“We had different pieces, like sounds, morphology and genetics, so we could put all the data together and see if it really was a new species,” says Freitas, who is also explorer National Geographic.
This species is said to have a population of 1,000 to 1,500, but according to scientists, their range covers only about 13 square kilometers in the Obô de Principe Natural Park. Principe is one of the islands that make up the country of São Tomé and Principe.
“We think it’s completely dependent on that native forest,” Freitas says. “It is already a protected area, but it can be damaged very easily. “
Nearby, for example, a small hydroelectric dam is planned which, according to the biologist, could lead to deforestation in the area.
For these reasons, in another study recently published in the journal International for the conservation of birdsScientists recommend that the bird be further protected, including granting a critically endangered status International Union for Conservation of Nature.
CONFIRMS THE EXISTENCE OF THE SPECIES
Although its existence had been suspected for nearly a century, Otus Bikegila it would never have been officially discovered and described without Ceciliano do Bom Jesus, a guide from the area that everyone knows as Bikegila.
Long before the creation of the Obô de Principe Natural Park in 2006, Bikegila, whose nickname has no particular origin, was among the many men who made a living by climbing into the canopy to pluck jaco parrot chicks from their nests for the pet trade.
After the establishment of the protection of the area and the ban on the exploitation of parrots, Bikegila decided to use his vast knowledge of this nature for a completely different activity: that of driving. However, it was in the early 1990s, while he was still looking for parrot chicks, that he became one of the first people to spot an individual. Otus Bikegila.
For nearly twenty-five years he has assisted scientists in every organized expedition to find the bird, including participation in the journey that led, in July 2016, to the very first photographic evidence of its existence. Almost a year later, on May 29, 2017, Bikegila managed, together with Hugo Pereira of the University of Porto, who participated in the drafting of the study, to capture a specimen for the first time.
It is this individual that scientists have used for the description of the species. Other specimens discovered later were also sampled and subsequently released, their DNA helped to prove this Otus Bikegila it differed well from other species of owls in the genus Oto.
In honor of the work of guides from all over the world, Freitas and his colleagues have chosen to name it after Bikegila, also co-author of the study on the dangers Otus Bikegila it compares.
When asked what he would like the world to know about his island, Bikegila replied by reversing the question.
“Why can’t they come here?” You should tell them to come “, she said in Portuguese to National Geographic through the translation of the office manager, Martin Melobiologist at the University of Porto.
“They have to discover the landscape, the birds, the history for themselves and then make their own judgment. It is better that way. “
Freitas and colleagues have also published a third study to detail the method used to detect the owl: passive acoustic tracking. According to the scientists, the latter can be used to identify other new species in remote terrains.
To find Otus Bikegila in the dense forest, the team began by installing audio recorders to distinguish the sounds made by animals in the dark. They then analyzed this data to identify the owl’s characteristic call: a ooh short and repeated, often performed in a duet, which scientists had recorded in nature.
Subsequently, Freitas devised a computer program to sift through countless hours of audio recordings in order to identify Otus Bikegila among the sounds of parrots, insects and other nocturnal animals.
“It’s the sonic equivalent of camera traps, which are also great for finding animals that humans can’t see in their habitat,” he says. Nigel collar, an owl expert with the non-profit organization BirdLife International, who was not involved in the new study. Collar also used acoustic tracking to study owls, but not to focus on a specific species, as described in the new paper.
“It’s great to see that this owl has finally been described,” adds the expert. “They obviously did a very professional job. “
According to Freitas, what makes passive acoustic tracking such a great method is that scientists can continue to analyze and reanalyze those same recordings for any animal or sound they want to study. The same data could then be used to identify even more new species.
“This will considerably strengthen our current knowledge,” he concludes.