Over thirty percent of São Tomé is covered by the Obo National Park. Trails lead through old impenetrable virgin woods of the Obo, deep mountain forest covers the steep slopes of the island, and while some tracks follow old roads or railway, others are only someones footsteps.
Larger tracks used to be for the transportation of coffee and cocoa, while the smaller paths seem to surge right out of an age-old African fairy-tale. And all the time you’re surround by the most amazing trees and birds.
São Tomé is a true ornithologist’s paradise. The islands have one of the highest concentrations of endemic bird species in the world. So far 143 species have been counted. The rare endemic species (i.e species that can only be seen on on São Tomé) include the Principe white-eye, São Tomé short tail, Giant Weaver, São Tomé giant sun bird, Maroon pigeon, Dwarf olive Ibis, São Tomé fiscal shrike, São Tomé Paradise-flycatcher, and finally the endangered (an once even though extinct) São Tomé Grosbeak.
While you need to be an expert to sight all these incredible species, there’s a great French guide book by Patrice Christy (edited by ECOFAC) called “Oiseaux de São Tomé et Principe“. One Portuguese nature photographer, António Guerra, has uploaded a small set of pictures depicting the birdlife of the islands, tagged with species and even location. Also, another good online starting point is this article on FatBirder.
However, the endemic species are just a small taste; there are also hundreds of non-endemic species out there. For example the African masked-weaver (Ploceus velatus), Malachite kingfisher (Alcedo cristata), Black-headed Heron (Ardea melanocephala), and the Laughing dove (Streptopelia senegalensis).
Good Birding Locations
Good birding areas in the dense forest in central highlands are around Lagoa Amélia and São João dos Angolares. For lowland forests, the best are São Miguel, Xufexufe and Quija. Drier savannahs are on the north coast between Diogo Nunes and Lagoa Azul.
The California Academy of Sciences Herpetologist Robert C. Drewes calls São Tomé and Príncipe a biological gold mine. Drewes talks about the importance of conservation on the islands, and the very high number of endemic species found there. ECOFAC is the local European Union and United Nations sponsored conservation organization, that has set up an ecotourism project in the area.
Apart from birdlife, Sao Tome is also rich in marine life. Marine biologist and zoologist Artour has a wonderful set of local smaller marine and terrestrial animals from crabs to worms to insects, all with good descriptions and with species names tagged in Latin (see below). And Joaquim Muchaxo and Alexandra Fonseca have a nice group of photos from their trips with various plants, birds, butterflies, insects, and small animals from Sao Tome. Unfortunately in their photos most of the species and locations are untagged.
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Never Been Connected to the Continent
The vegetation in São Tome is special indeed. As the island has never been connected to the African mainland, much of its flora is endemic, for a example the São Tomé giant begonia (up to 3 metres high), several orchids and tree ferns. The Guardian reports that UK scientist have found a previously unknown mushroom that resembles a penis. In the Northern coast there are Baobab trees. There’s a great variety of tropical fruits, including green limes, red chilli peppers, goiabas, and many others. The University of Coimbra Herbarium has an overview of some of the plants found here by Renata Alves.
We’ve written about Santomean bloggers previously. For further reading, here’s a number of scientists that are blogging about their findings on Sao Tome, including Ricardo Lima, Mariana (in Portuguese), and the California Academy of Sciences.