I love to hike and I even enjoy the occasional bush-whack. So it was with some excitement that my student Paul Muriithi asked me to accompany him for five days on Mt Kenya to search for the Abyssinian owl (aka the African long-eared owl). Though a pair can be observed in Bale Mountains, Ethiopia, the last confirmed Kenyan record of this species was in 1961. But how do you begin searching for an owl whose life history reads like an exposé of an FBI undercover operation: ‘few data’, ‘little information’, ‘nothing known’. That is where Paul first started in 2012, accompanied only by his tenacity and the occasional rampaging buffalo. Three years on, after losing three pairs of binoculars to buffaloes and bush-whacks, the search for this elusive owl has nearly been concluded.
We began our hike in the rain at 8100 ft (2470 m).
Our destination the first night was camping at the Met Station where we dozed and froze to the screams of tree hyraxes and snorting buffaloes.
Our packs were heavy, but the views were fantastic. The Aberdare Mountains are in the background.
We continued up to 12600 ft (3840 m) searching for pellets along the way.
Unfortunately, the owls managed to escape our camera lenses this time, so we were unable to positively confirm their identity, this time. The quest continues to document this extremely elusive and little known owl.Abyssinian Owl in Ethiopia. Photo by M. Piazzi
With a small distribution, very few recent observations, and threats such as habitat destruction associated with climate change, this owl has a very uncertain future. Our immediate aim is to attract financial support in order to assess its population size in Ethiopia, Kenya and the Ruwenzori Mountains along the DR Congo-Uganda border. We suspect this owl should be listed on the IUCN Red List as Threatened, if not Endangered, which will help us to attract funding to ensure its long-term survival.
Paul Muriithi is studying Wildlife Management at the Kenya Wildlife Service Training Institute sponsored by The Peregrine Fund. The Peregrine Fund, T. Stevenson and J. Fanshawe sponsor Paul’s work on the Abyssinian Owl.