Rare Mongoose Photographed in Tanzanian Highlands

NEW YORK, New York, December 22, 2006 (ENS) - A camera trap set by scientists in the mountains of southern Tanzania has recorded Africa’s least-known and rarest carnivore - the Jackson’s mongoose, known only from a few observations and museum specimens.

Tanzania specialist Dr. Daniela De Luca with the Wildlife Conservation Society, WCS, based at New York's Bronx Zoo, made the discovery, working with Dr. Francesco Rovero from Italy’s Trento Museum of Natural Sciences.

The scientists captured several images of the Jackson’s mongoose in Matundu Forest within the Udzungwa Mountains National Park.

The finding, reported in the latest issue of the journal "Oryx," extends knowledge of the rare and unique species that survive in the Udzungwa Mountains. The bushy-tailed carnivore was previously known to exist only in Kenya.

mongoose

(Photo by Daniela De Luca courtesy Wildlife Conservation Society)
“These mongooses may represent a separate subspecies from the one that exists in Kenya,” said Dr. De Luca. “Given the fragmentation and small sizes of the forest patches in which they live, full protection of nearby forests would improve conditions for conserving this species.”

Jackson’s mongoose has round, broad ears, with yellow fur on the neck and throat, and a white bushy tail.

Most of the photos were taken between the hours of 7 pm and 6 am, indicating that the animal is largely nocturnal.

It is a close relative of the bushy-tailed mongoose, and is poorly known; previous records for the Jackson’s mongoose are limited to forests in Kenya over 900 kilometers (560 miles) to the north. There are 14 museum specimens in existence from Kenya, and next to nothing is known about its biology.

In addition to increased protection for Matundu, one of East Africa’s largest lowland forests, the scientists recommend initiating studies into the mongoose’s genetics and ecology to better understand the animal’s needs and how best to protect it.

Southern Tanzania still holds surprises for scientists who set up cameras outfitted with motion detectors to capture animal images.

The cameras can be left for weeks near animal trails, feeding or watering grounds. When an animal walks by, a picture is taken automatically.

In 2002, WCS researchers working in the same area used a camera trap to photograph a Lowe’s servaline genet, a cat-like carnivore, the first of its kind recorded in 70 years. Explorers had previously seen this species only as a single skin.

In 2004, WCS conservationists working in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania discovered a new species of primate, the kipunji monkey. Dr. De Luca was also part of that team, which was led by Dr. Tim Davenport, who directs the WCS Southern Highlands Conservation Program.

This year the scientists described the kipunji as a new genus as well, making it the first new monkey genus discovered in over 83 years.

The kipunji has now also been found in the Udzungwa Mountains.

Tanzania

View from the top of Udzungwa Falls in Udzungwa Mountains National Park (Photo courtesy Tanzania National Parks)
Since 2000, WCS has been working in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania to document and protect its wealth of biodiversity.

This latest discovery adds to a list of more than 120 endemic species found only in this remote area.

"Having been so involved in the creation of the park and the conservation of Mt. Rungwe, it has been very exciting for us to help reveal more of their secrets," said Davenport. "The real challenge now though, is to try and conserve them."

Tanzania's Southern Highlands cover a vast area between Lake Nyasa in Malawi and Lake Tanganyika, on the junction of the eastern and western arms of the Great Rift Valley.

Udzungwa is the largest and most biodiverse of a chain of a dozen large forested mountains, known collectively as the Eastern Arc Mountains. In 1992 Udzungwa was accorded national park status and it is still roadless.

But logging, hunting and unmanaged resource extraction threaten the endemic species of southern Tanzania, some of which may still be undiscovered.