the forest, according to the conservation group, and gold mining is the only remaining ongoing significant impact to the region's wildlife. "The survey has found that the Misotshi-Kabogo region is biologically important enough to conserve in the form of a protected area," said Dr. James Deutsch, director of WCS' Africa Program. "Since few people live there, it would be relatively easy to create a park while supporting the livelihoods of people who live in the landscape."
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