Karamoja Apalis Apalis karamojae


Justification of Red List category
This species qualifies as Vulnerable because the rate of habitat loss at one of its two main sites in Tanzania appears to be high as its thorn-scrub habitat is being severely fragmented by encroaching cultivation and livestock farming, and there are indications that following an earlier expansion the range at the other main Tanzanian site may be undergoing a contraction; as the species is highly habitat-specific, its population is projected to decline rapidly in the near future.

Population justification
Surveys of the Wembere Steppe and Serengeti ecosystem in Tanzania suggest a total population in the range 300-1,500 birds (P. Shaw in litt. 2007). No estimates are available for the Ugandan population. The preliminary estimate of 10,000-19,999 individuals is retained pending further information. This equates to 6,667-13,333 mature individuals, rounded here to 6,000-15,000 mature individuals.

Trend justification
The species's population increased substantially in the Serengeti ecosystem during the 1990s and 2000s, but appears to have declined at its other main Tanzanian site, the Wembere Steppe (P. Shaw in litt. 2007), owing to clearance and degradation of its habitat. Pressures in the Wembere Steppe are expected to intensify in future as human and livestock populations increase (Shaw et al. 2004), and the species may now also be declining in the Serengeti (Shaw 2009), thus a rapid future decline is precautionarily predicted.

Distribution and population

Apalis karamojae occurs mainly in north-east Uganda and northern Tanzania. An individual was recorded in southern Kenya in August 2004, north of the Masai Mara, between Narok and Sekenani (Boy 2004, Shaw 2007), 105 km north-east of the nearest known Tanzanian location. Up to two pairs have since been recorded several times at the same site (P. Shaw in litt. 2005, 2006, 2007, Shaw 2007). In Uganda, the nominate subspecies (Stuart and Collar 1986) is known from: Kanatorok (only one bird was seen during survey work in 1998 [Rossouw 2001]), Mt Moroto, Mt Kamalinga (Mt Napak), and Mt Kadam (Urban et al. 1997). In 2015 there was a sighting of one bird c.25km north of Mbale (the habitat is quite extensive and so they may be more common than this single sighting [D. Pomeroy in litt. to P. Shaw 2016]). It could not be found at a further known site, Napianyenya, in August 1996 (H. J. Rainey verbally 1999, Rainey undated). During the 1960s the subspecies stronachi (Stuart and Collar 1986) was known from at least four sites in Tanzania, all of them in, or near to, the Wembere Steppe: at Ngongoro, Itumba, Ndala, and between Nzega and Igunga. A survey in 2003 showed that the species's range in and adjacent to the Wembere Steppe was less extensive than had been assumed, with records spanning an area of 102 km north-south by 53 km east-west (Shaw and Mungaya 2006). Since 1993 (and possibly as early as 1983) the species has also been recorded in the Serengeti ecosystem, initially near to Ndutu (Urban et al. 1997), Moru Kopjes and the edge of Maswa Game Reserve (D. C. Moyer in litt. 1999). Since 2000 the species became increasingly widespread in the Western Corridor of Serengeti National Park, which now appears to be its main Tanzanian stronghold (Shaw 2007). Records from the Serengeti during 1993-2007 spanned 123 km north-south by 123 km east-west (Shaw 2007), but there are indications that the range there may now have started to decline following recent reductions in the density and survival of its preferred Acacia woodland in the northern Serengeti (Shaw 2009). There is also a single record from Tarangire National Park (P. Shaw in litt. 2007)


In Tanzania the species is encountered almost exclusively in Acacia drepanolobium and A. seyal, 50% of individuals in the Wembere Steppe being found in the tallest, densest stands of A. drepanolobium, which accounted for less than 6% of the study area (Shaw et al. 2004, Shaw and Mungaya 2006). Even in extensive patches of A. drepanolobium the population density was low: c.3-7 pairs km-2 (Shaw and Mungaya 2006). Suitable habitat usually occurs in riverine areas, along seasonal watercourses and in seasonally inundated land. The species's distribution and abundance in Serengeti National Park has increased since the early 1990s, perhaps owing to vegetation changes associated with high grazing pressure, following an increase in wildebeest numbers in the 1970s (reducing the volume of combustible dry grass, thus limiting the damage caused by 'hot burns'), and reduced browsing pressure on Acacia seedlings, following a decline in the elephant population since the 1980s (Shaw 2007). The species forages in small family parties, with juveniles accounting for 18% of birds encountered in the Wembere Steppe in July (Shaw and Mungaya 2006). It occasionally forages in mixed-species flocks (D. C. Moyer in litt. 1999), searching for food mainly at a height of 1.5-2.5 m in A. drepanolobium trees over 2 m high (Shaw et al. 2004, Shaw and Mungaya 2006). It forages for invertebrate prey by gleaning and sally-gleaning from pseudo-galls, spines and leaves (Shaw et al. 2004, Shaw and Mungaya 2006). Its feeding and breeding ecology are largely unknown. So far it has been observed within an altitudinal range of 1,050-1,580 m (P. Shaw in litt. 2007).


