The Wildlife of São Tomé & Príncipe
Despite being Africa’s second-smallest nation, the islands are a treasure trove of biodiversity with a surprising number of endemic bird, amphibian and reptile species. Comparable to other oceanic islands such as the Galapagos in terms of the number of endemic species i.e. those found nowhere else on earth!
There are at least 27 endemic bird species, while the famous Galapagos hold 21 in an area that is eight times larger.
Príncipe’s coastal waters, meanwhile, fall within the Gulf of Guinea marine biodiversity hotspot and support high numbers of coral reef fish and mollusc species that are unique to the area, as well as providing important breeding grounds for hawksbill, green and leatherback turtles.
Since 2006, two protected areas have been established in the country: The São Tomé Obô Natural Park and the Príncipe Obô Park. These include the mountainous core of both islands, in total covering roughly one-third of the country. Besides constituting key areas for the conservation of biodiversity, the parks provide key services to the human populations of the islands, such as clean water and climate regulation.
Birds range from the incredible Giant Sunbird through to the São Tomé Short-tail, a bird unlike any other with its own genus. Several species, including the Dwarf Olive Ibis, São Tomé Fiscal Shrike and São Tomé Grosbeak have been seen by less than ten living birders!
Príncipe & São Tomé have never been connected to mainland or to each other. Their fauna and flora having evolved independently is characterised by high levels of endemism. São Tomé and Príncipe hosts a sub-species of the African Scops Owl. São Tomé and Príncipe boast more than twice the number of endemic birds that could be predicted by area alone.
Boobies and other seabirds are a common sight from the shores, especially BomBom Islet
Sao Tome Scops Owl Otus hartlaubi ©Pete Morris
São Tomé and Príncipe have a high diversity of orchid species with 129 taxa of which 101 present in São Tomé and 64 in Príncipe, including 35 endemic species. The plant family of the Orchidaceae is one of the two largest families in the floral realm with more than 25,000 species and 700 genera. They are also one of the most fascinating groups of plant for the general public. Orchids are a cosmopolitan family but the vast majority occurs in the tropics. In terms of species number and abundance, it is the most important plant family on São Tomé and Príncipe, with the highest endemicity level.
For those interested to learn more, a stay in Príncipe at the Roça Belo Monte is highly recommended. Here there is a shade house with orchids that have been collected for a conservation project that is part of their own conservation alliance: Forever Principe!
Dive to explore the clear waters of the ancient volcanic island of Principe, home to some of the world´s most spectacular rock formations, above and below the waterline.
You don't have to be an expert, there are adequate spots for various experience levels - from beginners to professionals. The adventure may start with simple snorkelling in order to leisurely enjoy the abundant marine life of the archipelago's crystal clear waters.
There are introductory dives and PADI/NAUI course, all dives led by qualified PADI/NAUI professionals. Divers will eyewitness pristine reefs and dramatic seascapes and find themselves amidst reef fish and big game fish as well as endemic species of eels, wrasse and shrimps.
It is not uncommon to find yourself swimming amidst schools of barracudas or snappers. The waters here are home to variety of sharks, stingrays and octopuses and mehave the largest population of moray eels one could imagine seeing anywhere. In addition Principe is a popular breeding grounds for turtles. With a strong conservation progam in place, there is a very good chance of spotting one of these majestic creatures.