Sierra Leone Crab Rediscovered: The Colorful Crab Sighted After Decades

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A campaign to rediscover species that are probably lost forever has led to a reconnection with the colorful Sierra Leone crab, not seen for decades and presumed lost forever. A second species not seen for over 200 years was rediscovered during the expedition

The NGO, Re:wild has helped find Wallace’s giant bee and also the velvet pitcher plant in Indonesia. In Guatemala, they found the climbing salamander and the Grenadian giant tortoise in the remote Galápagos Islands.

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An expedition led by Dr. Pierre Ndongo from the Douala University in Cameroon set off in search of the Sierra Leone crab. It was last spotted in 1955. The expedition searched for three weeks and finally found the crab.

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The Sierra Leone crab is unique in the crustacean family. For one it is brightly colored with a strikingly orange body and purple claws. It also spends little time in the water and lives instead in burrows on trees or rock crevices. Some even live on the floor of the forest in marshes. And scientists weren’t sure that the Sierra Leone crab existed till they discovered it by Dr. Ndongo.

Dr. Ndongo’s expedition was doubly lucky as they found another crab that wasn’t there in scientific records for over 2 centuries after 1796. The freshwater Afzelius’ crab. And they found two fresh specimens that had never been recorded before.

The discovery of the Sierra Leone crab, exciting though it was, was also tinged with concern as their habitat had begun to suffer encroachment of farms in recent years.

Dr. Ndongo was constrained for time, as the pandemic shutdown was fast approaching. He then scoured for the elusive crab in the dense forests on Sugar Loaf Mountain. He found 6 specimens of the Sierra Leone crab, primarily with the help of local people. 

They were lucky to find the species within three weeks of intense search. They carefully dug the crabs out of their burrows without harming them. Conservationists finally have the tools they require to protect this elusive and beautiful specimen of crabs.

The Sierra Leone Crab Is The 8th Species To Be Discovered By Re:wild

The Sierra Leone crab (Afrithelphusa Leonensis) is the 8th lost species to be rediscovered in the Re:wild list of 25 lost species that they have set out to rediscover.


African Freshwater crabs and species from other parts of the world generally live in and along the streams, lakes, and rivers. There are only a scarce number of obscure and endangered species who prefer secluded habitats far from the waterline where they can freely breathe both water and air, similar to the land crabs. But such freshwater species are extremely rare and many are presumed lost.

Neil Cumberlidge of Northern Michigan University was part of Dr. Ndongo’s expedition but could not be physically present because of travel restrictions during the pandemic. The biology professor and researcher interacted with Dr. Ndongo through the internet.

He says that the land crabs are exceptionally colorful, can climb trees, and live in burrows, marshes, and rock crevices on the floor of the forest, mostly far away from stable sources of water. They are found only in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. A mere five species are known to man and others may be there as well.

Dr. Ndongo’s perseverance and knowledge of the local dialect were two factors that went for this expedition. He was also successful in inspiring local youngsters to get involved in the project. He finally struck paydirt when he met two youngsters in Moyamba district, a southern province in Sierra Leone, and described to them the Sierra Leone crab with its unique behavior and vibrant colors.

Sierra Leone Crab

They guided him to the forest outside Freetown. Here he first discovered a thriving community of Afzelius’ Crabs (Afrithelphusa afzelii). It was one day later when they found the Sierra Leone Crab in the Western Area National Park on the mountain. His excitement was tinged with the realization that they continue to be endangered.

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The data generated on the Sierra Leone crab and the other five species discovered will give them information on their ecology, habitat, threats, the status of their population, and help them review the Red List grade of all the species. They will in all likelihood be put under the Critically Endangered list, which is near extinction.

The next logical step will be the creation of a Species Action Plan. It will give detailed information on the protective measures to be taken to save the beautiful species from extinction.

All Image Credits: Neil Cumberlidge

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