In Tanzania, it is at risk from habitat loss linked to an expanding human population, and because much of its restricted range lies outside protected areas. The area between the Serengeti ecosystem and the Wembere Steppe is now under great pressure from pastoralists and farmers, and is thought to have retained little suitable habitat, inhibiting exchange between the two areas. In the Wembere Steppe, A. drepanolobium is cleared for cultivation, cut and pruned for firewood and hedging material, browsed by goats and trampled by cattle, all of which limits regeneration, as does incidental burning from grass fires set to improve grazing quality (Shaw et al. 2004). These pressures are predicted to intensify as human and livestock populations increase (Shaw et al. 2004). The human population in districts encompassing the Wembere Steppe increased by 2.2-3.7% per year between 1978 and 2002, and in Igunga District, where bulk of the species's Wembere population resides, the human population increased by 4.3% per year between 1988 and 2002 (Shaw et al. 2004). Increasing cultivation and livestock farming may also be threatening the species in Uganda (H. J. Rainey verbally 1999). In 1996, it was noted that large amounts of cultivation and wood-cutting were threatening to reduce potential habitat for the species in the Mt Kadam region, and evidence of the over-grazing of trees and bushes was observed at Napianyenya (Rainey undated). Although the species appears to have benefited from changes in ungulate populations in the Serengeti, which have influenced burning intensity and hence tree regeneration, its range now appears to be declining following a recent reduction in the density and annual survival of A. drepanolobium in the northern Serengeti (Shaw 2009). Infrastructure development (oil pipeline from Uganda to the coast through Tanzania, and other major transport links such as roads in northern Tanzania) in the region may also pose a threat, and should be reviewed to understand how much of a threat it may pose to this species (H. Rainey in litt. 2016).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
Serengeti National Park now appears to hold the bulk of the species's Tanzanian population (Shaw 2007). The species has also been recorded from Maswa Game Reserve (D. C. Moyer in litt. 1999) and Tarangire National Park (P. Shaw in litt. 2007). In Uganda it occurs in Kidepo National Park. Aside from surveys carried out in Tanzania in 2003 (Shaw et al. 2004) and 2005-2006 (Shaw 2007), there have been no conservation or research programmes specifically targeting this species or its habitat. Surveys in Uganda are difficult because of security problems in the north-east.

Conservation Actions Proposed
When feasible, determine its status in Uganda, initially by surveying sites occupied in the past (P. Shaw in litt. 2007). In Serengeti National Park maintain conditions likely to promote the continued expansion of Acacia woodland, i.e. high grazing pressure and controlled burning, which limits the frequency of damaging 'hot burns', and low browsing pressure on Acacia seedlings (Shaw 2007). Assess the population size and distribution in Maswa and Grumeti Game Reserves (Shaw 2007). Determine whether suitable habitat remains within the area separating the Wembere Steppe from the Serengeti ecosystem (particularly the Yaeda Valley), providing a potential habitat corridor linking the two apalis populations (P. Shaw in litt. 2007). Assess the rate and pattern of change in scrub cover bordering the Wembere Steppe (Shaw et al. 2004). Promote the retention and regeneration of A. drepanolobium cover in the Wembere Steppe, through advocacy and/or the provision of incentives to subsistence farmers (Shaw et al. 2004). In Kenya conduct a survey in the Masai Mara National Reserve and adjoining group ranches (P. Shaw in litt. 2007). Identify ecological factors limiting the species's range, which is much less extensive than that of its main habitat (P. Shaw in litt. 2007). Investigate to what extent infrastructure development in this region may be impacting upon this species (H. Rainey in litt. 2016).


12-13 cm. Small warbler of open scrub. Greyish upperparts, darker wings and tail. White to off-white underparts. Diagnostic narrow white panel on inner secondaries. Pale loral stripe and very noticeable white outer tail feathers. Tail occasionally spread and wagged sideways. Similar spp. Grey Tit-flycatcher Myioparus plumbeus lacks white in wing, with white in tail confined to tip. Voice. The song is a strident, musical, well-synchronised duet, each pair member producing alternate notes (Shaw et al. 2005). In its complexity it is atypical of the genus Apalis (P. Shaw in litt. 2007).


Text account compilers
Starkey, M., Ekstrom, J., Taylor, J., Westrip, J., Shutes, S., Wheatley, H., Evans, M., Symes, A.

Pomeroy, D., Shaw, P., Moyer, D., Rainey, H., Baker, N.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2024) Species factsheet: Apalis karamojae. Downloaded from on 04/03/2024.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2024) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 04/03/2024.