Thu, Sep 16, 2010
Source: Kenya Broadcasting Corporation
Scientists conducting research in the Boni-Dodori forest on the coast of northeastern Kenya may have discovered a new species of giant elephant-shrew, reports the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).
The mystery animal was photographed by a camera trap after Grace Wambui, a fellow of ZSL's EDGE of Existence program, spotted mystery animal she believed to be an unknown type of elephant-shrew. Scientists now need to conduct genetic analysis to determine whether the species is new to science.
"This is an important discovery. The whole team was very excited to capture pictures of this mammal," said Rajan Amin, a senior field conservation biologist with ZSL. "We will continue our work to document the forest's rich biodiversity and to determine if this is a new species of elephant-shrew. The findings of our study are highlighting the conservation importance of these unique coastal forests."
The ecosystem is presently at risk from coastal development, according to Sam Andanje of the Kenya Wildlife Service, which is involved with the biodiversity assessment in Boni-Dodori.
"Prior to our study, the biodiversity of the Boni-Dodori forests was poorly understood as a result of limited access due to security problems and poor infrastructur," he said in a statement.
"This discovery has underlined the conservation significance of these isolated forests. Unfortunately, they are highly threatened by on-going rapid coastal development and there is now an urgent need for an effective management plan."
There are currently 17 known species of elephant-shrew, which are also known as giant sengi. Elephant-shrews are more closely related to elephants than shrews, despite their dimmunitive nature, but are named for their long trunk-like snout. All elephant shrews are found only in Africa.
The rise in cerrado conversion, which is now disappearing more than twice as fast as the neighboring Amazon rainforest, is partially a result of efforts to stem rainforest loss.
Seeking to avoid land use restrictions and penalties in the Amazon, farmers and ranchers turned to the cerrado to expand soy, sugar cane, and cattle operations.
Nearly half the cerrado's 2 million square kilometers has now been cleared of its original vegetation and converted for agriculture or pasture.
Destruction of the biome has long been overlooked by environmentalists and the government, but accelerating loss and the realization that conversion of cerrado is now a major source of greenhouse gas emissions has led conservationists in recent years to call for protective measures.
"This plan is an evolution of the plan to fight deforestation in the Amazon," Paulo Adario, Amazon Campaign Director for Greenpeace Brazil, told mongabay.com, adding that too few environmental groups are campaigning to protect the cerrado.
"[There is] little pressure to force the government and producers to move in the right direction."
Roberto Smeraldi, founder and director of the environmental group Amigos da Terra - Amazônia Brasileira, says that while the government's intent to protect the cerrado is welcome, it remains to be seen whether it is willing to take the tough measures needed to reign in agricultural expansion.
"It is positive there is now a formal concern for cerrado," Smeraldi told mongabay.com via email. "The challenge for the plan is... to cancel and/or revert the existing perverse incentives towards leaking land use change from the Amazon to cerrado."
Smeraldi said the government would need to step up law enforcement in cerrado areas if it hopes to have an impact.
"The enforcement packages should be supported by increase in the collection of fines, which is now around 0.5 percent," he explained. "At this rate, it is almost a guarantee of impunity."
The cerrado has been disappearing at a rate of more than 20,000 hectares per year since 2002.
The ecosystem is known to house 10,400 species of plants, nearly half of which are endemic; 935 bird species; 780 freshwater fish species; 113 amphibian species; 180 reptile species; and almost 300 mammal species.