Gabela akalat (Sheppardia gabela)

Gabela akalat on a branch
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Gabela akalat fact file

Gabela akalat description

GenusSheppardia (1)

Akalats are small, rather short-tailed robins (3). This akalat, named after the town near which it was discovered, has drab brown plumage, with an indistinct brown breast band, and a contrasting whitish throat and pale belly (2) (3). It has long legs, an upright stance, and a robin-like walk (3). It is thought that the Gabela akalat calls with a soft, deep and mournful ‘tseeo tseeo tseeo tseeo(4).

Akalat de Gabela.
Length: 13 cm (2)

Gabela akalat biology

The shy Gabela akalat is thought to feed solely on insects, gleaning them from leaves and branches in the forest undergrowth. Almost nothing is known about the breeding biology of the Gabela akalat except birds in a breeding condition have been found in September. This bird often remains motionless for long periods (2).


Gabela akalat range

Endemic to Angola (3), the Gabela akalat is known from only a few patches of forest within 40 kilometres of the town of Gabela, in western Angola (2).


Gabela akalat habitat

The Gabela akalat inhabits the dense understorey of primary and secondary forest. It has also been observed in scrub at the edges of coffee plantations, but is thought to be dependent on more intact forest (2).


Gabela akalat status

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Endangered


Gabela akalat threats

Prior to 1974, large areas of forest in Angola were lost to the establishment of coffee plantations, but with the start of the civil war, many of the plantations around the Gabela district were abandoned and the forest understorey recovered significantly. With the cessation of hostilities in 2002, pressure on the forest will again increase as demand for agricultural land grows (4). A growth in subsistence agriculture now poses the greatest threat to the Gabela akalat and other forest-dwelling birds of the region (2) (4). In some areas, 20 to 70 percent of canopy trees and all the undergrowth in valley bottoms are being cleared to plant bananas and sweet potatoes. In other areas, up to 95 percent of the forest canopy is being removed to plant cassava and maize (2). In addition, the re-establishment of coffee plantations would also have serious impacts on the Gabela akalat, particularly if varieties that require shade (which thrive beneath the canopy of forests) were replaced by sun-tolerant varieties (which results in the destruction of the forest canopy) (4).


Gabela akalat conservation

For the duration of the protracted civil war, very little scientific research was undertaken in Angola. Since the war was formally ended in 2002, surveys to determine the Gabela akalat’s population size and distribution could now be carried out (2). Ascertaining the call of this shy bird would be extremely useful in any future surveys that are undertaken; in 2004 a group of scientists first recorded a call emanating from the location of a Gabela akalat, but more work is needed to confirm its repertoire (4). The bird conservation organisation BirdLife International also recommends that the forest at Gabela should be designated as a protected area (2).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

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A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Relating to forest, forest that has remained undisturbed for a long time and has reached a mature condition.
Secondary forest
Forest that has re-grown after a major disturbance, such as fire or timber harvest, but has not yet reached the mature state of primary forest.


  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2007)
  2. BirdLife International (March, 2008)
  3. Sinclair, I. and Ryan, P. (2003) Birds of Africa: South of the Sahara. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  4. Ryan, P.G., Sinclair, I., Cohen, C., Mills, M.S.L., Spottiswoode, C.N. and Cassidy, R. (2004) The conservation status and vocalizations of threatened birds from the scarp forests of the Western Angola Endemic Bird Area. Bird Conservation International, 14: 247 - 260.

Image credit

Gabela akalat on a branch  
Gabela akalat on a branch

© Fabio Olmos

Fabio Olmos


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