Working for birds in Africa


Fri, 08/02/2013 - 10:15 -- abc_admin

Rockhopper Penguin, Tristan da Cunha

Image Credit: 
Brenda Hotham

Sharpe's Longclaw Macronyx sharpei

Image Credit: 
Charlie Moores 10,000 Birds

8th November 2012: Shocking Amur Falcon Massacre in Nagaland

This is a documentation of the shocking massacre of tens of thousands of migratory Amur Falcons Falco amurensis in the remote state of Nagaland in India’s northeast. We estimate that during the peak migration 12,000 – 14,000 birds are being hunted for consumption and commercial sale everyday. We further estimate that a mind-boggling 120,000 to 140,000 birds are being slaughtered in Nagaland every year during their passage through the state.

This is probably the single largest congregation of Amur Falcons recorded anywhere in the world and it is tragic that they meet such a fate. Our team has alerted all appropriate authorities in Nagaland. Government officials we spoke to have committed to put an end to the slaughter and have initiated specific action steps outlined below. Conservation India will continue to monitor and report on the situation.

In October, huge numbers of Amur Falcons arrive in north-east India from Siberia en route to their final destination - Somalia, Kenya and South Africa. This handsome little raptor has one of the longest migration routes of all birds, up to 22,000 km in a year. The birds are unusual in that they migrate a large distance over the sea and also continue their journey at night.

Source: Conservation India

8th November 2012: Home of the Azores Bullfinch receives tourism charter

Terras do Priolo (Lands of the Priolo) is the name given to a remote and beautiful area in the eastern part of the island of São Miguel in the Azores, the only place on earth in which the endangered Azores Bullfinch, or Priolo is found. Nearly half its territory is included in protected areas.

Now Terras do Priolo has been awarded the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism in Protected Areas by the EUROPARC Federation Council. The Charter is a practical management tool that enables all relevant stakeholders to work in partnership to develop a common sustainable tourism strategy and action plan, while maintaining and improving the conservation value of the area in the long term. The Charter has currently been assigned to 107 national parks and other protected areas in 13 countries. More than 100 people have been involved in the process for Terras do Priolo, including the major tourist companies and institutions responsible for tourism or conservation.

Source: BirdLife

8th November 2012: Kenya's Tana River Delta designated as newest Ramsar site in Africa

Conservationists have a reason to celebrate as Kenya’s Tana River Delta becomes one of the newest Ramsar sites in Africa and indeed the world. In a statement from the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands Secretariat, the Assistant Advisor for Africa, Ms. Ako Charlotte Eyong described the delta as the second most important estuarine and deltaic ecosystem in Eastern Africa, which permits diverse hydrological functions and a rich biodiversity.

The Tana River Delta is one of the most neglected regions in Kenya, where the majority of people live below the poverty line, but the area is rich in biodiversity and natural resources.

Source: BirdLife

8th November 2012: Mozambique creates Africa's largest coastal marine reserve

The Primeiras and Segundas have been approved as a marine protected area in Mozambique making this diverse ten-island archipelago Africa's largest coastal marine reserve. Comprising ten islands off the coast of northern Mozambique, the protected area will cover more than 1,040,926 hectares and contains abundant coral and turtle species. WWF has worked for eight years to secure this marine reserve, threatened by overfishing and unauthorised tourism.

Located in the northern region of the country, between Nampula and Zambezia Provinces, the declaration of the Primeiras and Segundas environment protection area is the second major conservation area to be declared within the last two years.

Source: Wildlife Extra

13th October 2012: Global extinctions are increasing warns new research

The rate of bird extinctions is accelerating at an alarming rate according to a new paper by BirdLife International and Charles Darwin University.

Global Patterns and Drivers of Avian Extinctions at the Species and Subspecies Level, published in PLoS One, reveals 279 bird species and subspecies from across the globe have become extinct in the last 500 years. The study shows that species extinctions peaked in the early 20th century, then fell until the mid-20th century, and have subsequently accelerated.

“Until this study it had been hoped the rate of extinction was slowing”, said lead author Dr Judit Szabo of Charles Darwin University. “Historically most extinctions have occurred on islands, particularly those in the Pacific, but most of the really susceptible species are long gone.”

The study shows that the destruction of native habitat for agriculture is currently the main cause of extinctions. Unsustainable hunting and the introduction of alien species, such as cats and rats, have been the main causes of extinctions in the past.

“Humans are directly or indirectly responsible for this loss”, Dr Szabo said. The world’s nations had agreed through the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to slow biodiversity loss by 2010, and having failed to reach this goal, the target has now been adjusted to 2020.

Report co-author Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife International’s Global Research Coordinator, said many species survive only because of conservation interventions. “This list would have been much longer were it not for the work being done around the world to stop extinctions. But we need to scale up our efforts substantially to avoid further human-induced extinctions”, said Dr Butchart.

“Our analysis provides the most detailed picture to date of recent extinctions and will help us identify strategies to tackle the loss of biodiversity and halt future human-induced extinctions. The Conference of the Parties of the CBD that starts today in Hyderabad, India will need some firm action to achieve its target of achieving this by 2020.”

Source: BirdLife

13th October 2012: Hope as copper mining at lower Zambezi IBA put on hold

The Zambian Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) has turned down a mining proposal at one of Zambia’s key important bird Areas – Lower Zambezi. The proposal to mine eight million tonnes of copper ore per year was put forward by Mwembesi Resources Ltd, an Australian affiliated company. The project would involve development of the main pit at Kangaluwi and satellite pits at three other areas.

The lower Zambezi IBA is both, an Important Bird Area as well as a national park. Large numbers of water birds congregate, especially at drying ox bow lakes. Sandbanks are home to enormous numbers of Southern Carmine Bee-eater and smaller numbers of White-Fronted Bee-eater. The Miombo and Mopane woodlands hold a wide array of characteristic species. Crested Guineafowl, African Pitta, Sombre Greenbul and Livingstone's Flycatcher inhabit the deciduous thickets. Pallid Harrier is a rare passage migrant and non-breeding visitor.

Source: BirdLife

20th September 2012: Dead birds flying: rescuing the endangered Cape Parrot

The National Geographic-funded Cape Parrot Project was launched in 2009 to support CONSERVATION ACTION for Africa’s most endangered parrot and one of South Africa’s most endangered birds. Ongoing research over the last 15-20 years has established that Cape parrots were previously dependent on yellowwood trees for nesting and roosting sites, as well as 99% of their food requirements. The parrots even used to drink water from the “Old Man’s Beard” or treemoss that hung from the giant branches and aerial gardens of the ancient, emergent yellowwood trees that used to dominate the Afromontane forests of South Africa. Today, after 350 years of logging, there are few large hardwood trees remaining, and at some point after 1945 there were suddenly too few yellowwoods left for the parrots and they had to give up even looking for their favorite tree, switching their diet to the new, exotic fruit and nut trees that the people who chopped the yellowwoods down brought along with them. The parrots now feed on pecan nuts from the USA, plums from Japan, Jacaranda pods from South America, Syringa fruits from India, Eucalyptus flowers and Acacia seeds from Australia, and acorns from English oak trees. With this new age, global diet has come excess sugar and fat, as well as a variety of toxins that their bodies are not used to (e.g. cyanide derivatives, arsenic, tannins, myotoxins, aflotoxins and much else). All the remaining Cape parrots are in trouble with remnant, isolated populations riddled with disease, trying their hardest everyday to adapt to life outside of the natural habitat they had depended upon for thousands of years. We work full-time to help them find their feet again…

Source: National Geographic

20th September 2012: Tanzanians call for easier data access and sharing for posterity of a biodiversity hotspot

Tanzanian stakeholders have expressed urgent need for consolidation; sharing and easier access of biodiversity data in order to help in guiding conservation decisions and reduce duplication of efforts. This is particularly in regard to the Eastern Arc Mountains and Coastal Forests, a region that forms part of a unique biodiversity rich hotspot that has over years attracted a lot of research and conservation interest. These concerns were expressed during a national consultation meeting held on 6th August 2012 in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania as part of a BirdLife led project that is consolidating and availing biodiversity data for this important section of the Eastern Afromontane biodiversity hotspot. The meeting aimed at conducting a biodiversity information needs and availability assessment for the Tanzanian side of the Eastern Arc Mountains and Coastal Forests (EACF).

Source: BirdLife

20th September 2012: Soda ash mining at Lake Natron is not economically viable

Mining of soda ash at Lake Natron in Northern Tanzania is not economically viable, experts have warned. A new Cost Benefit Analysis report shows that projected return on investment over the next 50 years would be a loss of between $44,354,728 and $492,142,797, even if exempted from paying tax by the Government.

