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The Biodiversity of Freshwater Fish in Gabon Rainforests, One Hundred Years After Mary H. Kingsley

From: Kingsley, M.H. (1899) West African Study.  Mcmillian, London.

On the centennial of Mary H. Kingsley's historic voyages to West Africa, and the publication of her influential Travels in West Africa, an international team of biologists explored the biodiversity of freshwater fishes of the Ogooué River basin of Gabon.  The goals were to collect, catalog, and describe the freshwater fishes of this relatively unknown and isolated basin; establish a reference museum and library in Gabon;  train students in field methods, ecological assessment,  and systematics; and develop a method of rapid assessment of fish species diversity through the use of species-specific electric discharges of Mormyrid electric fish as indicator species.  The centennial project was sponsored by  a grant from the National Geographic Society,  and by grants from the National Science Foundation,  The American Museum of Natural History, and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Photo: C. Hopkins. Ivindo River at dawn

Mary Henrietta Kingsley (1862-1900)  

She was one of the first European explorers to travel to some remote parts of Gabon in West Africa.  From December 1894 to November 1895 Mary Kingsley traveled alone to the port of Calabar (now Nigeria), to  Gabon, and to Cameroon.  She collected fish and reptiles for the British Museum (Natural History) of London.  In Gabon she took a steamer up the Ogooué River to Lamberéné and to an American mission at Talagouga and then paddled a canoe to the rapids at Ndjolé.  She then made an overland trip  from the Ogooué to the Remboué River and descended by boat to Libreville. She climbed Mount Cameroon (14,435 ft) before returning to London.  She wrote three influential books:  Travels in West Africa (1897), West African Study (1899), and The Story of West Africa (1899) about her travels and about the Fang people of Gabon.  She died of typhoid in 1900 South Africa as a nurse in the Boer War at the age of 38.

Mary Kingsley brought valuable freshwater fish specimens back to Englandincluding some 65 species of which 18 were new to  Gabon and 7 new toscience.  They were described by Albert Günther in 1896(see pictures below).  Her collections representa significant contribution to the ichthyology of Gabon.  Because ofher bravery and extraordinary adventures, and especially because of her writing, Mary H. Kingsley is famed for her contributions to understanding ofAfrican culture and religious customs.  Her work on fishes, stillincompete, is an inspiration for this centennial exploration.

BiographicalNotes on Mary H. Kingsley

The Mary Kingsley Centennial Exploration of  Gabon's Freshwater FishBiodiversity


Carl Hopkins, Amy O'Donnell, John Sullivan, Sébastien Lavoué, Jean Daniel M'BEGA, Melanie Stiassny, Emmanuel Vreven
Photo:  Carl D. Hopkins



Photo by Amy O'Donnell

Caecomastacembelus niger (Sauvage, 1879)

Freshwater Fishes Named After Mary H.Kingsley.

Below are three of the species of fishes collected by Mary Kingsley in 1895,described and named after her by Albert Günther in 1896.

(Günther, 1896)
(Günther, 1896)

(Günther, 1896)

Reference: Günther, A. (1896). Report on a collection of reptilesand fishes made by Miss M. H. Kingsley during her travels on the Ogowe Riverand in Old Calabar. Annals and Magazine of Natural History, Ser. 6 17,261-285.

DownloadReprint of the Günther's article as reprinted in Mary Kingley's book (*.pdf format, you will need).

Bibliographyof Fish Study in Gabon.

Barbus camptacanthus (Bleeker, 1863). Photo © CarlHopkins

Brienomyrus hopkinsi Photo © Carl. Hopkins

Gabon lies on the equator on the west coast of Africa, north of Congo and South of Cameroon.  Much of the territory is covered by dense rainforest which remains intact, especially in north-eastern Gabon.  The Ogooué River, which is the principal watershed,  is the second largest river drainage in Central West Africa.  It is fed by several important rivers, including the Ivindo, which is kown for a large number of endemic species.  Gabon is part of the Lower Guinea ichthyofaunal province defined by T. Roberts (1975).  It is estimated that as many as 30% of the freshwater fish are endemic to this province.

Political Map

Topography of Gabon (TERRASERVE)

Drainage map of Gabon (.html)

Downloadable Vegetation Map of Africa (.pdf format)

Climate and Population maps of Central Africa

Rapids at Loa Loa, Ivindo River  Photo J. P. Sullivan
Melanie Stiassny and John Sullivan identifying fish specimens.

Jean-Daniel M'Bega working in rocky pools in upper Ivindo River, February 6, 1998

Photo:  J. P. Sullivan
Sébastian Lavoué showing high densities of mormyrid fishes from cast net samples from the upper Ivindo River.  January 27, 1998. Photo: J. P. Sullivan.

Above:   Sébastian Lavoué and Carl Hopkins
recording electric discharges and taking tissue samples
from fish in a field laboratory.
January, 1998

Mormyrid fishes from Ivindo River cast net samples:  
depth = 9 m, including Marcusenius conicephalus, Marcusenius moorii,
Petrocephalus simus, Pollimyrus marchei, Brienomyrus hopkinsi
Photo: Carl Hopkins

Right:  Jean Hervé Mve launches a cast net from the pirogue on the Ivindo River.

January, 1998

Acknowledgements:  Supportfor the Mary Kingsley CentennialExploration of  Gabon's Freshwater Fish Biodiversity comes from a grantfrom the National Geographic Society.  Additional funds come from grantsto C. D. Hopkins from the National Science Foundation,  from a grantto M. J.S. Stiassny from the The American Museum of Natural History,  atravel grant to S. Lavoué from the Muséum National de l'HistoireNaturelle (Paris), and a grant to A. Kamdem-Toham, C.D. Hopkins and G. Teugelsfrom the Wildlife Conservation Society.  This research is sponsoredin Gabon by the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique et Technologique(CENAREST) in Libreville, Gabon.

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