Two bird species at risk of extinction

Bird species only found at Taita hills [Courtesy]

Two bird species endemic to Taita Forest have been classified as critically endangered.

This has been attributed to extensive logging, forest fires and fragmentation of the vital ecosystem for farming.

The birds, Taita thrush and Taita apalis, according to Birld Life International and International Union for Nature and Conservation (IUCN) Red List, are critically endangered, meaning, they face high risk of extinction in the wild with their declining population trend.

Population estimate shows a declining trend of the birds, with Taita apalis estimated to be less than 150 mature birds and Taita thrust numbering 930, according to IUCN Red List.

Taita apalis currently survives in just four habitat fragments.

Taita thrush is less known than Taita apalis, but recent assessments suggest dramatic and rapid decrease as well. Its global population probably ranges between 500 and 1,000 birds and is restricted to just four forest fragments.

The statuses of the birds were last accessed in October 2016, with IUCN publishing the new studies in 2018. Still, it remained critically endangered.

‘Most of the original forest in the Taita Hills has been cleared for cultivation or reforested with non-native, timber-tree species, and the remaining tiny area is under serious threat. Lack of clear boundary demarcations for some protected forest fragments may compromise conservation efforts,” Birldlife International notes.

In 1997, population of Taita thrush was estimated to be 1,350 birds, occupying areas of Mbololo, Ngangao and Chawia.

Taita thrush is currently confined to four tiny forest patches in the Taita Hills.

Replacement of native indigenous trees with exotic ones, reports said, is to blame for the declining population of the birds.

In 2001, population of Taita apalis was estimated between 300 and 600. However, surveys conducted from 2009 to 2015 suggest that a severe decline took place and that the population may now number only 100-150 individuals.

However, Birldlife International highlighted efforts currently in place to restore the population of the birds.

“The Forest Department is now safeguarding the remaining forest fragments of the Taita Hills, which have been designated as an IBA (Important Bird and Biodiversity Area). Much of the remaining forest habitat is formally protected and managed by either the Kenya Forest Service or the county government,” BirdLife notes

BirdLife Preventing Extinctions programme for the two species has also begun engaging critical local stakeholders in the restoration of exotic plantations back to native forest, through selective clearance of exotic vegetation as well as removing non-native trees from within indigenous forest as well as reclaiming degraded areas of the forest.