The report shows that the Tanzanian public and local communities stood to gain between $1.28 and 1.57 billion in 50 years, if the Government of Tanzania invests in tourism, protection of the environment and promotion of local livelihood alternatives. Compared to soda ash mining, the people and environment would still tap greater benefits even if the Government continued managing and investing in the environment at current levels (business as usual).

Source: BirdLife

6th August 2012: Tata denies links with new Lake Natron soda ash plant plans

The Tata Group has denied any involvement in plans to mine soda ash at Engaruka area near Lake Natron. In March 2012, Mr. Cyril Chami who was then Tanzania’s Minister of Trade and Industry said that the government was talking to Tata Chemicals Ltd to set up a $450 million soda ash factory at Engaruka area, part of Lake Natron basin. The factory would exploit newly discovered 460 billion cubic litres of soda ash at Engaruka, and if the Tata deal went through, the Government of Tanzania would hold 46% shares through the National Development Corporation.

In a letter dated 27th June 2012, Tata’s Managing Director Mr. R. Mukundan said Tata was no longer involved in any developments at Lake Natron and had no intention of going back. “I would like to reiterate that as an outcome of a detailed business review Tata chemicals formally exited the Lake Natron development project on 29th January 2009. Tata Chemicals has not been involved with the Lake Natron project since that time and we are unaware of any current developments,” he said.

The letter from Tata is the first direct evidence that indeed, Tata left Lake Natron. Since 2006, the Government of Tanzania has been interested in building a soda ash facility at Lake Natron; an iconic lake which is the most important breeding site for Lesser Flamingos Phoeniconaias minor in the world. There are 1.5-2.5 million Lesser Flamingos in Eastern Africa (three-quarters of the global population) and all of them breed at Lake Natron.

BirdLife International, the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania (BirdLife Partner), the Lake Natron Consultative Group (a coalition of 56 institutions globally campaigning for protection of Lake Natron) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (BirdLife in UK) opposed the government proposal citing concerns over damage to flamingo habitat and interference with the livelihoods of the local communities.

“BirdLife would like to commend Tata for this move and encourage the Tanzania Government to withdraw the soda ash plant plan in its entirety”, said Ken Mwathe the Ag. Policy and Advocacy Manager at BirdLife Africa Partnership Secretariat and Coordinator of the Lake Natron Consultative Group. “The future of Lake Natron and the local communities is better off without a soda ash plant. Tourism and improvement of livelihoods should be the key”, he added.

Source: BirdLife

6th August 2012: Conservation, community benefits and a new Ramsar site: ten years of conservation in western Madagascar

Madagascar has recently designated Lake Kinkony as a Ramsar Site (Wetland of International Importance). Lake Kinkony is a permanent freshwater lake situated within the new Protected Area of the Mahavavy-Kinkony Complex, in western Madagascar, where BirdLife Partner, Asity Madagascar has been undertaking important conservation work for the last ten years. Ramsar designation for the site is a highly significant achievement in terms of international recognition of the ecological, economic, cultural, scientific and recreational importance of the lake and the wetlands.

The Mahavavy-Kinkony Complex consists of marshes, rivers, lakes, coastal zones, mangroves, palm savannah, dry forests and even caves. The site is home to a large number of threatened species including the Critically Endangered Madagascar Fish Eagle Haliaeetus vociferoides, the Endangered Sakalava Rail Amaurornis olivieri, Madagascar Heron Ardea humbloti, Madagascar Pond Heron Ardeola idea, and Madagascar Sacred Ibis, Threskiornis bernieri as well as the Vulnerable Madagascar Plover Charadrius thoracicus; Critically Endangered endemic fish are also present. The site is also highly important to the Malagasy people for fishing, hunting and agriculture. However, the wetlands’ wildlife has been threatened by over-exploitation, habitat loss and sedimentation; forest areas have suffered from illegal timber extraction and unsustainable shifting agriculture.

In 2007, the Mahavavy-Kinkony Complex was granted temporary protection status by the Government of Madagascar. A management plan is now in place; local community based organisations have been created to regulate fishing and agricultural activities, ensure sustainable management and to conserve the complex’s resources and biodiversity. Permanent protection should be approved in the near future. The Ramsar designation is a further demonstration of commitment to conserving the country’s wetlands.

The established community based management of Lake Kinkony’s resources is an example of Asity Madagascar’s successful conservation of natural resources through empowering local people to develop the capacity to protect them and benefit from their sustainable use. In Madagascar, national law enables local community associations to acquire rights to control the management of natural resources, ensuring continued benefits for the local people who depend on them. Helping these communities to claim these rights and strengthening the community associations is one of the key conservation strategies of Asity Madagascar. Local laws known as Dina, developed and implemented by local people and authorities, complete the process of community empowerment for conservation and resource management.

Vony Raminoarisoa, Coordinator of Asity Madagascar said, “Local communities have always known the richness of their environment, but the development of mutual trust and close collaboration between different stakeholders are the foundation for successful conservation in countries like Madagascar, where much of the population depends on natural resources.”

Finally, because current rates of natural resource use are unsustainable, small income generation projects have also been developed to provide alternatives and strengthen the independence of local communities. Such activities include sustainable fishing, tourism, and rice and honey production. Livestock rearing and beekeeping activities, along with infrastructure development for low impact tourism, are already being implemented.

Source: BirdLife

30th July 2012: Emergency help needed as Okapi wildlife reserve destroyed.

An urgent appeal has been launched in response to the recent brutal attack on the Okapi Wildlife Reserve headquarters – the Epulu Breeding and Research Station – in the Congo Basin. A group of armed bandits or poachers attacked and killed at least seven staff members, some with extreme and inhumane cruelty, with others taken hostage from the UNESCO World Heritage site. Many remain unaccounted for.

All park infrastructure was destroyed and the 13 okapi, a rare forest species from the giraffe family, were slaughtered. Epulu plays a pivotal role in the future survival of the okapi and is central in managing stock for global conservation breeding programmes of the species. The day after the destruction of the Epulu HQ, UNESCO met with the Director of Okapi Wildlife Reserve as well as the Director General of the country’s protected areas authority (Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature), to assess the situation and define the immediate response needs.

Fauna & Flora International have joined with UNESCO, to call for support amongst the global community in donating funds to rebuild demolished infrastructure, replace destroyed equipment and provide urgent support to the families of murdered park staff.

Fauna & Flora International Deputy Chief Executive Ros Aveling has launched a call for support, asking for urgent donations. “Please support this appeal in any way you can. The conservation front line can be a lonely, challenging place and the courageous people trying to re-establish wildlife protection in the wake of this trauma will be heartened by support from around the world.”

Source: Fauna and Flora International

30th July 2012: Mount Moco project boosted by support by the Gulf Agency company.

In July 2010 The Mount Moco Project, with the support of The Rufford Small Grants Foundation and the A. P. Leventis Ornithological Research Institute, constructed the first native tree nursery at Kanjonde village on the slopes of Mount Moco, with the long term aim of reforesting Mount Moco. The mountain, Angola’s highest, is the second most important site in Angola for Afromontane forest conservation and protects a vital population of the Endangered Swierstra’s Francolin, one of the country’s rarest birds.

Over the 18 months that followed, we proved with this pilot nursery project that we could successfully grow native forest trees at Kanjonde, and in October 2011 the first trees were successfully planted back onto the mountain, with more trees planted in March 2012. The project is run in collaboration with the local community, and we, with the support of the Rufford Small Grants Foundation and CGGVeritas, continue to manage the project and employ on a part-time basis three young men from the village to take care of the nursery between our visits.

You can download a report of this work on the Angola conservation page.

30th July 2012: Touching lives through conservation project.

A team of BirdLife International and Fondation NATURAMA (BirdLife Partner in Burkina Faso) visited Oursi Lake recently to assess the impact of small scale funding received from Ricoh to support the rehabilitation of Oursi Lake ecosystem and improve livelihoods. Oursi is one of the most important wetland in Burkina Faso located about 450km from Ouagadougou. The lake is a major refuge for biodiversity in this Sahel zone and has bird assemblage of over 100 species including 27 Palearctic migrants.

The impact of the Ricoh grant in Oursi is far reaching and mind bugling. One of the two community boreholes was rehabilitated through the grant to provide water for the nearby tree nursery. The borehole now serves the nursery and provides portable water to the entire community of over 2,000 people saving lives and livelihoods from unforgiving water borne diseases. Pupils from the primary school adjacent to the borehole could not hide their joy when they noticed our presence. They stormed us to say a big thank you in their own way for the “NATURAMA borehole” as it is popularly known. What an amazement to see conservation project touch the lives of thousands of people.

The Site Support Group (SSG) in Oursi is unique in more than one way. The group comprise agile and bright minds with an exceptional commitment to biodiversity conservation and local capacity development. They are vast in bird ringing, biodiversity monitoring, and use their entrepreneurial skills to optimise the little support they have received thus far.

