Livestock Research for Rural Development 28 (9) 2016 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Phenotypic characterization of domesticated and wild helmeted Guinea fowl of Kenya

P M Panyako, T Imboma2, D W Kariuki, M Makanda1, P A Oyier4, P Malaki2, E K Ndiema3, V Obanda5, B Agwanda2, K J Ngeiywa6, J Lichoti6 and S C Ommeh1

Department of Biochemistry, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Kenya
1 Institute for Biotechnology Research (IBR), Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Kenya.
2 Department of Zoology, National Museums of Kenya
3 Department of Earth Sciences, National Museums of Kenya
4 Department of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT), Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Kenya
5 Department of Veterinary Services, Kenya Wildlife Service
6 Directorate of Veterinary Services, State Department of Livestock, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Kenya


This study aimed to characterize the local helmeted Guinea fowls in selected regions in Kenya based on primary phenotypic traits. Ninety (90) Guinea fowls randomly selected from four domestic populations (seventy individuals) in Western Kenya and a wild population (twenty individuals) in Laikipia County in Kenya were scored for primary phenotypic characteristics (shank length, body length, wing length, helmet width, helmet height, head size, live body weight, wattle colour, skin colour and shank colour). The phenotypic data collected were analyzed using Excel spread sheet and R Core version R.3.1.2. Different colour variations were identified for the birds’ wattle, skin and shank. Domesticated helmeted Guinea fowl populations had red wattles with the wild helmeted Guinea fowls having blue wattles.

The dominant skin colour was grey (94.4%) with a few having white skin (5.6%). Shank colours observed were black (95.6%), pink (3.3%) and grey (1.1%). Other than the wattle colour and head size, there is no marked difference between domestic and wild helmeted Guinea fowls of Kenya for the primary phenotypic traits considered. There seems to be a positive correlation between body temperature of the birds and the ambient temperature. These findings present a genetic pool from which decisions on sustainable use and conservation of helmeted Guinea fowls could be made. This would help farmers, breeders and conservationists to genetically improve domestic helmeted Guinea fowls and also improve their survival in the wild.

Key words: conservation, diversity, Numida meleagris, poultry, quantitative traits


The helmeted Guinea fowl (Numida meleagris), is one of Africa’s most widespread and abundant terrestrial game birds and is found in a broad range of sub-Saharan, open country vegetation types (Crowe et al 2004; Walker et al 2004).

Guinea fowl production as a rural poultry enterprise has a lot of potential if kept and managed well (Agbolosu et al 2015). This is evident in West Africa where domesticated helmeted Guinea fowls are widely exploited (Adeola et al 2015). They are a ready source of animal protein (meat and eggs), income, welcoming of important guests, funerals, gifts, sacrifices, payments of dowries as well as being a source of manure for soil enrichment (Teye and Adam 2000; Dei and Karbo 2004; Agbolosu et al 2015). Their lean meat with its characteristic flavor is relished by the local farmers and can contribute substantially to the protein needs of the rural populations especially in Western Kenya.

Two types of helmeted Guinea fowls are found in Kenya. These include the red wattled and the blue wattled Guinea fowls (National Information Service 2014). Domesticated helmeted Guinea fowls are red wattled while the blue wattled helmeted Guinea fowls are the most numerous in the wild and are found in almost every ecological zone, from the coast to the shores of Lake Victoria. The widespread distribution of helmeted Guinea fowls in Kenya suggests they are adapted to the local environmental conditions such as drought and high temperature caused by climate change.

There is need to understand the phenotypic diversity of the helmeted Guinea fowls of Kenya and how they have adapted to local environmental conditions. Tolerance or susceptibility of birds to stressful environment could be linked to their phenotypic traits (Egahi et al 2010; Agbolosu et al 2015; Moraa et al 2015). Characterization of morphological traits of these birds is therefore expected to help in understanding how they have adapted to the local environmental conditions.

