Conservationists are warning that two rare species of birds only found in Taita Hills are at of extinction owing to severe loss of habitat and use of non-native trees to rehabilitate degraded areas. Taita Thrush and Taita Apalis are on the Red List of Critically Endangered Birds by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which is the final stage before any species is officially declared extinct. According to IUCN, a global organisation that tracks and monitors status of different species of plants and animals, the two birds are dwindling at an alarming rate. A survey done in August 2018 established that the global population of Taita Apalis stood at between 210 and 430 birds. The numbers of Taita Thrush as at October 2016 was 930. John Mlamba, a veteran conservationist, says the fate of the two species hangs by a thread blaming rising human population for degradation of forests and dense bush where the birds live. Rob birds \u201cHuman activities such as clearing bush for cultivation has robbed the birds of their original homes. If nothing is done, we are witnessing the death of the last species of Apalis and Thrush in the world,\u201d he said. In an attempt to stem the looming catastrophe, Kenya Wildlife Service in collaboration with several conservation groups launched Action Plan for Conservation of Critically Endangered Birds in Taita Hills, Kenya 2015-20. The report places the population of Taita Thrush at 1,400; a slightly higher figure than the figures earlier given but their survival remains gravely threatened. The bulk of these surviving birds are in Mbololo Forest which houses 1,060 birds. Some 250 others are in Ngangao forest while Chawia Forest has 35 birds. However, it is the Taita Apalis that is giving conservationists sleepless night. The report pegs the population of Apalis at between 300 and 600. They are reducing rapidly due to severe habitat loss arising from human activities and predation. Already, Taita Apalis has vanished from two of their traditional habitats in Chawia and Fururu forests. Rare sightings of these birds are reported in Iyale, Msidunyi and Ngangao forests. Mlamba says the biggest threat to the birds\u2019 survival is habitat fragmentation which has confined the birds into tiny colonies separated from each other. This has come about as human settlements crop up in the middle of forests and bushy lands where the birds live. As a result, in-breeding amongst small colonies with a higher male ratio has seen the birds\u2019 population dip sharply. He says that in early 2006, there were efforts to revive least-cost corridors in farms around Taita Hills, an initiative to encourage farmers to plant indigenous trees in selected places which would link up the fragmented habitats for the birds. \u201cThese corridors would act like bridges which would allow birds from one surviving habitat to move to the next one for mating and hybrid improvement,\u201d he explained. The project, however did not take off due to lack of funds and support from stakeholders. Studies by Finland\u2019s University of Helsinki, he said, showed that Taita Hills had lost over 90 per cent of its forest cover in the last century. Sixty per cent of the loss happened in the last 50 years. He adds that initially, over 20 forests including Chawia, Mbololo, Fururu, Iyale, Msidunyi and Shomoto formed one unbroken continuum of forest cover. This made the birds population thrive. However, settlement in those forests cut off the birds leading to the current situation. The 2015-20 Action Plan report also cites use of non-native trees for reforestation as working against the rejuvenation of the birds\u2019 population. As a result, farmers are urged to plant indigenous trees to boost the endangered birds\u2019 numbers. Renewed effort Mlamba, who is also the director of Management of Arid Zones and Initiatives for Development Options (MAZIDO) said there was a renewed effort to encourage farmers to plant indigenous trees. In a programme dubbed Vuria Forest Restoration and Livelihood Improvement (Vuforeli) project, his group is working with 1,000 farmers living around the degraded Taita Hills to restore the natural vegetation cover using native trees. \u201cWe are educating farmers on why they should plant indigenous trees. This is the only hope remaining for the birds,\u201d he said. As part of livelihood improvement, farmers are being encouraged to plant Macadamia trees as an alternative to their preference for non-native trees which they claim are economically beneficial due to timber harvesting.