IITA contributes to conserving Nigeria’s rarest endemic bird: Ibadan Malimbe

12 October 2021

The Ibadan Malimbe, range-restricted and endemic to Ibadan, is an important bird for conservation. Its home, food, and climatic habitat are in the forest areas in Ibadan alone. Between 1994 and 1996, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed it as critically endangered due to its rarity and closeness to extinction. It was later listed as endangered, as more birds were spotted over time.

IITA Ibadan campus, sitting on a 1000 ha and hosting about 350 ha of forest dedicated to biodiversity conservation, is home to the Ibadan Malimbe. This beautifully unique bird is the most threatened of the four endemic birds in Nigeria. The Jos Plateau Indigobird and the Rock Firefinch are range-restricted to the north, and the Anambra Waxbill and the Ibadan Malimbe to the south.

 IITA contributes to conserving Nigeria’s rarest endemic bird: Ibadan Malimbe
The four endemic birds in Nigeria.

The IITA Forest Center, headed by Adewale Awoyemi, is an internationally acclaimed Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA). The Center carries out conservation activities and environmental education awareness programs, including quarterly bird monitoring and research, habitat restoration, and awareness creation programs. Through the Ibadan Bird Club (IBC), School Conservation Clubs (SCC), Radio IITA programs, international contests, and various social media platforms, the IITA Forest Center raises awareness to conserve this rare bird.

In a seminar on 18 August, Awoyemi shared the rareness and ecological importance of this bird and the contributions of IITA Forest Center to its conservation. Between 2016 and 2021, the Center has recorded 368 Red-vented Malimbe, 255 Red-headed Malimbe, and 12 Ibadan Malimbe through its bird monitoring activities. The Ibadan Malimbe accounted for less than 5% of red-headed Malimbes recorded. It is essential to conserve these birds because they help pollinate crops, clean up the environment, and serve as an important bird for ecotourism.

The Ibadan Malimbe was first sighted at the University College, Ibadan, on 18 December 1951. It feeds on vegetable matter such as the fruit fibers of oil palm and insect fragments such as tailor ants. Awoyemi enumerated causes of decline in the population of the Ibadan Malimbe as sparse forests, smaller home ranges due to increased urbanization, competition for food with related species, and increased nest destruction by children during fuelwood collection.

The Ibadan Malimbe is also a forest edge species, meaning it is not necessarily found in thick forests only. It can also be found in gardens, on trees around residential areas, and in forest suburbs. The Ibadan Malimbe can be spotted by “Its red hair that extends from its chest to its breast, distinguishing it from the red-headed and red-vented Malimbe, whose red hair is not as extended as the Ibadan Malimbe’s,” Awoyemi said. He urged anyone who spots this bird to report sightings to the IITA Forest Center for tracking and further study.

The endemic birds in Nigeria enjoy institutional support from research institutes. Up north, the AP Leventis Ornithological Research Institute (APLORI), located in Jos, Nigeria, trains Biological Science students in conservation biology emphasizing birds. They provide studies and research for the protection of the endemic birds in that area. And down south, IITA is a haven for the Ibadan Malimbe, where lots of efforts and agricultural research go to protect the Ibadan Malimbe in its conservation work through IITA Forest Center.

Awoyemi acknowledged the publicity the conservation of Ibadan Malimbe got during the recent Inqaba Genome sequencing challenge. He sought funding to sequence the genome of the Ibadan Malimbe to promote the increase of the bird population in their endemic habitat. He acknowledged the enthusiasm of many IITA community members who participated in the online voting contest to support the conservation of Ibadan Malimbe.

He urged everyone to conserve the Ibadan Malimbe by protecting its habitat, taking up habitat restoration courses, reporting sightings, joining nature clubs and IITA’s social media discussions and hubs, raising private forests, and protecting and funding existing ones.