Plans are underway to complement Ricoh annual grant for 2012 with additional funding from Ann Scott, wife of late Bob Scott who was the former Head of Reserves at RSPB and a keen ornithologist. Ann formed a small group of volunteers to launch an ambitious appeal to raise funds for habitat restoration work to conserve Trans–Saharan migrant birds. The aim is to turn Bob’s early death into a conservation win for birds.

Source: BirdLife

30th July 2012: Scale up work on poverty reduction and biodiversity policy making pays off in Dakatcha woodlands in Kenya.

Birdlife Africa Partnership got a renewed boost to its work in Poverty reduction and policy making when the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation and Development (AECID) gave some additional funding amounting to Euros, 500,000 in October 2010.

One of the sites benefiting from this project is Dakatcha Woodlands that are northwest of the town of Malindi on the coast of Kenya. It has been identified as an ‘Important Bird Area’ as it is home to a number of globally threatened birds such as the Sokoke Scops Owl, Sokoke Pipit and Clarke's Weaver which is only found in two places on earth: Dakatcha woodland and Arabuko- Sokoke Forest. Nature Kenya have been implementing this project in Dakatcha, and recently attained some triumph over a proposed Jatropha project by an investor from the west when the National Environment Management Authority in Kenya officially rejected a proposal to convert 10,000 hectares of Dakatcha Woodland IBA to grow the biofuel crop jatropha Jatropha curcus.

Dakatcha woodland communities continue to benefit from livelihoods initiatives supported by this project, through its SSG which has two main umbrella groups encompassing over seven other groups. The initiatives include bee keeping with over 300 beehives having been distributed and Honey processing unit set up and members trained in bee keeping and business skills; woodlot establishment has also been established with the ‘casuraina tree species’ being grown to meet demand of the communities use of wood thus reducing impact on the surrounding woodlands.

A tourism visitor’s site has also been established at the Mekatilili site ready to receive visitors and help conserve the Kaya-Mekatilili forest which is part of the Dakatcha woodlands. Also Dakatcha Community Forest Association (CFA) has formally registered with Registrar of societies earning recognition to engage with Kenya Forest Service in Management of the woodland and Community Forest Guides being trained and uniforms distributed to boost their forest protection work.

The Local communities have also formed a Charcoal Producers Association CPA) which will be engaged in sustainable production of charcoal and register all charcoal producers in the woodland, thus this initiative will greatly reduce the ‘negative effects of charcoal production’ in the area.

Source: BirdLife

30th July 2012: Forest discovery improves prospects for Angola's endemics.

A large tract of near-pristine Afromontane forest has been found in Angola’s Namba Mountains, tripling the amount of this habitat that was thought to survive in Angola. The site meets the criteria for a new Important Bird Area (IBA), holding one globally threatened species, and assemblages of restricted range and biome-restricted bird species.

Afromontane forest is the most localised and threatened habitat type in Angola. By the early 1970s, only 200 ha was estimated to remain, mainly at the Mount Moco IBA (85 ha), and perhaps in the Namba Mountains, where most forest was thought to be degraded by logging.

Mount Moco and the Namba Mountains lie within the Western Angola Endemic Bird Area, which includes four restricted-range species associated with Afromontane vegetation. Two Afromontane endemics of global conservation concern, Endangered Swierstra’s Francolin Pternistis swierstrai and Near Threatened Angola Cave-chat Xenocopsychus ansorgei, are found at Mount Moco, but the francolin is now uncommon there. The Data Deficient endemic Grimwood’s Longclaw Macronyx grimwoodi is also found at Moco. Several other Afromontane specialists have been found only there or at one or two other sites in Angola, and face a serious threat of extirpation from the country.

Angola’s Afromontane forest and thicket holds 20 species, subspecies or populations of conservation significance, isolated and distinct from other Afromontane “centres of endemism”, the nearest of which is over 2000 km away. All 20 were recorded at Moco prior to 1970, but several are now rare or absent.

A team including members of the University of Jos, Nigeria, and Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, South Africa, travelled to the Namba Mountains in July 2010, to establish the extent and condition of forest, and to conduct bird surveys. Due to the difficulty of traversing the terrain (dense undergrowth, steep slopes, an abundance of large boulders, and limited trail access) they were confined to exploring a single forest patch and surrounding grasslands and mountain slopes, an area of 24 ha. They recorded 89 bird species, 56 of them in or adjacent to forest, including a significant population of Swierstra’s Francolin, and the other Afromontane specialists that are now hard to find at Mount Moco. On their return, they examined satellite images from Google Earth, which indicated that there is currently around 590 ha of forest in the Namba mountains, more than trebling the previous national estimate.

Source: BirdLife

30th July 2012: Satellite-tracking to assist in the conservation of South Africa's Secretarybirds.

BirdLife South Africa, the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Birds of Prey Programme (EWT-BoPP), and the University of the Witwatersrand have launched a collaborative satellite tracking project on one of South Africa’s most charismatic raptors, Secretarybird.

Secretarybird has a wide distribution, occurring throughout sub-Saharan Africa in different habitat types, except for areas covered by forests and true deserts. Secretarybird was recently up-listed on the IUCN Red List to Vulnerable, as it is threatened by a number of factors throughout its range. These include habitat fragmentation and degradation through agricultural and commercial forestry development, collisions with power lines and farm fences, and secondary poisoning. The continued survival of this iconic species, easily identifiable by its long legs and erectile crest, is under threat in South Africa. Although Secretarybirds are large and visible birds, very little is known about their home range size, juvenile dispersal, and which habitats they prefer.

The tracking project, a costly exercise, will provide detailed information on the species’ movements and habits. These devices cost in the region of R25 000 apiece. The tracking device, using cell phone tracking with GPS technology, collects data every 15 minutes, is accurate to within 6-10 metres, and downloads the data via the GSM cellular network.

“The project will enable us to better understand the biology of the Secretarybird, and should help determine why they are no longer doing well in the grasslands and other habitats in South Africa and enable us to make better informed decisions on appropriate conservation action to benefit the species”, says André Botha, Manager of the Birds of Prey Programme of the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

BirdLife South Africa will focus its efforts in the grasslands, while the EWT-BoPP will focus its efforts in the Kalahari region of the Northern Cape and the savannas of the Lowveld and the Kruger National Park. The combined data will allow comparisons to be made, and the research findings will lead to considered conservation action and ultimately contribute to countering the current decline in numbers and decrease in range of this species.

Source: BirdLife

17th April 2012: World's rarest ducklings Madagascar Pochards hatch

Eighteen Madagascar Pochards - the world's most endangered duck - have hatched in a captive breeding centre. This brings the world population of the ducks to just 60. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the groups leading the captive breeding programme, say this "builds hope that the bird can be saved from extinction". The precious pochards are being reared at a specially built centre in Antsohihy, Madagascar.

The ducks were thought to have become extinct in the late 1990s, but were rediscovered in 2006, when conservationists on an expedition spotted just 22 birds at a single site - Lake Matsaborimena (or Red Lake), in northern Madagascar.

Durrell and the WWT launched an emergency mission to rescue the critically endangered birds in 2009. The aim was to collect eggs in order to start a captive breeding programme that would safeguard the species. The conservationists collected 24 eggs from nests at the side of the lake. They initially reared the ducklings from those eggs in a hotel bathroom, while a captive breeding centre was being prepared.

The ducks that began their lives in that inauspicious setting have now bred in captivity for the first time. Dr Glyn Young, a conservation biologist with Durrell, who has spent much of his life studying the Madagascar Pochard, said: "The ducklings represent an incredible step forward in the fight to save the pochard from extinction. "The arrival of these ducklings has led to real hope that the birds can one day flourish again."

Madagascar Pochards remain extremely vulnerable to extinction from a single event such as pollution or a disease outbreak. Scientists are studying the remaining wild population closely, in order to understand the reasons behind the species' decline and to determine the right conditions for releasing birds back into their natural habitat.

Peter Cranswick, head of species recovery at WWT explained that, although Lake Matsaborimena was the "last hiding place for the ducks", it was "far from ideal". "Our initial investigations suggest there is too little food and this may be leading to the low survival of the ducklings," he said. "In effect, they are starving to death."

Nigel Jarrett from WWT, who took part in the 2009 rescue mission, explained that the team hoped to find, or even create, wetlands for the birds that were free from the pressures of fishing invasive predators. He said they hoped to create an environment where the ducks could "survive on their own, and where they can flourish". Mr Jarrett added that he shared the joy that his colleagues in Madagascar must have felt on seeing the eggs hatch.

Source: BBC

28th March 2012: Scientists discover an invisible barrier that holds the answer to one of nature's little mysteries.

