Highland East Africa Regional Programme
The mountains of east Africa have been described as islands in the sky in that they are surrounded by a ‘sea’ of arid lowlands that leaves populations of plants and animals potentially isolated from one another.
High levels of endemism (unique species), particularly in geologically older mountain blocks, are likely to be due to both high speciation rates and the persistence of ancient species that have gone extinct elsewhere. An excellent example is the Udzungwa Mountains of Tanzania where recent discoveries of new frog, chameleon, partridge and giant elephant-shrew species illustrate the amazing biological richness of this part of the Afromontane biodiversity hotspot.
As with many tropical areas the forests of Highland East Africa have been reduced by logging and conversion to agriculture. Human population growth is often high in the African highlands as the fertile soil and readily available water encourage people to migrate and settle. Again the Udzungwa Mountains provide a good example as the adjacent Kilombero Valley has lost almost all of its forest to sugarcane plantations and farmland resulting in intense demand on the mountains’ forests for firewood, and increasingly bushmeat, from the rapidly growing human populations.
WWCT has selected Highland East Africa, and the Udzungwa Mountains in particular, as a Regional Conservation Programme due to the presence of a small community of inspiring international and Tanzanian researchers working on conservation issues in the area. WWCT collaboration with these researchers began with studies of forest antelope including the Endangered Abbott’s duiker and more recently expanded to include surveys for narrow-endemic amphibians in the Uzungwa Scarp Forest Reserve.