Rare Shark Spotted By Cumbrian Students During Gambian Trip

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Students from the University of Cumbria have identified a rare shark, seen for only the second time in 16 years.

The Sawback Angelshark or ‘Squatina Aculeate’ is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and has only been spotted by students from the university’s zoology course who’ve just returned from a field trip to The Gambia.

“The fish had been caught and was identified on the beach by our students for only the second time since 2002 with details of the find sent to the IUCN who confirmed the species,” Dr Roy Armstrong, leader of the zoology programme at the University of Cumbria, said.

“Another, so far unknown species of fish was also recorded during our visit which requires verification. Another exciting find!”

This is the latest in a series of successful visits by staff and students to the country. Earlier this year, Dr Mic Mayhew led a party of students to inoculate rare colobus monkeys against disease by treating 15 of the worst affected monkeys with penicillin darts delivered through a blow pipe. Already, this work seems to have paid off with reduced numbers of animals showing lesions.

“One of our students assessed the species composition of the best remaining forest in The Gambia,” Dr Armstrong said. “This will allow us to recreate prime forest at another site where we are working with the community and have just provided a tree nursery and well.”

The link between West Africa and Cumbrian zoologists has been further cemented thanks to an agreement that scientists here will provide mentoring and teaching to conservationists in The Gambia. Using distance learning techniques what’s thought to be a pioneering teaching system has been created in Carlisle in the hope of encouraging more conservation work on the ground.

“A team has started a long-term project with Gambian ornithologists looking at the critically endangered hooded vulture,” Dr Armstrong said.

“Their first survey revealed around 1% of the global population – not bad for a species that is widespread in Africa – which reflects the exceptional density in The Gambia.”

The first group of zoology students from the University of Cumbria will graduate later this year.