Why would a smart and adaptable bird that eats almost anything and can survive happily in even the most heavily degraded habitats, have a world range of less than 5,000km2? That question has baffled and confused scientists ever since the Ethiopian Bush-crow’s Zavattoriornis stresemanni peculiarly restricted distribution was discovered back in the 1930s.

But now, after researching the exact location of the birds and their nests in southern Ethiopia, a team of problem-solving, Sherlock Holmes-style scientists have unravelled the mystery. And the answer is elementary. A new study published in the Journal of Ornithology shows the globally threatened bird’s range exactly follows the edge a unique bubble of cool, dry climate.

Lead author of the study from BirdLife’s UK Partner RSPB, Dr Paul Donald, is delighted he finally has some answers. “The mystery surrounding this bird and its odd behaviour has stumped scientists for decades – many have looked and failed to find an answer. But the reason they failed, we now believe, is that they were looking for a barrier invisible to the human eye, like a glass wall. Inside the ‘climate bubble’, where the average temperature is less than 20°C, the bush-crow is almost everywhere. Outside, where the average temperature hits 20°C or more, there are no bush-crows at all. A cool bird, that appears to like staying that way.”

The reason this species is so completely trapped inside its little bubble is as yet unknown, but it seems likely that it is physically limited by temperature – either the adults, or more likely its chicks, simply cannot survive outside the bubble, even though there are thousands of square miles of identical habitat all around.

BirdLife International’s Dr Nigel Collar is co-author of the study. He added “Whatever the reason this bird is confined to a bubble, alarm bells are now ringing loudly. The storm of climate change threatens to swamp the bush-crow’s little climatic lifeboat – and once it’s gone, it’s gone for good.”

Ethiopian Bush-crow is a small, starling-like crow with a pale grey head and body, black wings and tail, and bare, blue skin around the eye. The bird, listed by BirdLife as Endangered with approximately fewer than 9,000 individuals existing in the wild, could be the most vulnerable species to climate change in the world.

Scientists are now planning to start a monitoring programme on the temperature of the birds’ nests to see if it can unlock the answer to the next question: why are they so sensitive to climate? The restricted range of the Ethiopian Bush-crow Zavattariornis stresemanni is a consequence of high reliance on modified habitats within narrow climatic limits.

Source: Journal of Ornithology

29th February 2012: Guided by science, Kenya authority rejects the case for jatropha at Dakatcha IBA.

Following a campaign led by Nature Kenya, supported by other BirdLife Partners, Kenya’s National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) has officially rejected a proposal to convert 10,000 hectares of Dakatcha Woodland IBA to grow the biofuel crop jatropha Jatropha curcus.

Dakatcha Woodland holds at least half of Kenya’s East African Coast biome species, and is the only site outside Arabuko-Sokoke where Endangered Clarke’s Weaver is known to occur. It also holds substantial populations of Sokoke Pipit, and both species may breed at Dakatcha.

Clearing the forest in this area of fragile soils and scarce water would have led to water shortages, soil erosion, food insecurity and loss of rare species of animals and plants. The local communities also risk losing their ancestral land.

Kenya Jatropha Energy Limited intended to clear the forest to grow the crop, whose seeds produce oil that are used to make bio-diesel. There has been a strong push to introduce biofuel plantations at the Kenyan coast, especially targeting areas that are critical for the survival of the local communities and biodiversity. In the Tana River Delta, a Canadian company has been awarded a licence to convert 10,000 hectares for jatropha.

But studies now show that converting natural ecosystems to grow biodfuels is not beneficial. A study on Dakatcha commissioned by Nature Kenya (BirdLife in Kenya), the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and Action Aid, found that jatropha growing would not be more environmentally friendly than fossil fuel, and would in fact, produce as much as six times more carbon emissions.

“We applaud NEMA for this wise decision to reject untested biofuel crops in an area of Community Land and high biodiversity,” said Paul Matiku, Executive Director of Nature Kenya (BirdLife in Kenya). “It is heartening to see NEMA’s decisions being guided by science. We now urge NEMA to apply the same criteria to the proposed biofuel plantations in other sensitive areas such as the Tana River Delta.”

“Whilst today is great news for the forests of Dakatcha, sadly this case is just one of an increasing number of European companies grabbing land in Africa to cash in on biofuel subsidies in the UK and Europe,” says Helen Byron, RSPB’s International Site Casework Officer. “Ultimately, the only thing will stop it is for Governments to end support for biofuels and to focus on cutting carbon from transport through electric vehicles instead.”

Dr Julius Arinaitwe, the BirdLife’s Regional Director for Africa, says: “We congratulate the Kenya government for the move that will protect rare biodiversity found in this forest. Africa faces many development challenges and these can only be surmounted by striking a balance that ensures we don’t destroy the natural capital in the process”

This milestone on Dakatcha gives momentum to other ongoing campaigns to save critical sites in Kenya and across Africa. “Nature Kenya’s superb performance will remain a source of inspiration for other BirdLife Partners with sites facing similar challenges,” Jane Gaithuma of BirdLife Africa Partnership Secretariat, said.

Source: BirdLife

22nd February 2012: Zino's Petrel bounces back.

Zino’s Petrel was Europe’s rarest seabird even before a ravaging wild fire hit the heart of Madeira’s central massif, where this globally endangered bird breeds. The fire, in August 2010, had dire consequences: 25 young and 3 adults were found burnt to death, and of the 13 young birds found alive, only one survived to fledge that year – the others were predated in their now obvious nests on the barren mountain ledges. Suddenly, the species’ population which had been increasing steadily in recent years, thanks to efforts by the Natural Park of Madeira (PNM) was jeopardized.

The situation was grave indeed as the fire not only led to a near-complete breeding failure in 2010, but also exacerbated soil erosion, causing several nesting burrows to collapse. As soon as the smouldering cinders permitted it, PNM developed an action plan to mitigate the consequences of this natural disaster. A team of conservation wardens was deployed to place anti-erosion coconut mesh on the breeding ledges to protect the soil in some of the most critical places.

Then, with financial and logistical support from SPEA / BirdLife in Portugal, the RSPB / BirdLife in the UK and BirdLife International, about 100 natural nests were restored, while 60 new artificial nests were built. A protective cordon was also built around the known breeding areas, with cat traps and bait boxes. When the surviving adult birds returned from wintering at sea in April 2011, to prospect for breeding, conservationists were expectant. As the summer progressed, the news from Madeira got better, proof once again that adequate investment in conservation pays off. Monitoring of the breeding colony indicated that 45 nests were occupied with eggs laid in 43 of them.

Although breeding success was lower than before the fire, with only 19 nestlings hatching, the species’ prospects looked more positive again. Moreover, fledgling success was good, with 16 out of the 19 young birds eventually flying out to sea in October.

PNM and SPEA are now more hopeful for the future and will keep fighting the battle to save Europe’s rarest seabird species.

P.S. The African Bird Club donated £1,250 towards this work.

Source: BirdLife

9th February 2012: First assessment of endangered Northern Rockhopper Penguins since 2011 oil spill.

Almost a year since thousands of endangered penguins’ lives were threatened by an oil spill on Nightingale Island – part of Tristan da Cunha, a UK Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic – a survey to assess the birds’ population has taken place.

The bulk carrier, MS Oliva, ran aground on 16 March last year, a huge effort to rescue the penguins was launched. The ship was travelling from Brazil to Singapore with a cargo of 65,000 tonnes of soya beans and 1,500 tonnes of bunker fuel when it ran aground. As the ship broke up in the rough seas, the soya and oil were discharged into the waters around Nightingale. In the days that followed, the oil reached Inaccessible Island, a World Heritage Site, and Tristan more than 30km away.

With the group of islands being home to over 65% of the global population of endangered Northern Rockhopper Penguins, residents of Tristan da Cunha, known as Tristanians and the Tristan Conservation Department, followed by staff from the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), came together and moved quickly to collect and clean up the oiled birds and prevent many more from coming into contact with the oil.

Although efforts to rescue and rehabilitate the penguins were huge, it has been unknown until now just how much the rockhopper population has been affected by the spill. While results from the latest counts suggest the breeding population hasn’t suffered as much as anticipated, scientists are warning that the news should be met with caution.

Dr Juliet Vickery, the RSPB’s head of international research, said: “It’s a big relief that the initial results of the counts are better than we had anticipated. We should not, however, relax our watch. There is much we don’t know about this species and the extent to which breeding colony counts reveal the true picture of population trends is hard to ascertain.

“Though immediate impact is not as bad as we feared, there may be longer term sub-lethal effects reducing breeding success, so it is vital that we continue to monitor the birds closely for several more years to establish the true impact of the oil spill.”

Estimations show approximately 154,000 penguins bred on the island in 2011 but estimates in the 1950s suggest there were ‘millions’ of birds, with two million pairs on Gough alone. The species remains globally threatened and the causes of the historic decline remain unknown.

