The Race: Updates and Progress in Paradise

The new header image of Príncipe Island from the east (above) was made by our friend, Jan Fourie, of Africa’s Eden; Príncipe is 31 million years old and was much, much larger in the Oligocene.



Revisiting the famous “Bode of Bombaim” with cobra skin in hand, along with our indefatigable photographer, Andrew Stanbridge (left). This area of central São Tomé seems to harbor sizable numbers of forest cobras (Naja nigricollis), the islands’ only venomous snake species, thought to have been introduced by early Portuguese settlers. We have extracted DNA from Bode’s skins to test this hypothesis.

3/4ths of the members of GG IX. Dr. Rayna Bell, UC Berkeley; Lauren Scheinberg, CAS; Maria Jeronimo, Gulbenkian U; and Dr. Luis Mendes, Nat. Hist. Mus., Lisbon. Absent are Roberta Ayres (CAS), Andrew Stanbridge, photographer and me (CAS).

Some more updates from GG IX: Dr. Luis Mendes is completing his monograph on the butterflies of the islands. He informs us that he collected about 400 specimens during GG IX. luis

His collections represent 40 species of six families from both islands with new records and observations of endemics.


Jim Shevock (above) of CAS, is a veteran of three past Gulf of Guinea expeditions, and has just published a sixth scientific paper on bryophyte flora of the islands. It is plain that the bryophyte flora of the islands is much more diverse than had been thought and Jim has many more species to be and new ones to describe especially. Jim will be a participant on GG XI in November.

Dr. Rayna Bell (above left), now of the Smithsonian Institution, continues her work with the treefrog genus Hyperolius. The opportunity arose for us to sample the southern part of the Obo Natural Forest on São Tomé where, it turns out, the giant tree frog (H. thomensis) is much more easily found and observed. There are some intriguing biological issues involving genetic interaction between these two species which are so different in size and color (above right), and Rayna continues her studies of them and the giant tree frog (Leptopelis) of Príncipe.
















Drs Bell and Ricardo Lima in the forest of São Tomé, inland of Angolares.

On the academic side of things, the Island Biology Conference held in July at the University of the Azores on Terciero Island was a great success with over 400 scientists and students in attendance for a week. At the first such meeting held in Hawaii there were only two presentations on Gulf of Guinea science; in the Azores, we had a day-long symposium featuring talks on many aspects of island biogeography and conservation.

Dr. Bell presents an amphibian paper at the Gulf of Guinea Symposium, Terceiro Island, Azores.

Such meetings facilitate useful interactions between scientists and students, allowing them to avoid overlap of effort and at the same time promoting cooperation; we were very heartened by the increase in the number of people doing research and educational activities on the islands.


Drs Mariana Carvalho and Ricardo Lima discuss various São Tomé/Principe
projects (above). Both are authorities on forest ecology,  the Gulf of Guinea bird fauna and the interactions of human populations with the environment. After several years of work in Mozambique, Mariana is returning to the islands where she will continue her work under the auspices of Birdlife International. Ricardo was one of the organizers of the symposium.

In several previous blogs I have mentioned Hugulay Maia, a Sao Tomean from the town of Angolares on the southeast coast. We first met Hugulay years ago through his mentor and friend, Angus Gascoigne, an accomplished resident naturalist on São Tomé. Tragically, Angus passed away a few years ago; he would have been very proud to learn that Hugulay  is now pursuing PhD research on the coastal fishes of the islands.


Hugulay diving on Príncipe, GG.X (left) and preparing specimens (right, with Dr.Ricardo Rocha (CAS), and graduate student,  Luisa Fontoura. (far right, U. Catarina, Brazil).

Maia was a member of the GG X marine team, as was his doctoral advisor, Dr. Sergio Floeter of University of Santa Catarina, Brazil. A few months ago in Lisbon (below), he presented part of his thesis work to the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, one of the major funders of his work on coastal fishes.

Our next terrestrial expedition, GG XI will be in November and will be the topic of the next blog.



Here at Praia Jalé in southeastern São Tomé is a leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), one of several species of ocean-going sea turtles that breed on the islands annually. Looking on are our old friends Bastien Loloum, his wife Delicia and kids Flora and David. Bas said: “The nesting turtle got surprised by sunlight and was just finishing up [laying eggs] as we arrived by her side. The picture was taken by a German tourist who was also staying at the lodge that same night.” This is the world’s largest turtle and the 4th heaviest reptile (after 3 monitor lizards). These giants can reach 2.13m (just under 7 feet) with a mass of 650 kg (1433 lbs)!


The research expeditions are supported by tax-deductable donations to the “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”* On the islands, we are grateful for ongoing governmental support, especially to Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, Victor Bonfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for their continuing authorization to collect and export specimens for study, and to Ned Seligman, Roberta dos Santos and Quintino Quade of STePUP of Sao Tome, our “home away from home”. GG VIII, IX , X and upcoming GG XI have been funded by a generous grant from The William K. Bowes Jr. Foundation, and substantial donations from Mrs. W.H.V.“D.A.” Brooke, Thomas B. Livermore, Rod C. M. Hall, Timothy M. Muller, Prof. and Mrs. Evan C. Evans, Mr. and Mrs. John L. Sullivan Jr., Clarence G. Donahue, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, and a heartening number of “Coolies”, and members of the Docent Council of the California Academy of Sciences. Once again we are deeply grateful for the support of the Omali Lodge (São Tomé) and Roça Belo Monte (Príncipe) for both logistics and lodging and to the Príncipe Trust for partial sponsorship of our on-going primary school education program during GG VII and GG VIII.

*California Academy of Sciences
55 Music Concourse Dr.
San Francisco, CA 94118