Biologists describe a new owl species on Príncipe Island — and hope they can save it before it disappears

“MuiTypography-root-233 MuiTypography-h1-238″>Biologists describe a new owl species on Príncipe Island — and hope they can save it before it disappears

Researchers have discovered a new owl species called the Príncipe scops-owl, known for its unique call and genetic make-up. They found it on Príncipe, a small island off the western coast of central Africa — and they say it's critically endangered.

The WorldDecember 15, 2022 · 1:45 PM EST

After the species was found, it was immediately described by scientists as highly threatened. This is a tragic predicament of many modern biologists. A new species is found, but it may not survive the environmental changes affecting biodiversity around the world, like climate change and habitat loss.

Courtesy of Philippe Verbelen

After eluding scientists for decades, a new owl has been described: Officially a distinct species, the Príncipe scops-owl is known for its unique call and genetic make-up.

It was found on Príncipe Island, a small island off the western coast of central Africa.

The Príncipe scops-owl is active at night. Its brown plumage helps it hide from predators while it sleeps in the trees during the day.

Credit:

Courtesy of Philippe Verbelen

PhD candidate Bárbara Freitas was part of the international team of scientists who finally have a description of the new owl in the journal ZooKeys. 

“It was a special feeling being in the field and recording a new species,” Freitas said. “It has a super unique call.”

The Príncipe scops-owl is active at night. Its brown plumage helps it hide from predators while it sleeps in the trees during the day.

Credit:

Courtesy of Martin Melo

Freitas, who is with the Museum of Natural Sciences, collaborated with Martim Melo, a researcher at the University of Porto, who had been looking for the owl for decades.

They gave the owl the Latin name Otus bikegila, named after a park ranger working in Príncipe Island’s nature reserves. Freitas said the discovery would not have been made without his help, so it was only fitting to name the owl after him. 

Ceciliano do Bom Jesus (right) , nicknamed Bikegila was an essential partner in finding the owl. To honor his efforts, researcher Martim Melo (left) proposed they give the owl the Latin name Otus bikegila.

Credit:

Courtesy of Barbara Freitas

“It’s an acknowledgement to all of the field assistants all over the world who go with the researchers and help them find the species that they want and to walk in the places they don’t know,” Freitas said.

The Príncipe scops-owl was found deep in a nature reserve on Príncipe Island. The owls are confined to uninhabited areas, in the only remaining old growth forests of the island.

Credit:

Courtesy of Martim Melo

Because the owl habitat is so small, and isolated to an oceanic island, its numbers are small. Freitas said they have proposed that the species should be classified as “critically endangered.”

The Príncipe scops-owl was heard by locals, but eluded scientists for decades. It's now been described officially as its own unique species.

Credit:

Courtesy of Martin Melo

“Unfortunately this is common,” she said. It reflects the predicament of many biologists looking for unique species around the world, “we discover a species that is already under threat. Maybe we saw the last individuals of that species.”

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