Thyolo alethe (Alethe choloensis)

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Thyolo alethe fact file

Thyolo alethe description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyTurdidae
GenusAlethe (1)

A little-known bird of Africa’s disappearing montane evergreen forests, the Thyolo alethe, named after a town in its range, is a small thrush-like bird with well defined plumage. The warm rusty upperparts are clearly demarcated from the white underparts, although the plumage on the sides of the face and neck may be washed grey (3). The tail is dark brown, except for the outer tail feathers which have white tips (4), and the long legs and toes are flesh-coloured (3). The Thyolo alethe has a repertoire of calls (2), including a soft trrrp alarm call, and its song is soft and melodic (3).

Also known as
Cholo alethe.
Synonyms
Pseudalethe choloensis.
French
Alèthe du Mont Cholo.
Size
Length: 17 – 19 cm (2)
Weight
41 g (2)
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Thyolo alethe biology

Typically observed on or near the forest floor, the Thyolo alethe is most often seen alone, although small flocks of up to five individuals have also been found (4). It hops around in the leaf-litter (3), foraging amongst dead leaves to feed on insects, including army ants, beetles and larvae (2). It may also pluck insects from tree trunks and leaves whilst in flight, and will follow a swarm of army ants to take advantage of the insects that are disturbed by this march. Up to four or five Thyolo alethes may feed on the abundance of prey that is revealed by a single swarm of ants (2).

Only a single nest of this species has been found: green moss shaped into a cup and lined with dry tendrils. This nest was situated in the fork of a tree, four metres off the ground, and held three eggs within it (2). It is thought that the Thyolo alethe lays its eggs between September and January (3).

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Thyolo alethe range

The Thyolo alethe occurs in just a few small areas of forest in south-eastern Malawi and an adjacent area of Mozambique (3).

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Thyolo alethe habitat

This elusive bird inhabits a dwindling habitat, the evergreen forests of southern Africa (4). It has been recorded between 700 and 2,000 metres above sea level (2), tending to occur at altitudes at the lower part of this range during the non-breeding season (3). The density of Thyolo alethes within this habitat has been shown to be closely tied to the presence of ant nests (3).

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Thyolo alethe status

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

IUCN Red List species status – Endangered

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Thyolo alethe threats

The small areas of forest inhabited by the Thyolo alethe are being impacted by a number of human activities, leaving this bird in a precarious situation. Deforestation, fires, and clearance for cultivation have all taken their toll on this bird’s habitat; between the 1970s and 1990s at least three of the forest patches in which the Thyolo alethe occurred were completely cleared (3).

There are even more recent examples of the Thyolo alethe’s habitat being devastated by human activities. Between 1999 and 2003, the Thyolo Forest Reserve in Malawi was cleared entirely for subsistence agriculture, leaving just a small fragment of forest remaining on private land (3). Selective logging and the encroachment of settlements have reduced forest on Mount Namuli in Mozambique, and the construction of a road through the area is expected to lead to further forest exploitation. Similar stories repeated throughout this bird’s range mean that soon, very little habitat will remain for the Thyolo alethe (3).

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Thyolo alethe conservation

Several areas in Malawi in which the Thyolo alethe occurs are considered Forest Reserves, but as the clearance of the Thyolo Forest Reserve demonstrates, this title often provides little protection in reality (3). One area in which this may not be true is the Mulanje Mountain Forest Reserve. This reserve, the stronghold of the population in Malawi, is the focus of a programme that provides long-term support for research and conservation measures (3) (5). The declining forest of Mount Namuli is currently unprotected, although in 2008, efforts were underway to protect some of this habitat (3). It is clear that the focus of conservation measures for this Endangered bird should be the preservation of the remaining fragments of evergreen forest. The development of alternate fuel sources and improved agricultural practices are just two of the ways in which this could be achieved (3).

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

For further information on the Thyolo alethe 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

Larvae
Stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2007)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (2005) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 10: Cuckoo-Shrikes to Thrushes. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. BirdLife International (November, 2008)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/sites/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=6456&m=0
  4. Hildyard, A. (2001) Endangered Wildlife and Plants of the World. Marshall Cavendish, New York.
  5. African Conservation Foundation (November, 2008)
    http://www.africanconservation.org/component/option,com_mtree/task,recommend/link_id,462/Itemid,3/
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Image credit

Thyolo alethe head detail  
Thyolo alethe head detail

© Claire Spottiswoode

Claire Spottiswoode
Department of Zoology University of Cambridge Downing Street
Cambridge
CB2 3EJ
UK
Tel: Tel: +44 1223 334 466
cns26@cam.ac.uk
http://www.zoo.cam.ac.uk/zoostaff/bbe/Spottiswoode/Claire1.htm

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