Drill baby drill! The fate of African biodiversity and the monkey you’ve never heard of
Commentary by: Zach Fitzner
Equatorial Guinea is not a country that stands very large in the American consciousness. In fact most Americans think you mean Papua New Guinea when you mention it or are simply baffled. When I left for Bioko Island in Equatorial Guinea, I also knew almost nothing about the island, the nation, or the Bioko drills (Mandrillus leucophaeus poensis). The subspecies of drill is unique to Bioko Island and encountering them was an equally unique experience. I initially went to Bioko as a turtle research assistant but ended up falling in love with the entire ecosystem, especially the Bioko drills as I tagged along with drill researchers.
Bioko itself looks a bit like a bean; if the bean was 779 square miles, made out of dormant volcanoes, covered in lush rainforest and floating in the Atlantic off Africa’s west coast that is. The island is part of the Cameroonian line, a chain of dormant volcanoes extending west from the mainland. Ten thousand years ago rising sea levels cut off a peninsula, creating Bioko, which is the main island of Equatorial Guinea, a small Spanish-speaking nation in equatorial, western Africa. Bioko has a population of about 260,000 spread throughout some 26 cities arranged mostly near the coast.
But Bioko is also a refuge for wildlife, including seven species of monkey and eleven subspecies, hidden away in the rough interior of the island. Wildlife biodiversity and endemism (species found only on the island) are high because Bioko is in the tropics, and an island with a relatively low human population. The Bioko drill is arguably the island’s flagship species…
In July 2008, a mature male Mandrill (Mandrillus sphinx), a large species of baboon, walks through a forest during dry season in Lope National Park, Gabon. Classified as vulnerable by the IUCN, mandrills are threatened by human settlement on their rainforest homeland. Considered by some in Africa to be a delicacy, they’re often hunted as bushmeat.
njwight: “The house of Godric Gryffindor has commanded the respect of the wizarding world for nearly ten centuries. I will not have you, in one night, besmirching that name by behaving like a babbling, bumbling band of baboons.” Minerva McGonagall
Stem cells are quickly becoming an important tool for human medical treatments, and researchers are betting they will also be a useful tool for zoo animals. They are working to create stem cell lines from zoo animals, for use in treating animal diabetes and other ailments as well as helping the animals reproduce. The scientists have already created a “frozen zoo,” which contains different types of cells from every animal there, and now they are putting together a “stem cell zoo.”
"There are only two animals in it," study researcher Inbar Friedrich Ben-Nun, of The Scripps Research Institute, said in a statement, "but we have the start of a new zoo, the stem cell zoo."
Stem cells are prized, because they can be turned into any type of cell in the body, a characteristic called pluripotency. The cells can even be turned into sperm or egg cells, and used in assisted reproduction to make more individuals of the species…
A troop of yellow baboons looks on curiously as a camera trap goes off in the Boni-Dodori forest in a recent picture. For the project, 52 camera traps were installed throughout 770 square miles (2,000 square kilometers) of the Boni, Dodori, and Lunghi reserves along the Kenyan coast.
(via: National Geo) (image: Zoological Soc. London)