A lack of fresh water makes swamp life hard for animals such as the endangered Zanzibar red colobus monkey, pictured here drinking from a container of fresh water provided by locals. (Credit: Photo by Katarzyna Nowak)

Feb. 28, 2013 — Ecologists have evidence that some endangered primates and large cats faced with relentless human encroachment will seek sanctuary in the sultry thickets of mangrove and peat swamp forests. These harsh coastal biomes are characterized by thick vegetation — particularly clusters of salt-loving mangrove trees — and poor soil in the form of highly acidic peat, which is the waterlogged remains of partially decomposed leaves and wood. As such, swamp forests are among the few areas in many African and Asian countries that humans are relatively less interested in exploiting (though that is changing).

Yet conservationists have been slow to consider these tropical hideaways when keeping tabs on the distribution of threatened animals such as Sumatran orangutans and Javan leopards, according to a recent Princeton University study in the journal Folia Primatologica. To draw attention to peat and mangrove swamps as current — and possibly future — wildlife refuges, Katarzyna Nowak, a former postdoctoral researcher of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton, compiled a list of 60 primates and 20 felids (the large-cat family that includes tigers and leopards) known to divide their time between their natural forest habitats and some 47 swamp forests in Africa and Asia.

Because swamp forests often lack food sources, fresh water and easy mobility, few mammals are exclusive to these areas, Nowak reported. Consequently, conservation groups have not intensely monitored the animals' swamp use.

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