Elusive Abyssinian Owl Almost Confirmed on Mount Kenya Last Seen Fifty Years Ago

The team from L-R: Paul Muriithi, Darcy Ogada, Peter Wairasho and Ken Wagura. Photo B. Mugambi

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).

The team from L-R: Paul Muriithi, Darcy Ogada, Peter Wairasho and Ken Wagura. Photo B. Mugambi
Signboard at 10,000 ft on Mt Kenya. Photo by D. Ogada

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.

Peter and Paul hiking to our base camp.  Photo by D. Ogada
Peter and Paul hiking to our base camp. Photo by D. Ogada

Our packs were heavy, but the views were fantastic. The Aberdare Mountains are in the background.

Darcy and Paul collecting pellets. Photo by P. Wairasho.
Darcy and Paul collecting pellets. Photo by P. Wairasho.

We continued up to 12600 ft (3840 m) searching for pellets along the way.

Darcy looking for signs of the Abyssinian Owl. Photo by P. Wairasho.
Darcy looking for signs of the Abyssinian Owl. —> Read More

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