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


  1. We might be going to Mt Elgon NP Uganda in early 2016 and note the longclaw is in the Kenya portion/side. Are there still some birds there since I see a map coded this population may be extirpated? Fred National Biodiversity Parks

    1. I am sure there still are birds on the Kenyan side of Mt Elgon. We observed them in 2008 (see Borghesio, L., Muchane, M., Ndang’ang’a, K., Njoroge, P., 2013. Is Sharpe’s Longclaw Macronyx sharpei a fire-dependent species in Kenya’s Altimontane zone? Bulletin of the African Bird Club 20, 149–155.) Sharpe's longclaw has never been reported on th eUgandan side of Mt Elgon, but it might occur there

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