Karamoja apalis (Apalis karamojae)

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Karamoja apalis fact file

Karamoja apalis description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyMuscicapidae
GenusApalis (1)

The Karamoja apalis is a globally threatened warbler, which is very poorly known (2). It was first discovered in 1919 in the Karamoja District of north east Uganda, hence its English name. This bird has greyish upperparts, whitish underparts and a black bill. The wings and tail are dark grey, and the tail has white outermost feathers. The inner secondary feathers of the wing are white, forming a narrow stripe (3). There are two subspecies or races; Apalis karamojae karamojae is found in Uganda, while Apalis karamojae stronachi is found in Tanzania. The Tanzanian race has a longer tail and wings than the Ugandan race. In both races, males are darker in colour than females, and females of the Tanzanian subspecies are darker than Ugandan males (3). Juveniles are similar in appearance to adults but have a mainly pink bill and yellow gape, and browner wings. The song is a duet in which each partner produces alternate notes. Together, they produce a series of rapid, varied phrases consisting of between two and five loud, piping notes (4).

French
Apalis de Karamoja.
Size
Length: 12 - 13 cm (2)
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Karamoja apalis biology

In June and July 2003, a study was carried out by the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania to determine the bird’s distribution and abundance in the Wembere Steppe. This project also examined the habitat requirements and potential factors limiting the range of this bird. Prior to this project, very little was known of the ecological needs of the Karamoja apalis (4). The following information is the result of this study.

The Karamoja apalis tends to sing in the first and last few hours of daylight. They sing in pairs, or in family groups consisting of a pair and several juveniles. When singing, they typically occupy the upper foliage of whistling thorn, and adopt an upright stance with drooped wings. The tail is sometimes wagged upwards repeatedly. Whilst foraging, the bird can be difficult to see, as its plumage blends in well with the thorn trees in which it lives. They feed mainly at heights of 1.0 to 2.5 metres in whistling thorn, taking invertebrates from leaves, thorns and galls. Whilst foraging, birds were occasionally observed spreading their tail and wagging it sideways- perhaps to flush out insects or to maintain their balance (4).

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Karamoja apalis range

The Ugandan subspecies A. k. karamojae is found atfour sites in north-eastern Uganda (2). The Tanzanian subspecies A. k. stronachi is found in Tanzania at five sites, including Serengeti National Park and Maswa Game Reserve. One of its main strongholds in Tanzania is the Wembere Steppe, which is considered to be the most threatened unprotected Important Bird Area in the country (4).

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Karamoja apalis habitat

The Karamoja apalis appears to be almost entirely restricted to acacia thorn scrub (2). In Tanzania, it is particularly associated with whistling thorn (Acacia drepanolobium), which in turn is associated with black cotton soils and seasonally flooded lands (2) (4).

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Karamoja apalis status

The Karamoja apalis is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable

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Karamoja apalis threats

The acacia scrub habitat of this species in the Wembere Steppe, which is unprotected, has been reduced and fragmented by livestock farming. Pressures on whistling thorn in the Wembere Steppe include clearance for cultivation, pruning for firewood, browsing by goats and trampling by cattle. Grass fires may also damage thorn trees. These pressures on the habitat of the Karamoja apalis are likely to increase as the populations of humans and their livestock grow (4).

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Karamoja apalis conservation

Karamoja apalis occurs in Serengeti National Park and adjoining protected areas in Tanzania, and in Kidepo National Park, Uganda. Little is known of its status in these protected areas, however, and there have been no conservation programmes targeted at the species (2) (4). Surveys of the species in Uganda are difficult due to security problems in the bird’s range (2). The study carried out in 2003 found that the range of Karamoja apalis in the Wembere Steppe was less extensive than had previously been thought. Possible options for safeguarding the apalis population in the steppe include the provision of management incentives, aimed at encouraging farmers to maintain patches of whistling thorn. However, resource constraints in Tanzania are such that a sufficiently large-scale incentive scheme is unlikely to prove viable in the long-term. Further research on the species is required, in particular, to determine its current status in the protected areas of northern Tanzania, including Serengeti National Park (4).

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

For more information on the Karamoja apalis see:

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Authentication

Information supplied and authenticated by Dr Philip Shaw of Scottish Natural Heritage. 
http://www.snh.org.uk/

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Glossary

Invertebrates
Animals with no backbone.
Subspecies
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2008)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. BirdLife International (May, 2008)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=7420&m=0
  3. Stuart, S.N. and Collar, N.J. (1985) Subspeciation in the Karamoja Apalis Apalis karamojae. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club, 105(3): 86 - 89.
  4. Shaw, P., Mungaya, E., Mbilinyi, N. and Mbilinyi, M. (2004) The status and habitat of Karamoja Apalis Apalis karamojae in the Wembere Steppe, Sukumaland, Tanzania, 2003, Unpublished report. Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania, Dar es Salaam.
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Image credit

Karamoja apalis in tree  
Karamoja apalis in tree

© Charles Davies

Charles Davies
daviesc1973@hotmail.com

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