Scientists Discover New Owl Species Living On Small African Island

Have you ever heard of the Principe scops owl? If you haven’t, don’t feel bad because they were just recently discovered and documented. In fact, according to a press release, there are only between 1000 and 1500 of these owls alive in the wild.

In 1998, people started talking about the possibility that a new owl species existed on the island but it wasn’t until 2016, that scientists started looking closer. The focus of their search was a tropical island off the West African coast, Príncipe. That little island is located in the Gulf of Guinea.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/César J. Pollo License: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International

After discovering that there was a new owl species, they decided to give a nod to the man who originally saw the birds, Ceciliano do Bom Jesus. His nickname, Bikegila, was used for the name of the new owl, the Otus Bikegila.

Researchers credit him and his local knowledge for allowing the new species to be discovered. According to National Geographic: “For nearly a quarter century, he’s assisted scientists on every expedition undertaken to find the owl, including the trip that led to the first-ever photographic evidence of the species, in 2016.”

Photo: ZooKeys/Paul van Giersbergen License: Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 4.0 International

The part of the owl’s name, Otus, is a generic name provided to Scops owls. They are found throughout Africa, Europe, and Asia.

One of the interesting things about this unique owl is its call, which is a repeated “tuu” sound that is given about once every second. Thanks to that call, they knew that the bird was unique.

Photo: ZooKeys/Paul van Giersbergen License: Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 4.0 International

At this time, they are still looking at the 6 square miles where they live to determine how many owls are out there. Although it is a small area, researchers feel that as many as 1,500 Principe scops call it home.

There are many owls that are packed into such a small area so they are considering classifying them as critically endangered. In addition, a relatively small hydroelectric dam is being built in the area, which may have an impact on the species as well.

You can learn more about the owl species in the published research paper here.

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