August 04, 2010
Everyone knows the tiger, the panda, the blue whale, but what about the other five to thirty million species estimated to inhabit our Earth? Many of these marvelous, stunning, and rare species have received little attention from the media, conservation groups, and the public. This series is an attempt to give these 'forgotten species' some well-deserved attention.
"We tend to call it the endemic giant snail," Martin Dallimer, a conservation ecologist, told mongabay.com. Not only is Archachatina bicarinata a big snail, it is also endemic to the islands of Sao Tome and Principe off the west coast of Africa in the Gulf of Guinea.
The Archachatina bicarinata. Photo courtesy of Martin Dallimer.
According to Dallimer and Melo's study, the majority of Archachatina bicarinata survive in Obo do Principe National Park, yet harvesting the snails for food occurs here regularly.
"More accessible parts of the forest have lost almost their entire snail population and areas deep inside the forest, where snails were once abundant, now have markedly smaller populations," they write. During the survey the researchers also stumbled on snail middens with hundreds of shells, evidence of mass-collecting. If such collections continued unrestricted, Dallimer says extinction for the snail could be imminent.
To save this mollusk Dallimer recommends that "there should be a moratorium on gathering the snail from [Obo do Principe National Park] and a ban on commercial sale. This should be in place until we know how the snail can be harvested sustainably."
However Dallimer adds that if a moratorium goes through "it will be very difficult to enforce" since "there are only limited resources for managing the Park. We would therefore need the cooperation of snail gatherers if such action is to be taken."
Travel to the islands is also increasing, perhaps putting additional pressure on the snail. To help the species, Dallimer says tourists, scientists, and ornithologists visiting the island need to become aware of the snail's threatened status.
"We would appeal to anyone visiting the islands not to eat the snail and to discourage their forest guides from collecting it and eating it as well."
A harvesters snail catch. Photo courtesy of Martin Dallimer.
I must admit that while researching and writing about Archachatina bicarinata, I couldn't help but take up Adam's task and think of a number of possible names for this anonymous snail: the seventeen ninety-two snail, the over-exploited land snail, the big tasty snail (though I worry this would worsen conservation efforts), and the pale snail. My favorite however is the 'giant standout snail' given that Dallimer has described it as standing out from even the thick vegetation of a rainforest. "If you are walking in the right parts of the forest, then the snail is quite easy to see as it is relatively pale and large, meaning it does stand out from the forest vegetation. It is an impressive snail when you get close up!"
Certainly, such an animal deserves not only a name, but also not to be harvested out of existence.
The forested mountains of Principe island. Photo courtesy of Martin Dallimer.
Hundreds of snail shells in a midden provide evidence of over-harvesting. Photo courtesy of Martin Dallimer.
Close-up of the unnamed snail. Photo courtesy of Martin Dallimer.
CITATION: Martin Dallimer and Martim Melo. Rapid decline of the endemic giant land snail Archachatina bicarinata on the island of Principe, Gulf of Guinea. Oryx. 2010. 44(2), 213–218. doi:10.1017/S0030605309990834.
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