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Peregrine Fund researcher finds alarming drop in numbers of endangered Sokoke Scops Owls in Africa

BOISE, Idaho – 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 organization called icipe.

The population declined 22.5% over a 16-year period, said 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 kilometer than during previous studies. 

"This alarming trend is of major concern for an endangered species," Virani said. "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 specie's habitat requirements. 

So far, a nest of the reclusive owl has not been found, he added.

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 kilometers (162 square miles) 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.

Virani's peer-reviewed study was published in the current issue of Ostrich, the foremost scientific journal for African ornithology.

Photo of Sokoke Scops Owl ©2010 Munir Virani

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Erin Katzner
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