Major population crash of Critically Endangered Taita Apalis

By Venancia.Ndoo, Wed, 29/09/2010 - 09:54
Taita Apalis Apalis fuscigularis is endemic to the Taita Hills, in south-eastern Kenya. It is one of the rarest birds in the world, surviving in only five small forest fragments at altitudes of between 1,500 and 2,200 m. Its known global range is less than 600 ha. In 2001, the population of this species was estimated to only be 300-650 individuals, thereby qualifying it for the highest threat category, Critically Endangered. Field work carried out in 2009 and 2010 with support from BirdLife International, RSPB, CEPA and Chester Zoo strongly suggests that a major population crash is underway. Compared with 2001, sighting rates in April-May 2009 had dropped by about 38%; repeated counts done in September-December 2009 and May-July 2010 showed even larger decreases, approaching 80%. This means that the global population of the apalis might now be reduced to only 60-130 individuals, almost all of which are located in a single forest, Ngangao, which is only about 120 ha. ÔªøThe causes of this extremely worrying drop are unclear. Little or no illegal logging is now occurring in the Taita, and human disturbance has been significantly reduced thanks to the effort of the Kenya Forest Service and local conservation groups. The impacts of other possible factors, such as nest predation and climate change remain unknown. Nonetheless, it is clear that all the possible candidates driving this apparent crash need to be urgently studied in order to stop this species from sliding further towards the brink of extinction. Similarly, research is also urgently needed on the second critically endangered bird of the Taita Hills forests, Taita Thrush Turdus helleri, whose population has not been assessed in recent times, but might be threatened by the same factors that are already affecting the apalis. Taita Apalis and Taita Thrush are both receiving funding from the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme. The programme is spearheading greater conservation action, awareness and funding support for all of the world’s most threatened birds, starting with the 190 species classified as Critically Endangered, the highest level of threat. Read about the latest research on these two species here This news is brought to you by the BirdLife Species Champions and the British Birdwatching Fair – official sponsor of the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme by Luca Borghesio, Lawrence Wagura and Mwangi Githiru Image credit: Lawrence Wagura

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Comments

Interesting! I like this new website.

Another one to bite the dust. The only consolation i find in all the reports worldwide of species at risk is that its evolution. That the species we know today must die off as they're not suited for the new conditions of this planet. Then I can enjoy dreams of what the newly evolved species will look like.

Robert, I find it baffling that you could find any consolation in these declines and greatly object to your characterization of the declining species as inferior because they are unable to adapt to how humanity is ravaging the planet. My dreams are of a healthy planet with a rich biodiversity and one where people are solution oriented and not resigned to defeat like you seem to be.

As usual, even at the 11th hour, no talk of captive breeding. Why are they not capturing a few pairs of Taita Apalis and Thrush for propagation ? Why did they not do it earlier, before the populations crashed ? The translocation program mentioned in the PDF is not yet ready and may well come too late. It is infinitely frustratingt to see many conservationists' eternal resistance to captive breeding even when the need is glaring. We can't control what happens out in nature: climate change, introduced pests and disease, warfare and dozens of other detrimental factors. Some are not even known (see the above story). When a species is on the brink, we can't take chances. We must bring a few individuals into an environment that we can control and protect, and get them to reproduce. Any bird species with a global population under 500, sometimes even 1000, should have a few pairs breeding in captivity. Had this been done, so many birds that went extinct in the past 150 years would still be with us. No excuses for not doing so.

Robert, I find it baffling that you could find any consolation in these declines and greatly object to your characterization of the declining species as inferior because they are unable to adapt to how humanity is ravaging the planet. My dreams are of a healthy planet with a rich biodiversity, one where people are solution oriented and not resigned to defeat like you seem to be.

kolbay@mynet.com

Hey Ornithavis - On one hand i do agree with you, captive breeding programms might help to sustain wild populations, as it has been done in species like bearded vulture. However, this can not be the only tool, as captive breeding programms face strong intrinsic problems as inbreeding, genetic drift and so on. Furthermore, skills which are transmitted from generation to generation by learning (i.e. kowledge), are likely to be lost. Furthermore, is has been shown, that a successfull reintroduction of captive animals into nature is not a very easy task - i.e. for capercaillie in central Europe: of 11 cases of reintroduction, NONE (!) was successfull. Therefore i do agree with you that captive breeding might be a valuable tool to support conservation efforts of wild populations: however, i strongly suggest that future conservation efforts do also try to save the populations in the wild...

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