Scientists have discovered a new tree hyrax species in the Volta region of Ghana. The new species has been described to Science as with the name; “Dendrohyrax interfluvialis”.
Tree hyraxes are one of the three genus of Procavidae, with little information about their taxonomy, natural history and habitat requirements.
These animals make a lot of noise at night but not easily seen. This can be attributed to factors such as nocturnal behaviour and lack of the reflective tapetum lucidum which enable the taxa to be easily spotted in the night by their eyeshine.
The known hyraxes give shrieking calls in the night and in Ghana, Akans call it ‘Oweataa or Owea’ but there is a similar one that barks in the night but unknown to science.
Faunal studies in the West African sub-region is insufficient hence some species are still not discovered and formally undescribed to science making management and conservation of such species difficult.
However, new research published by the Journal of the Linnean Society co-authored by the Dean of Natural Environmental Science at the University of Environment and Sustainable Development (UESD) in Ghana Prof. Edward D. Wiafe finds that a hyrax species in the Volta region differs from the known Western tree hyrax (Dendrohyrax dorsalis).
The newly described species (Dendrohyrax interfluvialis) with the common name Benin hyrax was found in forest pockets between Volta and Niger rivers in regions of southeastern Ghana, Southern Togo, Benin and southwestern Nigeria. In Ghana, it can only be found in the East of the Volta Lake around mountainous areas of Anyibe Nyabor, Tafi-Atomeh, Amedzofe, Afadzato.
Prof. Edward Wiafe, an environmentalist and conservationist said, the animal feeds on nuts, fruits and seeds of many trees, shrubs and herbs thereby functioning as seeds dispersers, propagating plants where they are needed on top of the mountains beyond the reach of humans.
The researchers based their conclusion on the distinctive calls (barks) or the noise made in the night, anatomical and morphological analysis, plus genetic differences identified among tree hyraxes.
The scientific curiosity began in 2009, when co-authors Professor John Oates, a researcher at Hunter College in New York City and Professor Simon Bearder,va Lecturer in Physical Anthropology at Oxford Brookes University and a specialist in Nocturnal Primate were searching for nocturnal primates in Nigeria and noted that hyrax calls were different from west and eastern side of Niger river.
Around the same time co-authors, Dr. Dowsett-Lemaire and Robert Dowsett also reported similar observations in Ghana and emphasized that the two calls even exist in Kalakpa resource reserve, Ghana during their bird survey.
Analysis of 34 calls recorded between Volta and Niger rivers were ‘rattle barks’ other than 62 ‘shrieking calls’ recorded from west of Volta and east of Niger.
The study further, examined museum skins, carcasses of hyraxes killed by hunters and camera trap imagery and revealed differences in fur colour between Dendrohyrax interfluvialis and other populations.
Furthermore, genetic analysis of 21 samples of hyraxes’ tissues revealed that tissues from the areas between the two rivers were genetically distinct from other lineages.
The study concluded that the region between the two rivers, Volta and Niger, might contain many animal species that require scientific attention.
However, the region is under severe threat due to human population growth plus its associated activities and developments.
The forest in the region has been suffered by such activities as logging, firewood and charcoal production, farming, hunting and overgrazing.
The fear is that a species may be lost or get extinct before it may be discovered. In Ghana, the species of this animal occur only in limited part of the country, the former Volta region, therefore there is the urgent need to invest further in the conservation of environmental resources in the region in order to protect the habitat of these animals and other yet to be described.
The team’s paper was published invZoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2021, XX, 1–26.