Annotated list of large birds extirpated from Laikipia County, Kenya, and some of conservation concern
Thomas M. Butynski & Yvonne A. de Jong, Lolldaiga Hills Research Programme
Laikipia County (ca. 9,700 km²), central Kenya, comprises a highly diverse landscape of grassland, bushland, woodland, dry forest, moist forest, riverine forest, wetland, and farmland. Mean annual rainfall ranges from 40 cm in the north to 120 cm in the southeast and southwest. Although mean annual rainfall is >80 cm in the southeast and southwest, about 75% of Laikipia County (hereafter, ‘Laikipia’) is semi-arid. The altitudinal range is 1,260–2,400 m above sea level. In 2013, there were about 43 people/km² and the total population was about 400,000 people. Much of Laikipia’s natural habitat has been degraded, fragmented, or lost as a result of over-grazing and over-browsing by livestock, cutting of trees, conversion to farmland, and over-harvesting of water. Detailed descriptions of the environments of Laikipia, and the threats to these environments, are presented in Georgiadis (2011) and Butynski and De Jong (2014, 2015). In the case of vultures, feeding on poisoned mammal carcasses has probably been the main cause of declines and extirpations (Ogada et al. 2016). Special reference is give here to Lolldaiga Hills Ranch (200 km²) in east Laikipia.
Here we list some of the resident species of large bird (i.e., Black-bellied Bustard Lissotis melanogaster and larger) that have (1) either been extirpated from Laikipia or (2) are known to be, or appear to be, in decline in Laikipia and/or are rare in Laikipia. Except for the extirpated species, this list is not meant to be complete. Not included here are birds that are migrants, vagrants, and/or ‘naturally rare’ because Laikipia is extralimital (e.g., Black Heron Egretta ardesiaca, African Swallow-tailed Kite Chelictinia riocourii, White-winged Black Tern Chlidonias leucopterus).
The taxonomy and order of listing applied here for bird species is that of the East African Natural History Society (Bird Committee 2009). In the below list, the current IUCN Red List global ‘degree of threat’ status (IUCN 2018) is presented in parentheses after the Latin name.
TMB has lived and undertaken research in Laikipia for 18 years, and YDJ for 12 years. The information presented here is based upon their own observations, on a search of the literature, and on communications with naturalists, researchers, and ranchers.
This is the first in a series of notes that will appear in this newsletter on Laikipia’s extirpated, most threatened, and rarest birds and mammals.
Extirpated from Laikipia
Lammergeier Gypaetus barbatus (Near Threatened): Always rare in Kenya (Lewis & Pomeroy 1989). Present on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch prior to 1930s where a pair nested on Engwake Hill into the 1950s (Robert Wells, pers. comm.). An egg removed from this nest “some years” prior to 1952 is in the National Museums of Kenya (Hook 1952; Robert Wells, pers. comm.). Last observed on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch ca. 1960 (Robert Wells, pers. comm.). The last known record for Laikipia is early 1980s (Rose Dyer, pers. comm.; Simon Thomsett, pers. comm.). Extirpated.
White-headed Vulture Trigonoceps occipitalis (Critically Endangered): One on Sosian Ranch in 2007 (Steve Carey, pers. comm.) and one on El Karama Ranch in 2014 (Lavinia Grant, pers. comm.). These are the last known records for Laikipia. Extirpated, although vagrants expected.
Southern Ground Hornbill Bucorvus leadbeateri (Vulnerable): Breeding pair on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch as of late 1990s. Last observed on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch ca. 2007 (Robert Wells, pers. comm.). This is the last known record for Laikipia. Extirpated.
In decline and/or uncommon or rare in Laikipia
The species listed here are uncommon or rare in Laikipia and their numbers are believed to be in decline (T. Butynski & Y. de Jong, pers. obs.). Here, ‘uncommon’ is defined as unlikely to be encountered in a day of birding in Laikipia except, perhaps, at a few sites. ‘Rare’ is defined as unlikely to be encountered during a week of birding in Laikipia, being absent from very large areas and nowhere common. All of these species require more study to determine their distribution, abundance, threats, and conservation status in Laikipia.