As well as the long-term effects on the penguins, the oil spill has caused concern for the important rock lobster fishery. The fishery, which is Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified as a sustainable and well-managed fishery, is a mainstay of the island’s economy.

Latest evidence shows that catches are way below normal and rotting soya has been spotted on the traps. A dive survey showed that the wreck had broken up considerably over the winter months. On the advice of experts the Nightingale fishery has closed and the quota for the fishery at Inaccessible Island was reduced from 92 to 53 tonnes for the 2011/12 season.

After the disaster, the RSPB launched an emergency appeal to raise funds to help with the clean up. The appeal has raised almost £70,000 and will be used to support penguin monitoring, strengthen the island’s biosecurity, and facilitate rodent control on Tristan to reduce risk of rats being introduced to Nightingale.

Katrine Herian works for the RSPB on the island, was involved in the clean-up mission last year, and helped carry out the counts. She said: “Something really needs to be said about the huge Tristanian efforts in response to this disaster – without them, this could have been a very different story. While the true impact of the spill won’t be known for some time yet, we can at least know that everything that could be done was done.”

Source: BirdLife

9th February 2012: BirdLife welcomes passing of law to secure transboundary ecosystems in East Africa

The East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) has passed a crucial law that could transform how transboundary ecosystems and resources in East Africa are managed. EALA is the legislative arm of the East African Community, a regional block bringing together five countries, namely, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.

Hon. Dr. George Nangale, the former Chairman of the Committee on Agriculture, Natural Resources and Tourism at EALA, and who moved the bill in 2008 was delighted to see it enacted. “I am glad to see this landmark bill go through, many thanks for the support from all stakeholders,” he said.

The new law is considered critical since it establishes a mechanism for addressing developments of a transboundary nature that affect shared ecosystems. Among other things, it establishes a Commission that will supervise and monitor the implementation of policies on the management of such resorces. It emphasises the need for Environmental Impact Assessment of projects with impacts of a transboundary nature, with the Commission playing a key role in the approval process.

“This is a welcome development. East African countries now have a good chance to collaborate and share information on development projects of a transboundary nature. It will no longer be business as usual” Said Mr. Deo Gamassa, the new CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania (BirdLife in Tanzania).

The new regional legal framework is set to benefit transboundary ecosystems like Lake Natron and Serengeti National Park which, in the recent past, have drawn global attention as a result of proposed large scale development projects.

At Lake Natron, the National Development Corporation proposed to build a $450 million soda ash plant to produce half a million tonnes of industrial sodium bicarbonate per year. However, concerned groups raised concerns, citing the sensitivity of Lake Natron as the only regular breeding site for Lesser Flamingos in Eastern Africa. Three quarters of the global population of the pink birds are hatched at Lake Natron.

The Transboundary Ecosystems Management Bill 2010 was passed on 31 January 2012 at EALA’s Third meeting of the Fifth Session taking place in Kampala, Uganda.

Source: BirdLife

19th January 2012: David Attenborough urges business to protect nature from population boom

Sir David Attenborough has called on big businesses to protect the natural world from the rapidly expanding human population. The broadcaster and naturalist said the population increase is unstoppable and that action must be taken to stop the natural world from being concreted over.

Distancing himself from conservationists who regard big businesses as the enemy, he said companies and corporations, as the holders of much of the world's wealth, have a vital and leading role to play.

"It's not a mystery. Wealth empowers," he said. "And businesses have by no means been slow in helping. We've [conservationists] gone to multinationals over and over again."

He said there were exceptions, but that for the most part businesses that defiled the natural world in the 19th and to an extent the 20th century, such as by dumping waste in the sea, usually did so out of ignorance. "They didn't know any better," he said.

But he warned: "We've got to such a situation and dense population that we can no longer make these mistakes. The warning is clear and the job of people in the media like me is to make sure the warning is understood."

Source: The Guardian

19th January 2012: Help save the Tana River delta

The Tana River Delta in Kenya is a stunning area rich in palm savanna, mangroves and grasslands, which also provides home to hugely important bird species such as the Basra Reed Warbler Acrocephalus griseldis and the Malindi Pipit Anthus melindae. As well as its significant animal populations, the delta also supports numerous communities of people in the area, who all depend on it remaining rich and healthy to survive.

This beautiful landscape is under threat from a massive land grab by international companies looking to develop large scale agriculture schemes, much of which is driven by a push for biofuels. In spite of local objections and the hard work of the RSPB and Nature Kenya, last summer the Kenyan government gave the go-ahead to one of the larger developments – Bedford Biofuel's proposal to plant 10,000 hectares of jatropha. However, it quickly emerged that there had been irregularities with the issuing of the licence and the regulatory authority in Kenya said that growing jatropha would be banned along the entire Kenyan coast. Bedford Biofuels have continued with the project regardless and are even expanding their operations in the Tana Delta.

The RSPB and Nature Kenya are urging the Kenyan Government to rethink this decision and cancel the licence for this project. If you are concerned about the decision, you too can write to protest.

Source: RSPB

9th January 2012: An amazing conservation success story in Seychelles

In the 1960s, Seychelles Warbler Acrocephalus sechellensis became one of the world's rarest birds when the population slumped to just 26 individuals, all on tiny Cousin island in the Seychelles, in the Indian Ocean. Formerly, the bird had been more widely distributed in the Seychelles, but habitat destruction and non-native species brought the warbler to extinction everywhere apart from Cousin. But now the fortunes of the bird are looking much brighter, thanks to a programme to redistribute these birds to other islands in the Seychelles.

In the latest move, 59 Seychelles Warblers have been transferred from Cousin Island Special Reserve to Frégate Island thanks to a Nature Seychelles (BirdLife Partner) led initiative. The transfer was carried out to start a new breeding population on Frégate Island – a privately-owned luxury resort – making it the fifth island in Seychelles to hold this species.

"It will pave the way for this bird, once said to be `one of the rarest birds in the world,' to eventually come off the Red List of threatened birds of the world, updated annually by BirdLife International. We have been trying to get this project off the ground for a very long time and we have to thank the company managing the island – Frégate Island Private – for agreeing to partner with us and take the warblers", said Nirmal Shah, CEO of Nature Seychelles.

"It is another step in our efforts to fully restore this island and to support the conservation of the unique and indigenous species of this country", said Ian Barbour, Frégate Island general manager.

The project is funded by a $18,000 Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund grant to Nature Seychelles through the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), the Seychelles Warbler Research Group (a collaboration between the Universities of East Anglia and Sheffield in the UK, and the University of Groningen, Netherlands) and Frégate Island Private. The translocation proposal was developed and submitted by Nature Seychelles to the Department of Environment. "They readily agreed to it because of the potential ground breaking results for conservation worldwide", said Shah.

Birds were captured in the morning, transferred by helicopter and were released on Frégate by afternoon of the same day."This way the birds are kept in captivity for the minimum amount of time and they have time to eat and drink on Frégate before nightfall", said Dr David Richardson of the University of East Anglia, which forms part of the Seychelles Warbler Research Group. Prior to the transfer there had been preparations on both islands. Frégate was surveyed for its suitability to carry the warblers. "The island has been restored over many years, is rat free, and is free of mynah birds which compete with and harm native birds", said Richardson.

The population on Cousin, which now numbers over 300 birds, was also surveyed to identify territories from which to catch individuals. Cousin has the original population, and therefore the most genetic diversity. This population has also been monitored for over two decades by the Warbler group. Nesting on Frégate is expected within a week or two. The Warbler group will be monitoring this population for the next few years.

"Seychelles is an example of how science and conservation can go hand in hand, and this is a brilliant opportunity to continue studying the warbler's evolution and behaviour", said Richardson.

Dr Chris Magin of the RSPB, who works closely with Nature Seychelles, said "The recovery of Seychelles Warbler provides hope that the fortunes of threatened species can be turned around. Before the Seychelles Warblers were moved to other islands, this species literally had all its eggs in one basket, but now the bird has a much brighter future."

Source: BirdLife

9th January 2012: Petition to save the last Houbara Bustards in Tunisia

The Houbara Bustard Chlamydotis undulata undulata is protected by the Tunisian law and several international conventions to which Tunisia is signatory. This did not prevent the near-extermination of the Tunisian population of Houbara Bustard by poaching of the emirs of the gulf states and which was authorised during more than 20 years by the Ben Ali regime.

At the beginning of November the Association "Les Amis des Oiseaux" (AAO – BirdLife in Tunisia) observed the impending threat of new poaching efforts. The AAO informed the authorities and civil society of the poaching risks, including organising a press conference in collaboration with other environmental organisations.

