1 Tahrcountry Musings: Sidamo Lark on the Way to Oblivion?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Sidamo Lark on the Way to Oblivion?

The Ethiopiaian Sidamo Lark (Heteromirafra sidamoensis), one of the most ancient types of larks, is in parlous state. Unless efforts are made on a war footing to conserve the species it will have the dubious distinction of being the first recorded bird extinction on the continent. The forebodings are the outcome of a survey of the bird's habitat done by zoologist Claire Spottiswoode of the University of Cambridge. The associates for the study were the Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society, Birdlife International and the University of East Anglia. The study found that Sidamo lark is now restricted to a single patch of grassland of 35 square kilometres. The survey also revealed that a maximum of 358 Sidamo Larks remain. The lower estimate is just 90.

Scientists discovered Sidamo Lark only in 1968. The bird was only seen once during the course of last 25 years.

The main reason attributed for the sorry state of affairs is the depredation of highland savannah. The savannah used to be maintained by fire and by the grazing of large herbivores. Borana pastoralists also played a part in the past. They used to walk their cattle across the plain in the course of their migration between different wet and dry season grasslands. The situation is completely changed now. The numbers of Wild animals have dipped and the present numbers is too low to stop shrubs from invading the grasslands. The pastoralists have abandoned their old time tested ways. The new fad is intensively reared livestock and agriculture, which impacts the birds quite badly.

Factors outside Ethiopia also contribute to the woes of the bird. The conflict in neighbouring Somalia is driving armed nomads to cross the border and move into the region to graze their cattle. Increasing droughts and climate change also are threats that loom over the survival of the bird.

The researchers have advocated control of grazing by domestic cattle. They have also advocated that the shrubs that have sprouted in the grassland should be removed. A careful watch over expansion of agriculture in to the habitat of the critically endangered bird has also been advocated.

Based on the researchers recommendations Lark is being uplisted to Critically Endangered – the highest level of threat – in the 2009 Red List of birds. The new list will be released on May 14th.

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