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Since the late nineteeth century the species-rich and botanically under explored island of the Sao Tome and Principe has drawn attention from researchers as Júlio Henriques (1838-1928) and Arthur Exell (1901-1993), respectively a professor with the University of Coimbra and a scientist with the British Museum.
Julio Henriques (1838-1928) prepared the first flora monograph of São Tomé e Principe. His main controbuitions were Flora de S.Thomé (1886) and Catalogo da Flora da Ilha de S.Tomé (1892) and, finaly, A ilha de S.thomé sob o ponto de vista histórico-natural e agrícola (1917).
The most thorough studies on Santomean vegetation were carried out in 1932 and 1933 by Artur Exell in his first foray into Africa, where he made extensive collections in Sao Tome, Principe, Fernando Pó and Annobon. They were published by Exell in his Catalogue of the Vascular Plants of S.Tome (1944).
F. Welwitshi in 1853, C. Barter in 1858 and G. Mann in 1861 also gathered specimens leading to the discovery of species thereto unknown. Auguste Chevalier visited S. Tomé in 1905, and in 1956 Théodore Monod climbed the peaks of Sao Tomé and of Príncipe, culling rare endemic specimens. Joaquim Espírito Santo discovered new species in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and Herder Lains e Silva undertook new research and classification of the country’s flora.
Those research expedition has shown that, of the four islands on the Gulf of Guinea, Bioko, Príncipe, São Tomé and Pagalu, the santomean archipelago presents the richest diversity of flora, with high rates of endemism. In fact, since 1988 scientists classified the forests of Sao Tomé and Principe as the second most important in terms of biological interest of the 75 forests of Africa. The Atlantic rain forest of high altitude, Obô, contains the majority of the fauna and flora that gave Sao Tomé and Principe its classification.
The WWF after recent expedition also classified the Sao Tome and Principe forests as one of the world 200 eco-region, which means as one of the 200 most important biodiversity area in the world. Given that many of eco-region covers widespread areas, the presence of Sao Tome and Principe in this list testifies its exceptional nature. Of the 700 local plant types, about 100 of these are only found in Sao Tome and Principe, including a begonia that grows up to 3 m high, and unique orchids.
The bird life is also other of the natural wonders of the country: with about 1000km2, Sao Tome and Principe has 28 species of endemic birds. Only Sao Tome Island has 21 endemic species. This is an extraordinary number because islands with the similar dimensions usually have 1 to 2 endemic bird species. In the nineties, Birdlife International included Sao Tome and Principe in the top 25% of 218 "Endemic Bird Area" (EBAs) worldwide for their species richness. More recently, the forest of both islands have been included among the "Important Bird Area" (IBAs) of Africa.
As signatory to the Convention on Biodiversity (ratified through Presidencial act. in 1998), the country has committed to a framework and political/institutional activities both national and international in order to devise solutions for the preservation of biodiversity. The first step in the implementation of the Convention at the national level was the creation of a National Cell for Biodiversity, whose aim it was to provide leadership on implementation of the convention clauses, and to draft a national strategy for biodiversity and plan of action.
Thanks to this comprehensive, detailed work on the state of biodiversity in Sao Tome and Principe, and the conclusions and recommendations set forth, it became possible to define a national strategy and plan of action for biological diversity in São Tomé and Príncipe. As a result of an environmental preservation program begun in 1992, a ecotourism strategy has been launched with has led to the creation in 1993 the protected areas of the Ôbo National Park to protect Sao Tome and Principe islands unique natural heritage.
The Obo Park consists of two areas, one in the island of Sao Tomé with a 235 km² surface and another on Principe island, with a 65 km² surface area (nearly half the island). Later, the Tinhosa Islands Nature Preserve was created, covering 15ha, and the Rolas Islet Preserve, covering 6ha. 4 protected áreas in total, covering a land surface of 29,537ha, which correspond to about 30% of the country’s surface.
This ambitious project was incorporated into the Ecofac program, which is of great relevance to central Africa, and it’s goal is to rationally protect and preserve forest ecosystems. Through ecotourism, the forest can be adequately valued and enjoyed.
Bom Sucesso Botanical Garden
The Botanical Garden is the gateway to Obo National Park. It is located at Bom Sucesso (1.115 m. asl), which used to be part of the old Monte Café farm.
With over 400 species of endemic flora and over a thousand samples of plants, this Botanical garden and Herbarium were created to educate people, and the younger generations especially, on matters of biology and systematic botany. Not only that, but also to preserve endangered species off-site, to collect living specimens and data for scientific research and finally, for touristic and recreational ends.
Shading sheds for certain species were created in Bom Sucesso, especially for the orchids culled in the forests of Sao Tomé and Príncipe islands. These flowers were initially picked for phonological studies and are now popular tourist attractions. At Bom Sucesso botanical garden it is possible to see more than 100 different orchids from boths islands of Sao Tome and Principe.