In a recent expedition to a remote rainforest on the island of Príncipe, in the Gulf of Guinea, an apparently undescribed species of scops owl was observed. The owl appears to have vocalizations unlike any known scops owl. The news was first announced at an international conference on island biology in the Azores in July 2016.
Early explorers to Príncipe reported in 1928 that inhabitants of the island indicated the presence of a small and rare owl species; however, despite several expeditions, researchers failed to find it. In 1998 one of us (M. Melo) collected testimonials of local parrot trappers, who described seeing a scops-owl like bird in tree holes in the rainforest, and later reported that in the most remote forests one could hear unknown calls within the frequency range of scops owl calls (Melo & Dallimer, 2009, Malimbus, 31, 109–115).
In July 2016 P. Verbelen & F. Spina organized an expedition to Príncipe in search of the presumed owl. During 5 days in the southern rainforests the unidentified calls, from high in the forest canopy, were heard at various locations. The owl was lured into view, and was photographed and recorded at close range when an individual descended from the canopy in response to playback of its own recorded calls. A formal description of the Príncipe scops owl is now in preparation.
The islands of São Tomé and Príncipe harbour 28 endemic bird species (29 including the new owl species) and have thus been dubbed the African Galapagos and the lost Eden of Africa. The rainforests on the islands are a global priority for biodiversity conservation, especially for birds, and the Natural Park of São Tomé and Príncipe is considered an irreplaceable protected area. In 2016 Fauna & Flora International joined forces with the Príncipe Trust Foundation to enhance the conservation of the island's outstanding biodiversity. A collaboration agreement was signed, a conservation strategy defined and two conservation managers seconded to the Foundation.