Rufous Fishing-owl Scotopelia ussheri, an Upper Guinea endemic, is currently listed as Endangered because its population is presumed to be very small (i.e. <2,500 mature individuals) and fragmented into smaller subpopulations, which are seriously threatened by forest loss.
The species is reportedly susceptible to disturbance associated with deforestation and probably the poisoning of streams and rivers, and it may be declining rapidly. Dowsett-Lemaire and Dowsett (2009) report that information to date suggests that this owl is more widespread than previously thought, and this is also true of its status elsewhere, as in Gola Forest in Sierra Leone (pers. obs., Dowsett-Lemaire & Dowsett 2008). It survives in degraded situations provided they are swampy and there is enough cover and is listed from at least twelve locations (Dowsett-Lemaire and Dowsett 2009) and anecdotally by hunters and fishermen when they check their fish traps on small to medium-sized streams or swamps.
While no population estimate exists based upon the collation of available records, the weight of evidence here casts doubt on whether the global population is really likely to number fewer than 2,500 mature individuals. If the population is assumed to be larger than this the species may warrant downlisting to Vulnerable under criterion C2a with a population of not more than 10,000 mature individuals that is continuing to decline. It is important to understand the species’s population structure and whether there is any interbreeding between sub-populations. It is also important to assess the rate of forest clearance and the affect this has had on the species. If population declines inferred from habitat degradation have exceeded 30% over the past three generations (18.4 years based on a generation time of 6.1 years; BirdLife International unpublished data) the species also meets the threshold for listing as Vulnerable under criterion A.
When it was last assessed in 2008 BirdLife International provided a cautionary note that it is very likely the species’s future survival will depend on populations in protected areas, which presently receive inadequate management and protection. Therefore, additional comments on predicted future habitat loss and the nature of existing protection are welcomed.
Dowsett-Lemaire, F. and Dowsett, R. J. (2009) Comments on selected forest reserves in SW Ghana: wildlife and conservation status. A report prepared for the Forestry Commission, Accra, Ghana. Misc Report 64.
(This discussion was first started as part of the 2010 Red List update)