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Oops! Major Mapping Error Leaves Threatened Species Unprotected

Nov 11, 2014 06:27 PM EST

Well this must be embarrassing... A mapping debacle has led to a boarders intended to protect a newly discovered species of plant to be erroneously moved about 50 kilometers away from where the plant actually resides.

Ironically, the plant species in question, the Dorstenia luamensis is supposed to be named after the home in which it resides - the Luama Katanga Reserve. This protected area is part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and is supposed to mark on maps where logging and residential or agricultural development cannot occur.

The reserve, established in 1947, is the home of more than 900 plant varieties and 1,400 chimpanzees and can be found not far from Lake Tanganyika. However, with the discovery of the new plant, experts from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) discovered that the protected region marked on maps - meant to keep the Luama Katanga Reserve off limits - is a whopping 50 kilometers (30 mi.) west of the actual location.

This astounding announcement was made at the 2014 IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia - a once-in-a-decade global forum on protected areas - and serves as a reminder of why keeping close tabs on paperwork and approvals is a crucial part of wildlife protection.

James Deutsch, the WCS Vice President of Conservation Strategy explained that the theory is that in the chaos of past Congo wars, newly installed administrators mistakenly placed the protection boundaries in the wrong region, leaving the threatened Dorstenia luamensis  and the whole of the reserve vulnerable.

The call to action here is to fix the records and re-protect the reserve before this unique plant and all the biodiversity it contains, including 1,400 chimpanzees, are destroyed," Deutsch said in a statement.

Andrew Plumptre, WCS Director of the Albertine Rift Program added that because of this mishap, the region is already beginning to see encroaching threats.

"People are starting to move into it and cultivate it and graze cattle there," he said worriedly. "There is a real need to re-gazette the correct reserve as it is biologically important."

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