I’m Marcel and I live in Yaoundé, Cameroon (Central Africa). I have just become an EDGE Fellow and I will be working on a project called ‘Conservation of Cameroon’s Caecilians’. Caecilians (pronounced sa-SILL-i-ens), also called Gymnophiona (from the Greek Gymnos, meaning cryptic), are tropical amphibians that look like large earthworms. Most of them have a fossorial way of life (adapted for a burrowing or digging lifestyle) and they constitute the least known order of amphibians.
Sixty-six percent of the extant caecilian taxa are currently listed as data deficient by the IUCN, including all the five species endemic to Cameroon. These endemic species are often referred to as enigmatic caecilians, not least of all because most of Cameroon’s caecilians were revealed to science from a short series of specimens. The genus Crotaphatrema, for example, is endemic to Cameroon and consists of three species (C. bornmuelleri, C. lamottei and C. tchabalmbaboensis) but until recently was known from just eight specimens. Some other endemic Cameroonian caecilians are known from just a single specimen. This is the case for the Victoria caecilian (Herpele multiplicata), a potential EDGE species, which has not been seen for over a hundred years.
During my EDGE Fellowship, I will visit the historical localities where Cameroon’s endemic caecilians have been recorded to survey and see if they are still there. I will also visit sites that are prime caecilian habitat and search for the endemic species and Cameroon’s other two caecilian species: Geotrypetes seraphini and H. squalostoma (the sister taxon of the Victoria caecilian). It’s said that these caecilians are widespread all over the country but, in reality, their current population trend is simply unknown. Specimens of the two non-endemic species have been reported in the pet trade in Europe and North America, with accurate indications that they originated in Cameroon, so there are very real threats to their survival.
My research, and the associated conservation awareness work that I will be conducting, will also benefit four EDGE frog species (Leptodactylodon erythrogaster, EDGE # 59; Cardioglossa trifasciata, EDGE # 77; Astylosternus nganhanus, EDGE # 73; and Cardioglossa alsco, EDGE # 77) which are found in some of the areas I will be visiting.
During this Fellowship, I’m looking forward to clarifying the conservation status of the Cameroon’s caecilians and ultimately contributing to a worldwide caecilian conservation strategy.
Please stay tuned!