A team of conservationists have discovered what may be the world’s largest population of Africa’s rarest falcon living in Mozambique’s Niassa Special Reserve – a protected area not listed in the bird-of-prey’s range.

Researchers from BirdLife South Africa found 37 Taita falcons (Falco fasciinucha) living in an area of Miombo woodland – a landscape dotted with rocky outcroppings known as inselbergs. Taita Falcons nest on cliffs overlooking forests, from which they hunt small avian prey. WCS provided support for the surveys, which were funded by the Peregrine Fund.

Using helicopters, the group staked out likely nesting sites to make their assessment.

The Taita falcon is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. They are considered to be one of Africa’s rarest raptor species and they occur sporadically from southern Ethiopia to northeastern South Africa. There are scattered records of small populations in Uganda, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Other records consist of unverified reports of single birds or historical records of a few nest sites in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, and Mozambique.

A known breeding population of Taita falcons recently disappeared Zimbabwe’s Batoka Gorge, highlighting the urgent need for further research to accurately assess the risk of extinction for the species. This prompted the research team to survey Niassa where the falcons were suspected to live.

The team recommends protecting the woodlands around the inselbergs to protect the nesting population.

Niassa has been the site of other conservation success stories in recent years. WCS has worked closely with the government of Mozambique to reduce elephant poaching, as the country recovers from the elephant poaching crisis which hit the region hard in the 2010s.

The Niassa National Reserve in northern Mozambique is one of Africa’s largest (17,104 square miles or 42,300 km2), wildest, and most spectacular landscapes, comprising 28 percent of Mozambique’s conservation areas. The area exhibits a very low human footprint, and although this is growing, it is likely to grow at a slower rate than surrounding areas. The reserve harbors some of Mozambique’s most significant populations of wildlife, including elephant, lion, leopard, wild dog, sable, kudu, wildebeest and zebra.