Enigmatic nocturnal mammals of Taita Hills and their potential role in sustainable eco-tourism


Here is abstract from Cemerem 2021 conference in Taita Hills, this is presentation I gave on 16th of September 2021.

To put is simply; our idea is that ecotourism might be a way to improve lives of local people in Taita Hills. As people would benefit from these species and forests it would be their best interest to conserve these animals and forests. This would lead to win-win situation where conservation of forests would mitigate climate change, increase water catchment and protect thousands of endangered species.

Mt Kilimanjaro seen from Ngangao Forest in the morning

The indigenous forests of Taita Hills, Kenya, are amazingly diverse biologically. They are considered as one of the world’s biodiversity Hot Spot areas. In Taita Hills, there is only about 6 km2 of indigenous forest left, leaving species dependent on these forests on the brink of extinction.

Taita tree hyrax in undescribes species and already in the brink of extinction. Photo Hanna Rosti September 2021.

Our research, conducted from the Taita Research Station, has focused on poorly studied nocturnal mammals. Perhaps the most interesting of these mammals is the Taita tree hyrax (Dendrohyrax sp.), which is most likely a scientifically undescribed species. This peculiar mammal, which weighs about 5 kg and looks like a guinea pig with tree sausage-like toes and small tusks, is related to elephants. The Taita tree hyrax is highly vocal, and many people have heard its striking calls in the forest. Our research has showed that Taita tree hyraxes also communicate by singing, which is a kind of behavior that was not known from tree hyraxes previously. Singing is quite rare among mammals.

Hanna Rosti in Cemerem meeting 16.9.2021

   The bushbabies or galagos are also intriguing, nocturnal mammals. There are two species in the Taita Hills, the small-eared greater galago (Otolemur garnettii) and the dwarf galago (Paragalago cocos), which weighs only about 100 grams. This dwarf galago was first discovered in 2001 and we were able to confirm its presence in Taita Hills in 2020.

Bushbaby or greater galago (Otolemur garnettii lasiotis) on a cloudy night in Ngangao Forest in September 2021. Photo Hanna Rosti

    We have studied the behavior, population size, taxonomy and acoustic communication of these nocturnal mammals. Our research material consists hundreds of hours of recordings, photos and thermal imaging camera videos. Our latest paper, “Vocalization analyses of nocturnal arboreal mammals of the Taita Hills, Kenya”, was published in December 2020 in the open access journal Diversity. This article gained lots of international interest, and many journals around the world have published articles about it. There is great and growing interest towards the Taita tree hyrax and the mysterious Taita dwarf galago.

    Conservation and reforestation of indigenous forests of the Taita Hills are necessary for many reasons in the Taita Hills, including preventing Taita tree hyrax and Taita dwarf galago from going extinct.

    We believe that these species could attract considerable sustainable ecotourism to the area. This would lead to win-win situation, for local people and for nature. In many parts of the world there are tours where people go to see nocturnal animals with guides, and this could be done in the Taita Hills too. As these animals are arboreal, they are usually not afraid of people. Since they can move in the canopy, the animals are not disturbed by people watching them from the ground.

Dwarf galago from Taita Hills is surviving barely in last forest fragments. Photo Hanna Rosti

   If local people would benefit from conservation, in the form of income and jobs created by the tourist industry, the conservation of forests and increase of indigenous forests would be easier. Conservation of indigenous forests is important to prevent further extinctions, for mitigation of climate change, improving water security, and preventing erosion. Sustainable ecotourism could be an important tool to achieve these goals in a way that would be beneficial to all.

Keywords: tree hyrax, bushbaby, galago, conservation, reforestation

Authors

Hanna Rosti, Henry Pihlström, Simon Bearder, Lucas Mwangala, Marianne Maghenda, Petri Pellikka & Jouko Rikkinen

Cemerem meeting in Taita Hills Safari Resort and Spa 16.9.2021

Sustainable Mining and Natural Resource Management in
Africa: Implications for post-COVID-19 Renaissance

All abstracts from Cemerem conference can be found here:

Categories:About, All posts, Dwarf galagos, Forests, Tree hyraxTags: , , , , , ,

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