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Island Trekking to find São Tomé Ibis (Dwarf Olive Ibis)

The Holy Grail for Birdwatchers as told by Owen & Lavinia

Owen

Owen

Published on

03 Dec 2018

Read time

8 minutes

Dwarf Ibis Nesting Lavinia Burnham

Owen & Lavinia travelled to São Tomé and Principe islands with Far & Wild Travel in November 2018. Their stay at Omali Lodge on São Tomé involved a golden opportunity… spotting 3 Dwarf Ibis, nesting and jumping from tree to tree in Primary Rainforest in the heart of the island, with the incredible Brice Primo, “The Birdman” Guide from Omali Lodge.

Thought to be extinct for more than 100 years due to loss of habitat to palm plantations and hunting for their meat, the Dwarf Ibis is declared Critically Endangered on the ICUN Red List. There are between 50 and 250 surviving, but the last survey didn’t count a single one. They are extremely shy, perhaps due to the trend of increasing opportunistic hunting, though not allowed, due to increased access to the Primary Rainforest.

Dwarf Ibis Nesting Close Up Lavinia Burnham
Lavinia's Photo of a Dwarf Ibis nesting

Increased Access?

Saying that – Owen & Lavinia had to first reach São Tomé, an island about 40km off the West Coast of Equatorial Africa, near Gabon, then their trek began with a 4x4 drive into Southern São Tomé, towards Cão Grande, a dramatic volcanic peak, where they drove for miles through a plantation until the road was too difficult to navigate, at which point they set out on foot.

“It was the hardest trek we’ve ever done, and we’ve trekked to see Mountain Gorillas. It was lethal, absolutely pouring with rain, hot and you could lose your footing in the slippery red mud at any time. Indeed, we saw a hunter, armed with a shotgun, searching for monkeys, wild pigs and pigeons for his livelihood.”
Principe Blue Breasted Publisher Lavinia Burnham
Lavinia's Principe Blue Breasted Publisher
Principe Kingfisher Front Lavinia Burnham
Lavinia's Principe Kingfisher

Local Delicacy?

Whilst it’s difficult to imagine shooting these endangered birds for their meat, the locals in São Tomé have a unique perspective on delicacies! Owen & Lavinia definitely did not try this, but one of the nation’s favourites is São Tomé Fruit Bat Soup. There are 2 fruit bats on the island, but the São Tomé Fruit Bat is now Critically Endangered like the Dwarf Ibis. Owen believes that by increasing Nature Tourism to the country, it can help protect their existence.

When to go?

Owen & Lavinia chose to do this on Day 3 of their 4 night stay at Omali Lodge before they headed to Principe Island for 6 nights at Bom Bom Island Resort, in mid-November 2018. Being on the Equator Line, the temperatures stay fairly constant year-round at 23-30 degrees Celsius and it’s humid year-round. Rain, however, peaks between October & November plus from April to May, so it’s no surprise they experienced some exciting showers!

Green Backed Heron Lavinia Burnham
Lavinia's Green-Backed Heron
Cão Grande
Cão Grande Peak Landscape
Sao Tome Giant Sunbird Lavinia Burnham
Lavinia's Sao Tome Giant Sunbird

Bit of Mystery

There’s a bit of mystery about the Dwarf Ibis that makes it especially exciting and since they are so shy, much of their behaviour is not well understood. However, Brice “The Birdman” Guide who took Owen & Lavinia into the forest knows where best to look for them. Seeing three Dwarf Ibis and hearing a fourth was still remarkable because Brice has taken other enthusiasts on a 3 night camping trip in the forest without a successful sighting.

If you would like to venture into the Jurassic World of São Tomé, contact us to start planning today, but keep your expectations realistic as this is truly rare!

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