Ostrich Struthio camelus (Least Concern): Two subspecies (considered full species by IUCN and others) occur in Laikipia; Common Ostrich S. c. massaicus (Least Concern) and Somali Ostrich S. c. molybdophanes (Vulnerable). As far as we are aware, no baseline exists against which to assess change in population size, but both appear to be in decline. It is important to maintain both taxa in Laikipia as this may be their only remaining area of sympatry. Uncommon.
Saddle-billed Stork Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis (Least Concern): Present on Ol Pejeta Ranch. Rare.
Secretarybird Sagittarius serpentarius (Vulnerable): At least three breeding pairs on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch but absent from much of Laikipia. Uncommon.
Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus (Endangered): Common on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch 1976-1980 and at Embori (near Timau) ca. 1981-1984. Loss perhaps related to quelea spraying in 1984 (Simon Thomsett, pers. comm.). Except for vagrants, probably extirpated from Laikipia by 2000 (Darcy Ogada, pers. comm.; Simon Thomsett, pers. comm.). One on Borana Ranch in 2009 (Chris Thouless, pers. comm.). One on Mpala Ranch in 2010 (Margaret Kinnaird, pers. comm.). One adult in 2015 (Tom Butynski, pers. obs.) and one immature in 2018 (Per Aronsson, pers. comm.) on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch. These birds may be coming from Ololokwe. Probably no longer resident in Laikipia but vagrants continue to occur. Rare.
Hooded Vulture Necrosyrtes monachus (Critically Endangered): Up to four birds at large carcasses on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch. Readily observed at Mount Kenya Safari Club where up to 18 birds roost in the river valley (Peter Hetz, pers. comm.) Not known to breed in Laikipia at this time. Uncommon.
White-backed Vulture Gyps africanus (Critically Endangered): Sometimes >80 birds at large carcasses on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch and Borana Ranch. At least two pairs breeding in Fever Trees Acacia xanthophloea, Sinyai Lugga, Lolldaiga Hills Ranch, until 2014. Not known to breed in Laikipia at this time. Uncommon.
Rüppell’s Vulture Gyps rueppellii (Critically Endangered): Sometimes >40 birds at large carcasses on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch and Borana Ranch. Not known to breed in Laikipia at this time. Uncommon.
Lappet-faced Vulture Torgos tracheliotos
(Endangered): Up to four birds at large carcasses on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch and Borana Ranch. Not known to breed in Laikipia at this time. Uncommon.
Verreaux’s Eagle Aquila vereauxii (Least Concern): At least two breeding pairs on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch, and a breeding pair each on Suyian Ranch and on Mt. Mukenya, Mpala Ranch (Steve Carey, pers. comm.). Rare. For additional information and images of Verreaux’s Eagles nesting on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch, visit: http://www.lolldaiga.com/verreauxs-eagles-nesting-in-lolldaiga-hills/
Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus (Vulnerable): At least one breeding pair on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch. Uncommon.
Crowned Eagle Stephanoaetus coronatus (Near Threatened): At least one breeding pair on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch, Kenya. Rare.
Denham’s Bustard Neotis denhami (Least Concern): Kenya’s most threatened bustard (Lewis & Pomeroy 1989) with <300 individuals in 1996 (Zimmerman et al. 1996). Laikipia Plateau is now Kenya’s stronghold for this species (Zimmerman et al. 1996). One on Solio Ranch in November 1988 (Brian Finch, pers. comm.). One on Ol Ari Nyiro Ranch in ca. 2000 (Anne Powys, pers. comm.). Occasionally observed on Bogani ya Dume Plains, Ol Ari Nyiro Ranch, during 2000–2005 (Douglas Nagi, pers. comm.). Two in March 1997 near Solio Ranch at Kiganjo, Nyeri County, close to the southeast border with Laikipia (Brian Finch, pers. comm.). Rare.
Black-bellied Bustard Lissotis melanogaster (Least Concern): Unexpectedly rare in Laikipia. Perhaps Laikipia is too arid (Lewis & Pomeroy 1989) for this bustard to be common. Rare.
Hartlaub’s Bustard Lissotis hartlaubii (Least Concern): Only one record for Lolldaiga Hills Ranch since 2012. Two on Mpala Ranch and one on Jessel Ranch in August 2006 (Bradley Bergstrom, pers. comm.). Perhaps Laikipia is too high (Lewis & Pomeroy 1989) for this bustard to be common.. Rare.