Studies have previously been carried on phenotypic and morphological traits of indigenous Guinea fowls in Ghana (Mogre 2010; Agbolosu et al 2015). Phenotypic traits relevant for the adaptation of indigenous chickens to hot environments have also been assessed in Kenya (Moraa et al 2015). Additionally, work on mitochondrial DNA variation of domestic helmeted Guinea fowls in Nigeria has been carried out recently (Adeola et al 2015). However, in Kenya, the phenotypic and genetic diversity of Guinea fowls has not yet been studied. This study therefore aimed to identify the primary phenotypic variations of helmeted Guinea fowl populations in Kenya based on phenotypic descriptors such as shank length, body length, wing length, helmet width, helmet height, head size, live body weight, wattle colour, skin colour and shank colour. Information generated from the study will support better conservation efforts for the wild helmeted Guinea fowls and help develop breeding programs aimed towards increasing Guinea fowl production in the country. This will go a long way in ensuring future food security and wildlife conservation.

Materials and methods

Study area

The study was carried out from September 2014 to January 2015 in Teso North, Bungoma South, Bungoma West and Mt. Elgon in Western Kenya and Laikipia in the Rift Valley region of Kenya. Our hypothesis is that Western Kenya is the focal point of entry of domesticated Guinea fowls into Kenya. Western Kenya is also a major source of domestic Guinea fowls which are reared by a number of rural households. Wild helmeted Guinea fowls are common in Laikipia where they are numerous in animal sanctuaries. Teso North, Bungoma South, Bungoma West and Mt. Elgon in Western Kenya lie between latitudes 0 27 N and 0 47 N of the equator and longitudes 34 16 E and 34 39 E of the Greenwich Meridian while Laikipia lies between latitudes 0 2 S and 0 31 N of the equator and longitudes 36 52 E and 37 8 E of the Greenwich Meridian. The climate is marked by one dry season (November to March) and two rainy seasons (April to July and September to October). Western Kenya receives a yearly rainfall of 950-1,500mm and Laikipia receives on average an annual rainfall of 300-600mm. The vegetation type is mostly forest-mosaic and savannah. Wild Guinea fowls are free scavenging mobile birds found in the wild while domestic populations are kept in homesteads mostly by small scale rural farmers under free range systems where they scavenge for food around these homesteads during the day.

Figure 1. Map of study area

Table 1. Summary of sampled locations



Number of samples

Bungoma South

Bungoma South


Teso North

Teso North


Bungoma West

Bungoma West


Mt. Elgon

Mt. Elgon







Study clearance

This study received ethical clearance from the Kenya Wildlife Service under permit number KWS/BRM/5001 to sample wild Guinea fowls and a “no objection for the research” from the director of Veterinary Services, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries in Kenya under permit number RES/POL/VOL.XXVII/162 to sample domestic Guinea fowls.

Data collection

Sampling was done through a rural participatory approach. Farmers were chosen based on willingness to participate in the survey. Farmers in Rift Valley, Nairobi, Central and Coast regions who were interviewed indicated that they sourced their Guinea fowls from Western Kenya. Western Kenya is therefore the focal point of Guinea fowl entry into Kenya. Surveys were conducted in selected villages in Western Kenya where domesticated Guinea fowls are kept by small scale farmers and private sanctuaries in Laikipia where wild Guinea fowls are abundant. Interviews were conducted on the farmers, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) warders and local agricultural extension officers to explore available knowledge about the types, distribution and utility of helmeted Guinea fowl varieties. In the survey, information on the phenotypic characteristics of Guinea fowls was recorded. Visual appraisal of the appearance of the Guinea fowls and their typical features of environmental adaptations were collected using a pretested questionnaire on open data kit (ODK) on phones to obtain morphological and physiological data of the helmeted Guinea fowl. A total of 90 adult Guinea fowls from 5 populations were sampled according to recommendations of Hale et al (2012). Morphologically distinct Guinea fowls were identified using phenotypic traits based on the standard descriptor by Food and Agriculture Organization (2012) for chicken and the Guinea fowl colour chart (GFIA, 2009). Body measurements were done using a flexible measuring tape graduated in centimeters and a venier caliper graduated in millimeters. Although Guinea fowls exhibit almost no sexual dimorphism (Crawford 1990), the size and shape of the head, helmet and wattle were used to distinguish sexes as recommended by Ayorinde (2004). Males are usually slightly larger than females and have more pronounced helmets and wattles. Wild birds were caught by blinding using Maglite torches at their roost sites and by use of foot traps. The domestic birds were baited by their owners.

