Sokoke scops-owl (Otus ireneae)

French: Petit-duc d'Irène
Spanish: Autillo de Sokoke
GenusOtus (1)
SizeLength: 15 – 18 cm (2)
Weight45 – 50 g (2)

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List 2006 (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

This tiny owl, discovered as late as 1965 in the Arabuko-Sokoke forest in Kenya, occurs in three different morphs, or forms; dark brown, grey-brown or rufous plumage, heavily barred, streaked and spotted. The face is light rufous to brown and buff, with whitish or buffy eyebrows. The large, yellow eyes provide excellent eyesight for hunting at night. The Sokoke scops-owl has a soft too-too-too call, that is repeated around ten times a minute, and is most frequently heard just a couple of hours before dawn or after dusk (2).

Occurs in the Arabuku-Sokoke forest in south east Kenya, and in the East Usambara Mountains of north east Tanzania (2).

The Sokoke scops-owl inhabits tropical forest, generally dominated by the tree species Cynometra and Brachylaena. In Arabuka-Sokoke it occurs from the lowlands up to 70 meters; in the Usambara Mountains it has been found between 200 and 400 meters (2).

Like most other owls, the Sokoke scops-owl is nocturnal, and is also sometimes active around dawn and dusk (2). The majority of the Sokoke scops-owl’s diet consists of insects, such as beetles and crickets, and it often sits on a perch, three or four meters off the ground, and then drops from a stationary position down onto its prey (2) (4). During the day it roosts in thickets, with its body compressed, ears erect and eyes drawn closed to slits (4). There is nothing known about the breeding behaviour of this owl, but it is thought that it may nest in natural cavities in large or old Brachylaena trees (2).

The Arabuko-Sokoke forest has been overexploited during recent years by commercial logging. Commercial harvesting has not been regulated and, coupled with rampant, illegal exploitation, has contributed to forest degradation and loss of biodiversity (5). Within the Sokoke scops-owl’s Tanzanian range, the mountains support a high human population density, which places enormous pressure on the land for subsistence agriculture. In the past, mechanical harvesting of timber caused much environmental damage, but that has now stopped and today most timber is extracted using pit-sawing techniques, where professional sawyers cut trees into planks on site, and walk out the forest with sawn timber. Whilst this is much less damaging, almost all of this harvesting is illegal. In addition, firewood harvesting is extensive throughout the mountains, and is particularly hard to regulate (6). The harvesting of particular tree species is likely to have a great impact on the Sokoke scops-owl as Brachylaena trees provide essential nesting sites, and Cynometra trees are important areas for roosting and foraging (4).

The Sokoke scops-owl is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which means that any trade in this species should be carefully regulated (3). It has been the focus of a number of surveys (4) (7), and there are also measures in place in both parts of its range to conserve critical habitat. The Arabuko-Sokoke forest was established as a reserve in 1943, and contains two nature reserves within it (8). The Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Management Team has developed a Strategic Forest Management Plan, which aims to have an intact and fully functioning forest ecosystem with no reduction in the existing forest area by 2027 (5). In the East Usambaras, the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group has been promoting conservation since 1993. The project has assisted villagers to plant over one million trees, establish three village forest reserves, and have a greater understanding of forest conservation (9).

For further information on conservation in the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest see:

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  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2011)