"To date all our calls to the Tunisian authorities remained without response", says Claudia Feltrup Azafzaf, Project Director at AAO. "Therefore, we ask the President of the Republic and the current government to take a stand and to ensure that our laws are enforced and conserve the wildlife and in particular our last Houbara Bustards."

"Please, sign and share our petition. Together we can help save Houbara Bustard in Tunisia".

Petition link

Source: BirdLife

28th December 2011: Habitat danger for Seychelles Paradise-flycatcher

The illegal felling of mature trees on La Digue island, the stronghold of the Critically Endangered Seychelles Paradise-flycatcher Terpsiphone corvina has been exposed by the local media. In a front page article, the newspaper Le Seychelles Hebdo revealed the shocking story. The damage includes the felling and cropping of several native tree species used by the bird.

The owner of the land had made an application for a tourism development but the Department of Environment had put this on hold so as to carry out a survey. The owner apparently went ahead with land clearing. “Clearing of land and felling of the tree species in question which are protected by law require authorisation by the land use & planning authority and the Department of Environment respectively”, said Nirmal Shah, Chief Executive of Nature Seychelles (BirdLife Partner).

The land owner and the contractor who undertook the works have been fined 50,000 Seychelles Rupees each (about US$ 4,000) by the environment authorities. According to sources on La Digue those fined are refusing to pay and have their own case against the government. Nature Seychelles, the flycatcher’s BirdLife Species Guardian is currently undertaking a small education and advocacy project on La Digue in collaboration with the Seychelles National Parks Authority (SNPA). The project is funded by Viking Optical, the BirdLife Species Champion.

“The habitat on this tiny island will always be under threat because of increasing development, and consumerism. This is why we established a second population on Denis Island”, says Nirmal Shah. There is a now a breeding population on Denis after the translocation of 23 birds in November 2008 by the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology and Nature Seychelles.

La Digue is a picturesque but rapidly changing island. The Seychelles Government is now investigating the possibility of making La Digue carbon neutral after Cousin Island Special Reserve, managed by Nature Seychelles, showed the way forward by becoming the world’s first carbon neutral nature reserve. “In fact, recent news that the government will phase out all fossil fuel vehicles on La Digue so that only electric ones are used in the future is an excellent move for general environmental protection and eco tourism on the island”, says Shah.

Source: BirdLife

28th December 2011: Global assessment identifies world's most important wildlife forests

As the world tightens its economic belt, resources to address the world’s growing environmental problems are becoming increasingly limited. These reducing resources means the ability to establish the utmost conservation priorities is more important than ever to achieve the greatest returns for the investment. A new paper published in the journal PLoS ONE by BirdLife scientists, identifies those forests that appear to be the most important for bird species, and are in most urgent need of conservation.

“The top three areas, according to our assessment are the forests of Hawaii; Palau in the Pacific; and the forests of the tropical African islands of São Tomé, Príncipe and Annobón”, said Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife’s Global Research and Indicators Coordinator. “Protecting these habitats is one of the 10 key actions identified by BirdLife to prevent further bird extinctions.”

The coastal and mountain forests of South America also scored particularly highly. Areas like the Amazon basin, which support large numbers of species, often scored lower because the species present there still have very large global ranges. The authors of the report used species distributions and forest cover from satellite imagery to estimate the contribution that 25 square-kilometre blocks of forest make toward conserving the world’s birds. By combining this information with rates of forest clearance (mainly logging), the most important forests for conservation were identified. Around 6,000 species of the world’s birds (60%) are dependent to a considerable extent on forests, and some of these are the most threatened species on earth.

Graeme Buchanan from the RSPB said “More birds are dependent on forests than any other habitat. Our analysis makes an objective assessment of the importance of every patch of forest on the globe for birds. This is a particularly timely analysis, because the world’s governments have recently agreed to increase the global coverage of protected areas, through the Convention on Biodiversity. Legal protection is one method by which areas could be safeguarded, and our analysis is a contribution towards deciding where new protected areas would have the greatest impact.”

Source: BirdLife

28th December 2011: Rescuing Africa's most endangered parrot from extinction

The Cape Parrot is one of the most endangered bird species in South Africa with less than 1,000 individuals remaining in the wild. Most of the remaining wild population are infected by and dying from a Pssitacine Beak and Feather Disease epidemic that erupts during early winter each year. Early cold snaps and mild droughts escalate this problem with devastating effects on population levels. Up until 2008, when rats native to Christmas Island went extinct after being exposed to new pathogens, disease had not been proven to cause any extinctions. Alarmingly, Cape parrots are now succumbing to an endemic virus that attacks when their body condition declines, their immune systems begin to falter, and they naturally start molting. They are simply too weak to combat this “doomsday virus” that has always been with them…? How do we save this intelligent parrot from extinction…? How do we help this parrot help itself? Read about them and what people are doing to rescue, conserve and defend one of the world’s most enigmatic birds.

“uPholi” is the nickname for the Cape parrot (Poicephalus robustus) or isiKhwenene (the local isiXhosa name). Just the same as “Polly want a cracker!”, “uPholi” wants a forest because local South Africans have busied themselves over the last 350 years selectively removing almost all the large hardwoods (most especially Podocarpus yellowwoods) from all remaining Afromontane forest patches. Starting in the early 1600s in the Cape of Good Hope, these vulnerable forest patches were decimated and have never been given adequate opportunity to recover. For hundreds of years, logging was intensive with millions upon millions of railway sleepers and mining timbers being manufactured. Harvesting of yellowwood trees and other depleted hardwoods continues today in these forests…

Most people know about the popular African Grey parrots of central and western Africa, but very few people know about Africa’s most endangered parrot, South Africa’s Cape parrot. Today, there could be as few as 800 Cape parrots remaining in the wild and they are considered Critically Endangered due to continued habitat loss, poor nesting success due to lack of nest cavities, a severe Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease epidemic, historical persecution as a crop pest, and illegal capture for the wild-caught bird trade. If Africa was to lose this “green and gold” ambassador of some of our last-remaining Afromontane forest patches, it would be a sign of very bad times to come… We would have lost one of the last Afromontane endemics clinging onto these forests through their own ingenuity and collective intelligence. Intensive logging in their forest habitat, persecution (e.g. being shot or caught in nets and clubbed to death), nest poaching and mist-netting adults for the wild-caught bird trade, and very little or no conservation intervention, has left the Cape Parrot in ruins with an ageing populations in declining physical condition. We need to intervene now and stimulate positive change for Cape parrots in the wild…

In 2009, we initiated the Cape Parrot Project in an effort to save this endemic species from extinction. Preliminary surveys established that the observed body condition of Cape parrots in the southernmost part of their distribution has been declining for at least 5 years. In March that year, we received over 30 photographs of Cape parrots with symptoms of advanced beak and feather Disease infection from concerned South Africans who had been photographing Cape parrots feeding in their pecan trees for many years and never seen anything like this before. This news was shocking and it has been our focus ever since to understand the nature of this apparently severe threat to their persistence in the wild. A grant from the National Geographic Society Conservation Trust enabled us to undertake much needed research into the threat posed by this little-known circovirus. Our findings were absolutely shocking with a 50% infection rate in 2010 and a staggering 100% infection rate in four times as many blood samples this year. By March, the general public started handing in dead and dying Cape parrots that needed to be rehabilitated for over 6 months before release back into the wild. We had a fight on our hands and began fundraising to support the effort…

Today, we are reacting as strongly as possible to this threat, investing in the DNA sequencing of all viral strains that we encounter and contributing towards the development of a suitable vaccine for application in the wild. In addition, we are looking at establishing a disease-free Cape parrot population in forest patches where they went locally extinct around 150 years ago. Our ongoing research has linked these disease outbreaks to a lack of suitable food resources between January and March each year when there is literally nothing for the parrots to feed on. The severe drought this year resulted in infection rates escalating due to starvation at population level. Up to 10% of the local population were estimated to have died. In 2012, we will be testing the application of supplementary feeding decks to ensure that the parrots have sufficient food to combat the virus and avoid eating exotic, potentially poisonous food resources like unripe pecan nuts from the US, cherries from Mexico, plums from Japan, and syringa fruits from India. We need to help this parrot help itself by providing supplementary food resources within the next 5-10 years.