Data analysis

Data was analyzed using Excel spread sheet software package version 2013 to compute frequencies of occurrence of each trait. R Core statistical software version 3.1.2 was used to determine measurements of various quantitative traits in each population. To determine the relationship between body temperature and outside temperature in each population, a conditioning plot was used. Results are presented in the form of continuous bar graphs, tables and percentages.

Results and discussion

Wattle, skin and shank colours

Our results show that the colours of the wattle, skin and shank of helmeted Guinea fowls are variable (Figure 2). Two wattle colour types (red and blue) are observed among the local Guinea fowls. The most dominant wattle colour type is red. We also note that all domesticated helmeted Guinea fowls representing the populations in Bungoma South, Teso North, Bungoma West and Mt. Elgon have red wattles. We equally note that no red wattled Guinea fowl has been observed in the wild. This is in line with the findings of (Crawford 1990 that present day domesticated Guinea fowls were probably all derived from the West African subspecies Numida meleagris galeata. All the wild individuals are observed to be blue wattled.

Figure 2. Proportion of wattle, skin and shank colours in helmeted Guinea fowls of Kenya

We note that the skin colour distribution is mostly grey with a few individuals of white skin. All the five individuals of white skin were sampled from the Bungoma West population. The colour distribution is explained by the findings of Ayorinde (2004) who reported that the skin of the white Guinea fowl is light yellow to white depending on the amount of xanthophylls while the skin of the other varieties is either grey or black due to a high melanin concentration.

We also observe that shank colours are mostly black with a few pink and grey. This in some way agrees with the study of Mogre (2010) and Agbolosu et al (2015) who observed orange and black shank colours which cut across all Guinea fowl colour varieties with some cases of a mixture of orange and black.

Helmeted Guinea fowls are generally known to be hardy and quite adapted to their local environment (Agbolosu et al 2015). However, more studies need to be done to determine the degree of tolerance or susceptibility of these birds to stressful environment due to their phenotypic pattern (Egahi et al 2010; Agbolosu et al 2015).

We note that there is no significant difference between Kenyan domestic helmeted Guinea fowls in the primary qualitative traits measured. This could be an indication of low level of variation especially in the domesticated helmeted Guinea fowls. According to Sharma et al (1998) and Adeola et al (2015) low genetic diversity in domesticated Guinea fowls is expected outside their area of origin. This could be attributed to a common origin from a small founder population. Molecular work is suggested to compliment our findings. Our results also show significant difference in wattle colours between domestic and wild helmeted Guinea fowls in Kenya with the wild Guinea fowls having blue wattles while the domestic Guinea fowls have red wattles. The less bright blue colour could be an adaptation to achieve some level of camouflage in the wild. We propose further phenotypic work to be carried out on wild Guinea fowls in Kenya.

Shank length, body length and body weight

The mean shank length, body length and live body weight of the sampled adult Guinea fowls are compared by population in Table 2.

Table 2. Mean shank length, body length and live body weight of the helmeted Guinea fowl populations in Kenya


Shank length

Body length

Body weight

No. of birds

Bungoma South





Teso North





Bungoma West





Mt. Elgon














All the surveyed birds were adults (46 males and 44 females).

Our results show that the wild population has marginally higher mean shank and body lengths. However, the mean live body weight is proportionately lower when compared to its longer shank and body.

Wing length, head size, helmet width and helmet height

Table 3 presents the mean wing length, head size, helmet width and helmet height respectively in the local Guinea fowl populations in Kenya.