Here is a comment on this species by Don Turner (pers. comm.), “Hartlaub’s is commonly mistaken for the Black-bellied Bustard, with positive identification often only possible when males are observed at close range. Like Black-bellied it too is subject to local movements, and as many areas dry out following long, protracted dry periods, Black-bellied will generally withdraw to moister riparian grasslands, only to be replaced in the dry and often over-grazed areas by Hartlaub’s, until the onset of good rains when Black-bellied will return to breed in the freshly greened
grasslands, with Hartlaub’s then retreating to drier areas. In Meru NP once the rains start, Black-bellied becomes much more numerous as Hartlaub’s retreats to the dry areas of the park, then as the greener grasslands (closer to the main gate) dry out, numbers of Black-bellied decreases and numbers of Hartlaub’s increases. This may well happen at Lolldaiga.”
Grey Crowned Crane Balearica regulorum (Endangered): At least three breeding pairs on Lolldaiga Hills Ranch. Uncommon.
African Finfoot Podica senegalensis (Least Concern): At least a few present at this time on the Timau River, Lolldaiga Hills Ranch. Observed on the Ewaso N’yiro River within the past decade at Tumaren Ranch (James Christian, pers. comm.), Mpala Ranch (Todd Palmer, pers. comm.; Bradley Bergstrom, pers. comm.), and Soita Nyiro Conservancy (Tom Butynski, pers. obs.). Encountered in recent years on the Ewaso Narok River at Sosian Ranch, as well as on the Naro Moru River (Brian Finch, pers. comm.). Rare.
Grass Owl Tyto capensis (Least Concern): One on Mpala Ranch in June 2008 (Bradley Bergstrom, pers. comm.). One in February 2013 and one in August 2015 on Sosian Ranch (Nigel Hunter, pers. comm.). Nesting at Mweiga, Nyeri County, near the south border of Laikipia (Brian Finch, pers. comm.). No other known recent records. Rare.
All corrections or additions to the information presented above are most welcome, as are the names of sites in Laikipia were any of the above-listed species were observed (together with the month and year) (firstname.lastname@example.org). We plan to regularly up-date the information available for the above-listed 20 species and to present that information in this newsletter.
We thank the following people for their photographs and/or unpublished information: Per Aronsson, Bradley Bergstrom, Steve Carry, James Christian, Rose Dyer, Brian Finch, Lavinia Grant, Peter Hetz, Nigel Hunter, Margaret Kinnaird, Douglas Nagi, Darcy Ogada, Todd Palmer, Anne Powys, Simon Thomsett, Chris Thouless, Don Turner, Heather Wall, and Robert Wells.
Bird Committee. 2009. Checklist of the Birds of Kenya, Fourth edition. Nature Kenya/East Africa Natural History Society, Nairobi. Butynski, T. M. & De Jong, Y. A. 2014. Primate conservation in the rangeland agroecosystem of Laikipia County, central Kenya. Primate Conservation 28: 117–128. Website: http://www.wildsolutions.nl/primate-conservation-in-the-rangeland-agroecosystem-of-laikipia-county-central-kenya/. Butynski, T. M. & De Jong, Y. A. 2015. Laikipia County Facts: Geography, Environment, and Biodiversity. Unpublished document for Laikipia Wildlife Forum & Lolldaiga Hills Ranch Wildlife Research Programme. Nanyuki, Kenya. Website: http://www.lolldaiga.com/laikipia-county-geography-environment-and-biodiversity/. Georgiadis, N. J. (ed.). 2011. Conserving wildlife in African landscapes: Kenya’s Ewaso Ecosystem. Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology. No. 632. Hook, R. 1952. The lammergeier in eastern Africa. Journal of the East Africa Natural History Society. 21: 66-67. Website: https://archive.org/details/cbarchive_101684_thelammergeierineasternafrica1952. IUCN. 2018. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018. Website: www.iucnredlist.org. Lewis, A. & Pomeroy, D. 1989. A Bird Atlas of Kenya. Balkema, Rotterdam. Ogada, D. et al. 2016. Another continental vulture crisis Africa’s vultures collapsing toward extinction. Conservation Letters 9(2): 89–97. Zimmerman, D. A., Turner, D. A. & Pearson, D. J. 1996. Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania. Friedman, Halfway House, South Africa.
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