Working for birds in Africa

A survey to investigate the status and distribution of the Black-cheeked Lovebird in south-west Zambia

p 103-105

We were, by all accounts, an unusual team. I, by virtue of getting everyone together, was leader and therefore assigned strategic decisions, such as how much curry powder to add to the kapenta (cardboard fish). Vincent Katanekwa, Acting Director of Livingstone Museum, shunned a mountain of paperwork to disappear into the bush, bringing with him Aaron Muchindu (Ornithological Research Assistant) and a vehicle. Vincent possessed the unusual skill of being able to turn dried kapenta into a delicacy, whilst Aaron beat the nshima (maize meal) like a skilled oarsman paddling through mud. Joseph Bowa, National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) Biologist, watched such proceedings from the veranda of his 15 man collapsible palace; and Bob Stjernstedt, master of Zambian bird noise and broken Tanganyika jacks, informed us, whilst crudely chopping bulbs of garlic, of the respective merits of being bitten by different life stages of tsetse fly. Dylan Aspinwall, Chairman of the Zambian Ornithological Society (ZOS), also provided an able assistant - Shati Sakala, the necessary wheels, and about seven different pickles to accompany a cold nshima breakfast. Mwape Sichilongo, Executive Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society of Zambia (WCSZ) left us on the infamous Mulobezi Sawmills train, which miraculously failed to derail. Teamwork is all important when you spend a couple of months together in the bush. Although team numbers and personnel fluctuated somewhat during the survey the aim remained the same: to crack the Great Agapornis Mystery in south-west Zambia. The Black-cheeked Lovebird Agapomis nigrigenis is an endangered species and Africa's most localised parrot. It is a beautiful bird, with dark brown head contrasting with bright red beak and comical white eye ring. It is sometimes considered conspecific with Lilian's Lovebird A. lilianae, which occurs further east. The two species are separated by a block of unsuitable miombo Brachystegia woodland along the Zambezi Escarpment. Both inhabit mopane Colophospermum mopane woodland, which is characteristic of low-lying valleys of southern Africa. Tim Dodman

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