Current species status
Marsh Owl (Asio capensis) occurs in Africa and on Madagascar. Globally, the species is not threatened and is currently categorized as ‘Least Concern’ in the IUCN Red List.
However, this is not the case for the isolated and declining population of the Moroccan subspecies, Moroccan Marsh Owl A. c. tingitanus which occurs only in northwest Morocco.
Due to its breeding isolation from other subspecies and populations, there is strong argument for Moroccan Marsh Owl to be a species in its own right. It would easily qualify as ‘Critically Endangered’ due to rapid decline and fragmentation of breeding range and habitat.
The population is very fragmented and restricted to a small number of areas. Previously the population was recorded as numbering just 50-140 pairs, comprising 20-30 pairs at Merja Zerga lagoon, 10-25 pairs in the Bas-Loukkos Marshes, and 4-6 pairs at Sidi-Bou-Rhaba lake.
Historically, the breeding range of Moroccan Marsh Owl extended from Tangier in the north to the marshes of Sidi Moussa-Oualidia in the south and inland to around Meknes. However, the species started to decline as early as the beginning of the 20th century in some regions and since the 1970s in most areas.
The threat that contributes the most to the decline of the species is habitat loss and degradation, due to the draining of its marsh habitat and decline of marsh pasture husbandry in favour of creation of arable land, largely used for production of high-value export crops such as strawberries and other soft fruits, by non-Moroccan companies. This is made worse by the often illegal abstraction of water to service the irrigation of this industry.
Encroachment of industrial fruit production on the species’ breeding and roosting habitat is still occurring at Merja Zerga and other sites.
As the species becomes increasingly rare, these problems can be exacerbated by disturbance and pressure from birders at its main strongholds, for example breeding and roosting at the Merja Zerga lagoon.
Urgent monitoring is needed to understand the current population range and size in order to protect the remainder of the species.
The initial phase of this project seeks to raise €12,000 to fund an up-to-date census of the breeding population, repeating the methodology of the previous census.
The results of this census will enable the development of a species recovery plan and targeted conservation work in its remaining strongholds. Precise knowledge of the location and numbers of breeding pairs will enable approaches and appeals to fruit farming corporations to further the awareness and support for protection of the Owl´s remaining habitat.
Recovery Curve status
D2 – Research underway, but limited understanding of causes of decline. Whilst we know the likely cause of decline we don’t know the full extent of decline due to lack of monitoring.
Census work will involve local stakeholders and not only further diagnose the situation but also act as an advocacy tool to those land managers for protecting areas of land as refuges and reducing water abstraction.
Once we have completed the census work and identified the key areas for the remaining Moroccan Marsh Owls we will risk map areas of high concern and advocate for the protection of these areas through private land managers, governmental departments and conservation organisations.
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