Haunted Jungles

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Deep within the uninhabited forests of Príncipe island off the west coast of Africa, strange and haunting sounds have been emerging at night for decades.

First heard a century ago on this island belonging to Sao Tome and Príncipe, the noise can sound like the rasp of an insect or the call of a monkey.

No locals, nor anyone else for that matter, have ever dared to venture into the dense canopy to investigate – until recently, National Geographic reported.

After a long search, they found the culprit – a tiny, yellow-eyed owl that is also an undiscovered species.

Researcher Bárbara Freitas and her team published a series of studies detailing how they came across the owl, one of the 59 species of scops-owl. The birds are small, brownish, perch-and-pounce predators found all over the world. The new species was named Otus bikegila in honor of the local guide Ceciliano do Bom Jesus – nicknamed Bikegila – who helped the team find the well-hidden owl.

Freitas explained that one of the methods used to find the avian was through passive acoustic monitoring: This technique allows scientists to record animal sounds created in darkness and sift through them until they identify the particular creature.

In the case of O. bikegila, the raptor’s signature call was a short, repeated “tuu” which was often performed in a duet.

But there is still more to learn about the species and questions also remain about its conservation status.

Meanwhile, Freitas’ colleagues found that the owl’s entire range encompasses only about five square miles within Príncipe Obô Natural Park, which means that it is “completely dependent on that native forest.”

She recommends that the owl be protected with “critically endangered status” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

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