Table 3. Mean wing length, head size, helmet width and helmet height (in mm) of the helmeted Guinea fowl populations in Kenya


Wing length

Head size

Helmet width

Helmet height

No. of birds (n)

Bungoma South






Teso North






Bungoma West






Mt. Elgon














3.37 e-14



All the surveyed birds were adults (46 males and 44 females).

We observe that the mean wing length, helmet width and helmet height of the wild helmeted Guinea fowl population are generally higher than those of the domesticated populations except for the Mt. Elgon population that registers a higher mean helmet height. However, the wild helmeted Guinea fowls have the lowest mean head size. The Bungoma West population records the lowest mean wing length and helmet width. These phenotypic variations in body measurements are possibly important for ecological conservation of the local helmeted Guinea fowls. The wild population generally has higher values for all quantitative traits measured except head size and live body weight. The smaller head size and body weight of the wild population despite their higher shank and body lengths is of interest and calls for more studies to understand if it has any significance in ecological conservation.

Ayorinde (2004) reported that the most prominent feature of the head of both male and female helmeted Guinea fowl is the median, caudal-dausal bony process or helmet of the frontal bones. He indicated that the helmet is slightly longer (3.7 vs. 2.0 cm) in males than in females and that although the size and shape of the head, helmet and wattle can be used to distinguish sexes within a flock by an experienced person, there is need to pursue more aggressively the search for more morphological features for sexual differentiation.

Relationship between body temperature and outside temperature

To determine whether outside temperature across the five populations is uniform, an XY conditioning plot was constructed using R Core version 3.1.2 statistical software.

Figure 3. A conditioning plot illustrating the relationship between body temperature and outside temperature

Guinea fowls from Bungoma West have highest body temperatures while the Bungoma South Guinea fowls have lowest body temperatures. Bungoma South is generally forested and colder hence this result agrees with the observed conditions of this region.

Western Kenya: The focal point of Guinea fowl diversity

Most farmers interviewed in urban and peri-urban regions of Nairobi, Mombasa and Central Kenya pointed out that they got their Guinea fowls from Western Kenya while those interviewed in Western Kenya indicated that they sourced their Guinea fowls either from neighbours or from the neighboring country of Uganda. From these interviews and our presented results, it seems Western Kenya is the focal point of Guinea fowl diversity and migration from West Africa through Central Africa into Kenya through Busia and Bungoma. We also note that Western Kenya is a major source of domestic Guinea fowls which are reared by most low income rural households.

Each household usually keeps a pair of Guinea fowls for ornamental reasons and usually a male and a female. Further interviews to the farmers indicate that these are often related for example two siblings or a parent and offspring. This points to some inbreeding due to the small founder population.



The sample size of 90 birds used for this study is due to a small number of farmers who keep few Guinea fowls mostly for ornamental reasons. We also observed that there is a lot of poaching of wild Guinea fowls from the parks which are then sold into the local markets together with their eggs. Information on their numbers in households and in the wild is not sufficiently accounted for.


Though some molecular work has been carried out (Panyako et al 2015) we recommend in-depth molecular work to be done to validate and compliment our findings. We also recommend more phenotypic studies especially on wild Guinea fowls. This study will serve as a source of information for genetic improvement of these traits in the Guinea fowls of Kenya.

Farmers’ suggestions

Most farmers interviewed wish to see the marketing of Guinea fowl products like meat, eggs and manure improved and Guinea fowl production subsidized to increase productivity. They also wish to be granted permits for regulated exploitation of wild Guinea fowls.


We gratefully acknowledge the dedicated support of the local extension officers, Kenya Wildlife Service warders and the local farmers whose co-operation greatly aided this study. The domestic Guinea fowls surveyed were kindly provided by local village farmers while the wild Guinea fowls were caught from private sanctuaries in Laikipia with permission from the Kenya Wildlife Service. This research was funded through grants awarded to Dr. Sheila Ommeh by International Foundation of Science (IFS) under research grant number B/5364-1 in partnership with Sygenta Foundation and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) under research grant number JKU/2/4/RP/181.


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Received 19 May 2016; Accepted 21 July 2016; Published 1 September 2016

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