Spaniards discover animal species paradise in Guinean crater
By Sinikka Tarvainen Jun 21, 2007, 4:05 GMT
Madrid - In the rainforests of Equatorial Guinea in Central Africa, a mysterious volcanic crater is home to hundreds of animal and plant species many of which may be unknown to the scientific world.
'We may have brought back about 100 new animal and plant species,' estimates professor Pablo Cobos, member in a recent expedition of six Spanish and two Guinean scientists who penetrated into the virtually unexplored Luba crater.
'There is a lot left to discover' in the crater located on Bioko, an island belonging to Equatorial Guinea, a former Spanish colony of about half a million residents, Cobos said in a telephone interview with the Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
Not only did the Spaniards bring back more than 2,000 animal and plant samples, but they were the first humans to penetrate into virginal parts of the crater where not even local people had entered.
'Young monkeys approached with curiosity, and the sounds of frogs, insects and other animals changed through the night,' describes Cobos, a specialist on forest diseases and plagues.
US scientists have investigated primates in the Luba crater, but the team from Madrid's Polytechnic University says it is the first one to have crossed the crater of an extinguished and partly sunken volcano which rises about 2,000 metres above the ground.
The crater measures 3,000 hectares.
To enter, the scientists had to climb down more than a kilometre of an almost vertical crater wall, covered by lush vegetation, with the help of ropes.
Being inside felt 'as if hundreds of eyes are observing you, following you silently in the undergrowth,' said Ignacio Martin, head of the expedition.
No wonder that local residents regard the crater as a dwelling place of spirits.
Guides used machetes to open the way in the almost impenetrable jungle where the Spaniards and Guineans braved ants, spiders and a huge snake which almost attacked them.
They set up a camp and used lamps and a white sheet to attract insects which were to form part of their booty.
The Luba crater is as close to unspoiled nature as it gets. One of the rainiest places on earth, it is filled with species which have lived practically isolated for centuries and many of which are endemic to the area.
The Spanish expedition brought back about 250 different types of butterflies alone. Its findings also include plants, insects, beetles, crustaceans and amphibians.
Larger animals such as mammals, birds and reptiles had to be left for next time because of a lack of funds.
The samples are now being analyzed in countries including Spain, Cameroon and the United States. The first results are expected in the coming months.
The expedition was the second by the Spanish team which made a preparatory visit to the Luba crater in 2005.
The team has faced problems from financing to difficulties in obtaining visas, but it is determined to go back.
'We will probably return in February, if all goes well,' Cobos says.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur