Sao Tome fiscal (Lanius newtoni)

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São Tomé fiscal
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Sao Tome fiscal fact file

Sao Tome fiscal description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyLaniidae
GenusLanius (1)

For the best part of the 20th century the São Tomé fiscal (Lanius newtoni) was thought to be extinct, but in 1990, the continued existence of this long-tailed forest shrike was confirmed after the sighting of a single bird (2). In appearance it is very similar to the much more abundant and Africa-wide common fiscal, Lanius collaris, with a predominately black head, nape, upperparts and tail (2) (3). However, whereas the common fiscal has bold white underparts and a white wingbar (3), the corresponding attributes of the São Tomé fiscal are unmistakeably yellow tinged (2). In common with its continental relative, and indeed all shrikes, it has a hooked bill with a tooth-like point (4).

Also known as
Newton's fiscal, São Tomé fiscal, Sao Tome fiscal shrike, Sao Tomé fiscal shrike, São Tomé fiscal shrike.
French
Pie-grièche de São Tomé.
Size
Length: 20 – 21 cm (2)
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Sao Tome fiscal biology

Given the geographic and temporal elusiveness of the São Tomé fiscal, it is no surprise that very little is known about this species. Nonetheless, shrikes in general are renowned for their aggressive predatory behaviour (4) (6). For instance, a number of shrike species, including the common fiscal, impale their prey on thorns for later consumption. Most species within this family feed on insects but some are known to also take small birds, lizards and rodents (3) (4).

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Sao Tome fiscal range

The São Tomé fiscal is endemic to the island of São Tomé in the Gulf of Guinea, 255 kilometres off the coast of Gabon (2) (5).

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Sao Tome fiscal habitat

All observations of this species have been made in lowland primary forest with very little undergrowth and mostly bare ground (2) (5).

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Sao Tome fiscal status

The São Tomé fiscal is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Critically Endangered

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Sao Tome fiscal threats

Forest clearance began on São Tomé in the late 15th century, when early colonisers made space for the cultivation of sugar cane. In the 1800s the rate of deforestation accelerated dramatically, first with the production of coffee and later with cocoa. At one stage in the early 20th century, São Tomé was the world’s largest producer of cocoa, with an estimated 42 percent of the island being devoted to its production. The crash in the price of cocoa, and the island’s conversion to independence in 1975, put a stop to forest clearance but not before almost all the island’s lowland primary forest had been destroyed (5). The impact of this large scale loss of habitat for the São Tomé fiscal is plain to see, with its population estimated in 2000 to be less than 50 individuals (2). While much of the cultivated land has now reverted back to secondary forest, the São Tomé fiscal appears to be restricted to the tiny remaining areas of lowland primary forest. Fortunately, because these areas are so remote, they are not under immediate threat, but with road development opening up more and more land on the island, this could very easily change in the future. Furthermore, there is high probability that introduced animals such as rats, monkeys, weasels and civets have had a negative impact on nesting birds, including the São Tomé fiscal (2) (5).

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Sao Tome fiscal conservation

With patches of primary forest protected within Obo Natural Park on São Tomé, it is hoped that habitat suitable for the São Tomé fiscal will be preserved for the future. However, the benefit this species derives from this protected area is unclear as its specific ecological requirements are still so poorly understood (2) (7). It is therefore paramount that further research is carried out to develop a greater understanding of this species’ ecology, as well as its population size and dynamics. This information will be invaluable in determining which areas should be prioritised for protection. Unfortunately, as with many developing countries, human and financial resources for conservation are limited and consequently, at this stage, law enforcement is non-existent. Nonetheless, proposals have been made to actively manage and protect these areas, as well as to list the São Tomé fiscal as a protected species under national law. This is something that will become more and more crucial as development begins to encroach on the remnant patches of primary forest favoured by the São Tomé fiscal and many other endemic species (2).

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

For further information on the São Tomé fiscal see:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Primary 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.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2007)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. BirdLife International (November, 2007)
    http://www.birdlife.org
  3. Newman, K. (2004) What's That Bird? A Starter's Guide to Birds of Southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town, South Africa.
  4. Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  5. Peet, N. and Atkinson, P. (1994) Biodiversity and conservation of the birds in São Tomé and Príncipe. Biodiversity and Conservation, 3(9): 851 - 868.
  6. Armstrong, M. (2007) Wildlife and Plants. Marshall Cavendish Corporation, New York.
  7. WWF (November, 2008)
    http://www.worldwildlife.org
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Image credit

São Tomé fiscal  
São Tomé fiscal

© Simon Colenutt

Simon Colenutt
simon@ecosa.co.uk
http://www.ecosa.co.uk

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