Saving the Critically Endangered Taita Apalis in Southeastern Kenya
Project location: KENYA, Taita Hills
Project start date: February 2016 - Project end date: February 2018
Project number: 2016-007
Beneficiary: Rainforest Trust
Punctuating the semi-arid plains of southeastern Kenya, the Taita Hills hold exceptional concentrations of endemic species due to their unique location and climatic conditions. Despite their clear biological value, forests in the area have been devastated by decades of deforestation. With only two percent of its original vegetation remaining, negative impacts on the Taita Hills and its wildlife have been extreme. Among the most threatened of those species is the Taita Apalis, which ranks as one of the most endangered birds in the world. Almost 98% of the original forest in the Taita Hills has been destroyed over the course of the last 200 years. This destructive pattern of habitat loss and fragmentation poses serious and growing threats to the survival of wildlife in the Taita Hills. Forests surrounding the proposed reserve are being felled by local farmers forced up the slopes by the lack of available space at lower elevations. If destructive trends continue unabated, the Taita Hills' last forests may soon be converted into corn fields. To survive, the critically endangered Taita Apalis needs urgent protection, and Rainforest Trust is working with a local partner in Kenya to safeguard 35 acres of critical habitat for the species through the creation of the Taita Apalis Forest Reserve.
The Nando and Elsa Peretti Foundation has awarded a grant for this project.
The new reserve will not only serve as a stronghold for the bird, but will protect a collection of other rare and endemic species in addition. Importantly, its establishment will lay the foundation for the long-term process of protecting the Taita Hills' fragile ecosystem on a landscape level. The small, passerine Taita Apalis has been classified as a priority species by the Alliance for Zero Extinction and is considered Critically Endangered by the IUCN due to its extremely small range, and continuing decline of habitat and population size. The need for its protection is imperative as populations of the species have declined by more than 50 percent in the last 14 years and the global population is down to just 160 birds. By creating the Taita Apalis Forest Reserve, Rainforest Trust and its local partner will directly support 15 percent of the bird's global population, and complementary restoration plans, once complete, will aid another ten percent of the population. In addition to benefiting the Taita Apalis, forests in the Taita Hills provide habitat for a variety of other bird species, such as the Endangered Taita White-eye, as well as an impressive diversity of threatened flora, including the presence of three vulnerable trees and shrubs native to these hills that will all be protected by the newly proposed reserve. In the long-term, Rainforest Trust and and its local partner in Kenya believe that creating the Taita Apalis Forest Reserve will serve as a first step towards wider landscape level restoration and protection efforts in the Taita Hills and serve as a model for future conservation efforts in Africa's Eastern Arc Mountains.