Working for birds in Africa

Threatened Birds of the World

Fri, 21/12/2012 - 23:49 -- abc_admin
BirdLife International. 2000. 852 pp, numerous colour illustrations. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK and Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. UK£70.
page 144

Almost three years in the making and weighing in at a hefty 4 kg, this landmark publication from BirdLife International and Lynx Edicions sets the context for global bird conservation for the foreseeable future. It is also the result of a genuine partnership with many conservation organisations and private individuals freely giving information, expertise and financial support.

Effective conservation action is dependent upon accurate and up-to-date knowledge, and BirdLife International has a long history of identifying global bird conservation priorities. In 1980 BirdLife's predecessor organisation, the International Council for Bird Preservation (ICBP) published the first bird Red Data Book. This was followed eight years later by Birds to Watch, the first global checklist of threatened birds. Birds to Watch 2, published in 1994, updated this list using more objective criteria to assess extinction risk. Threatened Birds of the World goes a step further and not only documents all 1,186 bird species (12% of bird species worldwide) that are considered at threat from extinction in the wild within the next 100 years but maps their distributions, and for the first time illustrates every one.

Introductory chapters cover extinction risks, biodiversity hotspots, habitats under threat and possible solutions to the threats facing the world's birds. Each chapter is separated by a fine full-page painting from the BirdLife Rare Bird Club collection.

The bulk of the book, however, is given to the individual species accounts. This section is preceded by a useful summary of how the different threat criteria are reached using a global standard established by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).

Each species account follows a standard format with a small illustration and identification information, and a brief summary of the species' conservation status. A map depicts the species' current known and, if appropriate, projected range. For species with a tiny known range an inset map has also been incorporated to permit the reader to set this within a clearer geographical context.

Sub-headings describe in more detail the species' range and population, its ecology, threats and current conservation action. A unique feature of the publication is the series of targets set for each species. These have been derived from published literature and through consultation with those with a particular knowledge of the species.

The Afro-Malagasy region contains just fewer than 200 globally threatened species and reading briefly through a number of the species accounts, it is noticeable that even basic knowledge such as range is lacking for many of these. For example, almost 40% of data deficient species are found within the area covered by the African Bird Club. Though political instability in some regions may be responsible for several of these gaps, there is a clear role for intrepid birders to make an important contribution.

Threatened Birds of the World is clearly of great interest to both professional conservationists and keen birders alike. My only minor concern is one of cost. At UK£70 (US$110) this is not a cheap book by any means and is likely to be unaffordable to many conservation practioners working within Africa. However, hopefully the planned World Bird Database will make this information freely available on the World Wide Web in due course. This minor grumble aside, TBW (as it appears set to become known) is a magnificent publication and will prove to be the single most important source for setting bird conservation priorities in years to come.

Rob Lucking

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