Iringa akalat (Sheppardia lowei)

Iringa akalat
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Iringa akalat fact file

Iringa akalat description

GenusSheppardia (1)

A small robin-like bird, the Iringa akalat (Sheppardia lowei) is a largely ground-dwelling species which is endemic to Tanzania. It has plain brown upperparts, with warm olive-brown on the breast and flanks, as well as a yellowish-buff throat and a whitish belly. There is a short, dull, yellowish-olive stripe from the base of the bill to the top of the eye (2) (3). The legs and feet are pale flesh coloured (3)

The Iringa akalat’s song is a slow, rising and falling series of simple, loud, piping notes and slurs, and a whistled ‘wree wree’. The alarm call is a loud ‘tchak’ (2) (3).

Also known as
Iringa ground robin.
Dryocichloides lowei.
Cossyphe d'Iringa.
Length: 14 cm (2)

Iringa akalat biology

The Iringa akalat primarily feeds on insects, which it catches amongst the leaf litter or gleans from tree trunks, low vines or branches. It is often observed around army ant swarms, where it feed on tiny insects that are flushed out by the ants (3) (7). The breeding season of the Iringa akalat begins in early November, following the onset of heavy rains (3).


Iringa akalat range

A Tanzanian endemic, the Iringa akalat is known from only a small number of forests in the Ukaguru Mountains, Udzungwa Mountains and the Southern Highlands (3) (4) (5) (6). It may also occur in the Rubeho Mountains, between the Udzungwa and Ukaguru Mountains (3).


Iringa akalat habitat

The Iringa akalat inhabits montane forest and thickets, at elevations of 1,450 to 2,500 metres (1) (3). A ground-dwelling species (3), the Iriniga akalat is typically found among dense undergrowth and thick vine tangles (2) (5).


Iringa akalat status

The Iringa akalat is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Iringa akalat threats

The main threat to the Iringa akalat is the destruction of its forested habitat. Although the population is currently considered to be relatively secure in the Udzungwa Mountains, the population of this species in the Southern highlands is under much greater pressure from habitat loss and fragmentation, due to severe logging (1) (3).

Agricultural expansion and cultivation is a growing threat to the Iringa akalat throughout its range, with more and more land being converted to crops. This has resulted in the near total clearance of forest patches in some areas (3) (6) (7) (9). Fire is also a significant threat to this species, as each year large areas of the Southern Highlands are disturbed by fires of primarily human origin, causing a shift from forest to grassland (6) (8) (9) (10).

Due to its fairly restricted distribution at high altitudes, the Iringa akalat may potentially be vulnerable to climate change. Climate change predictions for the Eastern Arc region of Africa suggest that rainfall is likely to decrease and temperatures are likely to rise. The biggest impact will be on species that already exist close to the limit of their climatic tolerance, such those living at higher altitudes, which are unable to further shift their distribution to a more favourable climate (10) (11)


Iringa akalat conservation

The Iringa akalat is found in the Udzungwa Mountains National Park and in several Forest Reserves in the Ukaguru Mountains, affording it some level of protection against the major threats of habitat loss and agricultural expansion (1) (3).

Further surveys are required in the Rubeho Mountains, the Mahenge and Imagi forests and the area around Njombe, to determine the presence and population status of this species in these areas. Regular surveys should be carried out to monitor the population trends of the Iringa akalat, and protection measures should be strengthened for protected areas that are under threat (3).

Education and awareness programmes about sustainable forest use should also be developed, which work with villages and local communities to promote the protection of important forest habitats (6).


Find out more

Find out more about the Iringa akalat:



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A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Montane forest
Forest occurring in the montane zone, a zone of cool upland slopes below the tree line dominated by large evergreen trees.


  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2011)
  2. Stevenson, T. and Fanshawe, J. (2004) Birds of East Africa. Christopher Helm Publishers Ltd, London.
  3. BirdLife International - Iringa akalat (May, 2011)
  4. Doggart, N., Leonard, C., Perkin, A., Menegon, M. and Rovero, F. (2008). The Vertebrate Biodiversity and Forest Condition of Udzungwa Mountain Forests in Mufindi District. TFCG Technical Paper 18, DSM, Tanzania.
  5. Fjeldså, J. (1999) The impact of human forest disturbance on the endemic avifauna of the Udzungwa Mountains, Tanzania. Bird Conservation International, 9: 47-62. 
  6. Dinesen, L., Lehmberg, T., Rahner, M.C. and Fjeldså, J. (2001) Conservation priorities for the forests of the Udzungwa Mountaiins, Tanzania, based on primates, duikers and birds. Biological Conservation, 99: 223-236.
  7. Roy, M.S., Sponer, R. and Fjeldså, J. (2001) Molecular systematics and evolutionary history of akalats (genus Sheppardia): A pre-pleistocene radiation in a group of African forest birds. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 18(1): 74-83
  8. WWF Wild World Report - Southern Rift montane forest-grassland mosaic (May, 2011)
  9. BirdLife International - Tanzania (May, 2011)
  10. Lovett, J.C., Marchant, R., Marshall, A.R. and Barber, J. (2007) Tropical Moist Forests. In: Hesler, R. and Harrison, R. (Eds.) Biodiversity Under Threat. Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, UK.
  11. Conservation and Management of the Eastern Arc Mountain Forests (CMEAMF) - Biodiversity Conservation Thematic Strategy (May, 2011)

Image credit

Iringa akalat  
Iringa akalat

© David Moyer, Wildlife Conservation Society

David Moyer


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