We are not just studying the virus and its relationship to food resources, we are also planting over 25,000 indigenous trees in degraded Afromontane forest patches and “Cape Parrot orchards” across the Amathole mountain range, which has the largest-remaining Cape Parrot population. The Cape Parrot orchards are made up of 500-1,000 indigenous trees that provide fruit for parrots within 7-10 years. In order to support all this tree-planting we launched the “iziKhwenene Project” that contracts local communities to grow, plant and take care of the all indigenous trees planted as part of this project. We pay whole communities $2 per tree that survives every 6 months, planting teams weekly wages to plant these trees, and individuals R10 per saplings grown within our Community Nursery Program. The iziKhwenene Project aims to position local communities as “Forest Custodians” supported by the Wild Bird Trust and corporate sponsors. In addition to planting thousands of trees, the Cape Parrot Project is also erecting 600 Cape Parrot nest boxes to supplement the shortage of suitable nest cavities for Cape Parrot breeding pairs and other cavity-nesting species. We have a tough 10 years ahead of us before the food orchards are producing fruits for the parrots between January and March. Until then we must push to get every Cape Parrot that falls ill to beak and feather disease rehabilitated and back into the wild. We must provide safe, warm nest boxes and supplementary feeding decks until such time as the forests have been restored…

Our work rehabilitating four Cape Parrots from the ravages of beak and feather disease demonstrated an instant reaction to the yellowwood fruits we were feeding them. All four parrots began to recover more rapidly from the infection and started to put on weight for the first time, thus supporting research that put forward that yellowwood fruits have very strong anti-microbial activity when ingested. It seems as if due to the lack of this fruit in their diet Cape Parrots are just not strong enough to fight off the ravages of this disease, which, similar to influenza in the human population, has probably been in the wild Cape Parrot population for a very long time, but only at very much lower levels. A Senior Producer from National Geographic Missions Media, Neil Gelinas, visited the Cape Parrot Project for a few weeks and was fortunate enough to film the release of the four rehabilitated Cape Parrots back into the wild: “Dead birds flying!” Hopefully there will soon be a short video clip to share with the world?

Source: National Geographic

5th December 2011: Sierra Leone protects climate by saving its largest forest for the world

As the world’s richest countries once again play brinksmanship at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, in Durban, Sierra Leone has embraced the vital role tropical forests play in preventing climate change by conserving its most important forest, locking up an estimated 13.6 million tonnes of carbon and protecting one of West Africa’s most threatened and wildlife-rich habitats.

On Saturday 3 December, 2011, the President of Sierra Leone – the world’s seventh poorest country – will launch the Gola Rainforest National Park (GRNP), making great progress with protecting natural resources for the benefit of the country and the world.

The RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) has been involved with Gola Forest since 1990, which is home to hundreds of bird species, chimpanzees and the world’s most important population of pygmy hippo.

Tim Stowe is the RSPB’s International Director. Commenting ahead of the announcement, he said, “The contribution that Sierra Leone is making is bold and progressive. In a far-sighted act, this developing West African country – which is on the front line of climate change – has decided to help the world by locking up a vast carbon store as well as protecting its unique and globally-important wildlife. We hope that other nations value this contribution and build upon it.”

If Gola Forest were razed to the ground, the release of carbon would be equal to the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by nearly 14 million cars in a year.

First initiated in 1989, a partnership agreement between the Forestry Division of the Government of Sierra Leone, the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone and the RSPB was reached in 1990 to develop a new management plan, maintain the forest boundaries and to run an environmental education programme. These partners have worked under the banner of the Gola Forest Programme since then, and the work at Gola is an important component of the RSPB’s wide tropical forests programme, which includes work in six other African and Asian countries.

This exciting announcement falls during some unique celebrations, the country’s 50th Independence anniversary and after more than 20 years of collaboration for the programme, as well as the International Year of Forests and the UNFCCC Durban meeting.

The Gola Rainforest National Park, covers over 71,000 hectares (just under twice the size of the Isle of Wight) and has long been threatened by commercial logging and small-scale mining going as far back as the 1930s. The long-term governance of natural resources was long argued to be at the heart of the decade-long civil conflict that raged in the 1990s. The creation of the national park should subdue ongoing threats from logging and mining.

Gola forest is a global biodiversity hotspot and recent surveys have revealed 327 species of bird, including eight facing global extinction, such as the Gola Malimbe, a striking black-and-yellow, starling-sized relative of sparrows. The unique biodiversity value of Gola can be measured in other ways too, as it also holds 518 butterfly species – approximately half of the total of Sierra Leone – including three which are new to science.

An estimated 300 chimpanzees, significant populations of monkeys and 44 larger mammal species, such as duikers – small antelopes – live in the forest, as well as the secretive pygmy hippo, which is only found in this part of Africa and is in danger of extinction.

Those communities living on the edge of the forest have benefitted since 2005 from €427,000 conservation-led development projects, including bridges, a hospital and scholarships.

The full support of the President of Sierra Leone gives confidence for the future of the forest, especially as the country is now also looking at new mechanisms to attract long-term funding through the UN’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD) programme. REDD promotes cooperation between developed and developing countries to agree on forest management and should provide a financing mechanism to avert deforestation, forest and ecosystem degradation and destruction, while protecting the rights of indigenous people.

The president of Sierra Leone said in his inauguration speech: “Carbon financing is a ‘win-win’ for the environment and for economic development.” The President’s comments are particularly relevant ahead of next year’s sustainable development conference, which will look at progress made since the legendary Rio ‘summit’ in 1992.

The BirdLife’s Partnerships work in the Upper Guinea forests for the past 20 years has involved many organisations and institutions. The new work is with funding from the EU, the USAID STEWARD Program, and CEPF. Other project financing in recent years has come from the EU, the UK Government’s Darwin Initiative, Conservation International – Global Conservation Fund, US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and FFEM of the Agence Française de Développement.

Source: BirdLife

24th November 2011: Only international action will save migratory birds

Populations of long-distance migratory landbirds are declining so rapidly in the African-Eurasian flyway that a delegation of 20 staff from around the BirdLife International Partnership will be lobbying this week for their plight to be addressed at a meeting focused on conserving the world’s migratory species. The decline of these birds is so severe that conservationists believe the only way to save them is through concerted international action. So far, tropical African countries, including Ghana, have been leading this call. The BirdLife International Partnership hope this plea will be heeded by all countries sharing these birds.

A resolution tabled at the meeting calls for broad-scale action to improve the conservation status of African-Eurasian migratory landbirds which, if adopted, could help halt or reverse the catastrophic decline in numbers of many species of birds which migrate long-distance between Europe and Africa. African-Eurasian migratory landbirds are not covered by current flyway initiatives and conservation activities, as identified in the existing CMS flyway resolution.

“For many of the fastest declining species, the main drivers of decline appear to be away from European breeding grounds”, said Dr Leon Bennun, BirdLife International’s Director of Science . “Without coordinated action, range states will fail to meet their biodiversity targets”, said Dr Bennun. “No amount of effort within one country or one region can stop these declines.

Dr Danaë Sheehan – an RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) scientist who has been studying these species in both Europe and Africa – and who will be speaking for these birds at the Bergen conference said: “Migrant birds connect Europe and Africa, crossing our borders, cultures and lives. Millions of birds make this incredible long-distance journey twice each year in spring and autumn. But each year the numbers spanning the two continents are reducing rapidly. “With dramatic land use change in both Europe and Africa, and hazards on migration, such as illegal killing in the Mediterranean, these birds have enormous struggles ahead. Without international co-operation, we’re concerned that these species will continue their downward path.”

The situation for some birds, including turtle doves, warblers and flycatchers, across Europe has become so severe that the BirdLife International Partnership are urging that these species should be the focus of co-ordinated international conservation action. The BirdLife International delegation will be calling on Parties present at Bergen to show support for a resolution for action, submitted by Ghana, and supported by other African nations. The resolution urges Parties to the Convention, and other stakeholders, to develop an action plan for the conservation of African-Eurasian migrant landbirds and their habitats throughout the flyway connecting Europe and Africa.

Migratory landbirds nesting in Europe and wintering in Africa (south of the Sahara desert) are showing the most alarming and significant population declines. Unlike waterbirds, they are not restricted to individual sites and they migrate on a very broad front. So, site-based conservation initiatives simply will not be effective in preventing further declines. Instead, conservationists need to work in a broad range of habitats, across wider landscapes, improving the environment for both people and wildlife. For instance in the UK between 1995 and 2008, the populations of four summer-visiting birds declined by more than more than half: turtle dove (-70 per cent); wood warbler (-61 per cent); nightingale (-53 per cent); and yellow wagtail (-52 per cent).

Source: BirdLife

4th November 2011: Exhausted, deforested landscapes show the truth about over-population

I imagine most people would be hard put to place Burkina Faso on a map; it neatly fits that cliché of a faraway country of which we know nothing. It is a landlocked state in West Africa, a bit bigger than Britain, once a French colony; it used to be called Upper Volta. Burkina is in the Sahel, that semi-arid belt of savannahs, grasslands and dry forest which runs across Africa below the Sahara, the transitional zone between the desert to the north and the rainforest to the south.

There is a peculiarity about its economy, which is noticeable if you visit, as I did a few years ago: more than 90 per cent of its energy needs are supplied by wood. The vast majority of the people rely on wood fires to cook the daily meal of millet, and carts stacked high with firewood throng the roads leading to the capital, Ougadougou. They really do. Cart after cart.

