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Alarming drop in numbers of endangered Sokoke Scops Owls seen in Africa

Posted on 6. October, 2010.

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The number of Sokoke Scops Owls, a tiny endangered owl found in Kenya and Tanzania, has dropped sharply in the last 16 years, according to a new study by The Peregrine Fund, the National Museums of Kenya and an organisation called icipe. The study was published in Ostrich: Journal of African Ornithology.

The population declined 22.5% over a 16-year period, according to Munir Virani, the study’s author and director of the Pan Africa Program for The Peregrine Fund. He estimated that 800 pairs remain, down from 1,025 pairs in the early 1990s. Virani also observed much lower densities of owls per square kilometre than during previous studies.

“This alarming trend is of major concern for an endangered species,” says Virani . “The Sokoke Scops Owl is considered a flagship species and a prime indicator of the health of the Arabuko-Sokokoke Forest.”

Illegal tree-cutting is destroying vital habitat for the cavity-nesting owls and continued degradation of the forest will adversely impact the ability of the owls to survive, Virani said. He recommends that more exploratory surveys be conducted to locate new populations of the owl and that intensive ecological studies be undertaken to understand the species’ habitat requirements. So far, a nest of the reclusive owl has not been found.

Discovered in 1960, the Sokoke Scops Owl is found mainly in coastal Kenya in the western section of the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, one of the most important forests for bird conservation in mainland Africa. The forest is just 420 square kilometres in size, with about half of it suitable habitat for the owl. The bird also can be found in a small patch of forest north of Arabuko-Sokoke and in the foothills of the Usambara Mountains in Tanzania.

The complete article “Disconcerting trends in populations of the endangered Sokoke Scops Owl Otus ireneae in the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, Kenya” by Munir Z Virani, Peter Njoroge, and Ian Gordon is published in Ostrich: Journal of African Ornithology, Vol 81, No 2 (2010).

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