Apr 9, 2017

Long time ago in Ethiopia...

A short piece that I wrote for the online newsletter of the Society of Conservation Biology.
It is quite long time ago now, but I still have vivid memories of my adventures in Ethiopia in search of Prince Ruspoli's turaco, for sure one of the most beautiful and charismatic birds of Africa, and one whose discovery is tied to the name of an Italian explorer who died in the earth of Africa at the end of the 19th century.


Mar 20, 2017

Critically Endangered Long-billed tailorbird stable or slightly increasing in its only stronghold

Since 2006, I have collaborated with Norbert Cordeiro and BirdLife Tanzania on an ambitious conservation project focusing on the many globally threatened birds of the East Usambara mountains, in Northern Tanzania. Here is the latest update on our work published on BirdLife international's webpage

Sep 1, 2016

Taita Critically Endangered birds project updates

Some updates on our Taita hills Critically Endangered Birds project activities on the webpage of the Mohammed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund that has repeatedly funded our work.

The Taita Critically Endangered birds project is a collaborations between me, Dr Mwangi Githiru (BirdLife Species Guardian), and Nature Kenya (BirdLife in Kenya). Many persons are involved in the activities in the field, among which Lawrence Wagura and James Maina Gichiah

Dec 24, 2015

Nature Kenya launches appeal to save the Taita Apalis from extinction

Prompted by the results of our research, Nature Kenya, one of oldest environmentalist organizations as well as the BirdLife partner in Kenya, has launched an appeal to save Taita apalis. Let's hope that the appeal will meet with success, because Taita apalis is really on the brink of extinction.
While we wait to see the results of NAture Kenya's appeal, our field research continues, to try and understand why Taita apalis has decreased by more than 60% in just ten years: its global population might not be less than 200 individuals!


Sep 1, 2015

Race is on to save the rare Taita Apalis

Taita apalis featured in a recent newspaper article by journalist Rupi Mangat, who summarizes the latest research findings from our work and the initiatives to try and save this unique bird from extinction.

Here is the link to Rupi's article

Mar 1, 2015

Teaching Conservation in the Taita Hills

Taita apalis survives in just 3 small forests and nowhere else!
The Taita hills in southern Kenya are one of the key area for the conservation of biodiversity in East Africa. Many species are endemic to these small mountains - that is, they only exist here and nowhere else in the world. Some species, such as the Taita apalis and the Taita thrush are restricted to a range of less than 500 hectares, which is more or less the same area as Central Park in New York. This is an extremely tiny range! For these reason, the IUCN and BirdLife International consider these two birds "Critically Endangered" which means an extremely high risk of extinction within less than 10 years.

Lawrence leading primary school pupils in the Taita forest
For many years, we have been involved in research and conservation activities in the Taita Hills. One of the key goals in conservation is increasing awareness, that is, making everybody know about the importance of conserving biodiversity. We must conserve it because these unique species are the common heritage of the entire world, and if we loose them, nobody will be able to to resurrect them.

Lawrence Wagura, one of the members of the Taita hills team, has been very active in teaching about conservation in primary and secondary schools in the Taita hills.

With support from the African Bird Club, Lawrence has recently embarked in an ambitious project that has involved more than 700 pupils from primary and secondary schools in the Taita. Lawrence visited the schools, and taught the students about biodiversity,, first in the classrooms, and then in the field, leading the students in a walk through some of the most interesting forests of the Taita hills. The students have been able to hear about the endemic birds, insects, plants and herps, and have even been able to see some of them with their eyes. For many of them, it was the first time, even though they all live in the Taita hills!

You can read more about Lawrence's project here.

Jan 19, 2015

Butterflies in the Chyulu hills

Lawrence and I recently spent some days in the Chyulu hills to teach the art of butterfly-watching to a team of local Maasai tourist guides. Here is a report on our pleasant stay.

Hypolycaena philippi

Nov 30, 2014

Endangered species gets even more endangered

Survey data show a 45% decrement in the population of Sharpe's longclaw in just five years.

Between 2013 and 2014, we carried out a reassessment of the population of Sharpe's longclaw, one of Kenya's most charismatic endemic birds. The survey revisited a network of over 100 transects that were first visited five years ago, in 2008 and 2009. 

The sampling sites are spread over the entire range of Sharpe's longclaw and represent the most updated and detailed assessment of the range and population of this species. They are as well a survey of the conservations status of Kenya's highland grasslands, a habitat that harbours several endemic and highly threatened species of flora and fauna.

In just five years, we observed a dramatic contraction of natural grasslands (-16%), which are being rapidly converted to agriculture and settlements. But the decrement in the number of birds was even more worrying: -45%, with extremes beyond -60% in some key sites (e.g. Kinangop plateau, Molo grasslands).
Sharpe's longclaw range in Kenya
As it appears, habitat loss alone can not entirely justify this rapid decrement of Sharpe's longclaw's population. We hypothesize that other factors, such as habitat fragmentation, edge effects and overgrazing are all contributing and compounding the rapid decline.

It is likely that several other grassland endemic species are sharing the same fate of Sharpe's longclaw. these include the globally endangered Aberdare Cisticola, the frog Amietia wittei and the snake Bitis worthingtoni.

As Kenya's economy and human population are both rapidly expanding, prime agricoltural habitats are facing a massive onslaught to develop them. It is urgent that a network of protected areas is established to save at least part of this ecosystem, which is might be one of the most severely threatened habitat in Africa

Akcnowledgments: the field work was a collaboration between NABU (BirdLife Germany), Nature Kenya and the National Museums of Kenya. Funding in 2013-2014 was entirely provided by NABU

The proud survey team in the Aberdare mountains

Oct 25, 2014

Drought in the forests of Northern Kenya

An article by journalist Rupi Mangat on our research in the forests of Northern Kenya and the effects of the drought that is taking a big toll on them. Populations of some forest birds have dropped by more than 50%, and big trees are drying up and dying everywhere. Is this drought just a natural event that recurs periodically or an effect of global climate change caused by human activities?

Sep 18, 2014

A guide to the Wildlife and Natural History of the Taita Hills

Lawrence Wagura, who has been one of our field assistants and collaborators for long time, has just published a new guide to the Natural History of the Taita hills. Printing of the initial copies of the book was supported by BirdLife Africa Partnership Secretariat and Nature Kenya (BirdLife Partner) as part of a project funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF).

This is the first published guide for this important site. In simple language, backed up by colourful pictures, Lawrence comprehensively describes the site: he includes, among other topics, its history, geography, value, indigenous culture, and various types of plants and animals found there.
The book is not only useful for visitors and researchers; Lawrence also intends to use it as a tool for educating the youth and other residents of the Taita Hills on the value of conserving the site.

“With support from teachers, I have already been giving talks in schools in the area and I often take students for educational trips to the forests. I will now distribute free copies of the book to the schools, and in future use them for my educational talks”, says Lawrence. Lawrence hopes that the book will also encourage tourists who venture into the lower Tsavo plains and other areas to include a visit to the Taita. The booklet is now available for sale at Nature Kenya's offices in Nairobi and will of course also be distributed in the Taita Hills.