This wood is gathered from the countryside, from the dry forest which covers it – or used to. For it has been so overexploited that much of Burkina is now a deforested wasteland, a dusty wrecked moonscape as shocking as anything in the Amazon – it simply hasn't been publicised. In the villages I visited, the women who go out at dawn to gather wood were having to go further every year, four kilometres, then five, then six, as the area around each village became exhausted.

These people were visibly, and tragically, trashing their own natural resource base: not only was the forest gone, the soil itself was disappearing. Who could blame them? It was done out of need. They were only trying to survive. But they were consuming their own future. Many were aware of this, of course, and their attempts at reforestation – struggles might be a better word – were moving and inspiring, and I reported on them. But one specific factor means that these struggles will get much harder – population increase.

When I visited Burkina in 2003, its population was just under 13 million. Now it is closer to 17 million. By 2015, it will have doubled – in just 20 years – to about 20 million. (You can find all these figures in the UN's 2010 Revision of World Population Prospects). Then it really takes off. By 2050, according to the UN's central estimate, it will be 46.7 million. If you want to be optimistic, their low variant gives 41.8 million; if pessimistic, the high variant gives you 51.8 million. That's in less than 40 years.

Where on earth, where in God's name, are all these people going to find their firewood in a countryside that will have long since been devastated? You may say, electricity supply will have replaced firewood as the main energy source, and perhaps it will; but the demand on the exhausted landscape for crops or livestock or whatever you care to name, from a population three times the size of the one that had already largely wrecked it, will be unbearable. The Burkinabé, the people of Burkina, will not be able to support themselves; their future is misery.

Last week the population of the world passed 7 billion, on the way to a possible 9.3 billion by 2050; and I read liberal commentator after liberal commentator insist how this wouldn't be any sort of a problem, nay, it was to be welcomed. I read with a growing sense of disbelief, but in the end I simply resigned myself to human folly, and shook my head.

One of the things that make the future of a country such as Burkina Faso even more problematic is that the stresses that will come with a tripling of its population in 40 years may well be severely exacerbated by climate change. It is quite natural, and to be expected, that global warming should have tumbled down the list of public and political concerns with the onset of the recession and especially the current global financial crisis.

But although many of us may have forgotten about it, the gigantic volumes of carbon dioxide we are adding to the planet's atmosphere (currently 30 billion tons annually) continue to increase and will continue to raise world temperatures remorselessly.

Anyone who knows the Sahel knows that subsistence agriculture there is often poised on the edge of failure; a major rise in temperature may be enough to tip it over completely. In such a case, would the people of Burkina Faso try to migrate, to, say, neighbouring Ghana? And would the Ghanaians let them in? There are worse things on the horizon than the future of the euro.

Michael McCarthy

Source: The Independent

4th November 2011: Fears in Uganda for Mabira as sugar company renews its demands

Uganda’s Mabira Central Forest Reserve, an Important Bird Area holding around 300 bird species including the Endangered Nahan’s Francolin Francolinus nahani, is once again threatened by proposals to degazette almost a quarter of its area for conversion to a sugar cane plantation.

“Our campaign now targets Uganda’s Members of Parliament, as parliament will have the final decision over the forest”, said Achilles Byaruhanga, Executive Director of NatureUganda (BirdLife in Uganda). To that end, we organised a field trip for MPs, including the members of the Natural Resources Committee, as a fact finding mission to explain the community issues and environmental problems surrounding the proposed de-gazettement. The MP for Kaberamaido district Hon. Florence Ibi Ekwau commented during the field visit “anyone who is targeting destruction of this forest is an enemy of Uganda and parliament will never accept such a proposal”.

Apart from the high biodiversity value of the forest, and the fact that its ecological integrity has been restored after years of unsustainable exploitation and encroachment, the “Save Mabira Campaign” team pointed out that the forest is an important water catchment; that the large population living around the forest relies on sustainable harvesting of forest products to sustain their livelihoods; and that the combined annual value of ecosystem services, forest products, and other revenues such as tourism provided by the intact forest, is considerably larger than the projected annual revenue from sugar cane. Nature Uganda consistently monitors the forest through the Important Bird Areas monitoring programme and has facts and figures on the improvements in its condition over the years.

The campaign team claim that suitable land has been offered to SCOUL outside protected areas; that productivity from existing land could be increased if sugar companies were to invest in more efficient production and processing technologies; and that employment and household incomes would both be increased if the government were to promote sugarcane “outgrower” schemes in place of large plantations.

The giving away of any part of a gazetted forest reserve is not permitted under Uganda’s Constitution; and the High Court has recently declared one such “give-away” for sugar-cane growing, at the Butamira Forest Reserve, to be null and void. Uganda is signatory to a number of key international and regional Conventions that protect forests, and in 2001 signed an agreement with the World Bank which committed the Government of Uganda to protect the wider Mabira ecosystem, including the Mabira Central Forest Reserve.

President Museveni expressed willingness to consider alternatives for sugarcane production without changing the land use of Mabira Central Forest Reserve. He also expressed the Government’s wish to increase the acreage of Mabira Central Forest Reserve from the current 30,600 hectares through buying additional land around the reserve. The President pledged that any decision to change the land use or degazette the forest reserve will be made by Parliament, and that government will follow all the policy requirements and legal procedures if a decision is made.

Source: BirdLife

12th October 2011: No soda ash mining without addressing environmental concerns

In an emphatic declaration of Tanzania’s keen interest to ensure that development takes environmental issues into consideration, the Vice President’s Office has affirmed that it will not compromise its position on environmentally damaging projects.

Tanzania’s Director of Environment in the Vice President’s Office, Dr Julius Ningu, told The Guardian on Sunday and the Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation (TBC) in an interview that “the government position for this particular site [Lake Natron] is to maintain [the] ecological system so that flamingos continue to breed … When we talk of sustainable use of natural resources, we mean for the benefit of current and future generations, now extraction of soda ash for sure can’t be beneficial to the future generations.”

“This is very good news and in my opinion, Dr. Julius Ningu has stated the government position that no approval will be given for the mining of soda ash until the issues raised in the review of the first EIA are counteracted.” says Mr Lota Melamari, avid campaigner for the conservation on Lake Natron and former Chief Executive of the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania (WCST, BirdLife in Tanzania) while commenting on the article. “This has shifted the burden of clarification to NDC who must prove beyond reasonable doubt that any planned exploration of Lake Natron’s soda ash will not impact the breeding of Lesser Flamingo”.

BirdLife welcomes the progressive views expressed recently by the Government of Tanzania in the management of natural resources, both in safeguarding the world-famous Serengeti National Park, and now the Lake Natron Ramsar site.

In 2006, the Tanzanian Government and the Indian company Tata Chemicals put forward proposals to build a large-scale industrial plant, supported by an extensive road and rail infrastructure, to extract soda ash from Lake Natron’s water. Following a global campaign orchestrated by the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania (WCST, BirdLife in Tanzania), Tata withdrew from the project in 2008. But the National Development Corporation (NDC), a government agency, is leading a renewed push to reinstate the project.

Source: BirdLife

27th September 2011: New study says birds learn how to build nests

A new study has found birds learn the art of nest-building, rather than it being just an instinctive skill. Researchers from Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews Universities studied film of Southern Masked Weavers recorded by scientists in Botswana. This colourful species was chosen because individual birds build many complex nests in a season.

Dr Patrick Walsh of Edinburgh University said the study revealed "a clear role for experience". The research has been published in the Behavioural Processes journal. Individual birds varied their technique from one nest to the next and there were instances of birds building nests from left to right as well as from right to left. As birds gained more experience, they dropped blades of grass less often.

"If birds built their nests according to a genetic template, you would expect all birds to build their nests the same way each time. However, this was not the case," added Dr Walsh. "Southern Masked Weaver birds displayed strong variations in their approach, revealing a clear role for experience. "Even for birds, practice makes perfect."

Source: BBC

23rd September 2011: Into Africa with the Reserve that knows no frontiers

Straddling five countries, Kaza is the world's biggest wildlife park. It is 15 times the size of the Serengeti yet few people working outside environmental circles will have heard of the Kavango - Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, or Kaza for short.

Kaza was made a legal fact last month as Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe signed up to the most ambitious scheme of its kind. The treaty signed in Luanda in August has created a reserve of 450,000 square kilometres, roughly the same area as Sweden.

The reserve has at least 3,000 plant species and over 600 bird species across savannas, wetlands and woodlands.

Source: The Independent 21/09/11

14th September 2011: Kenya's environment authority advises 'jatophra' is not viable in coastal Kenya

A Nairobi newspaper reports that, after consideration of the scientific evidence, Kenya’s National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) has decided to advise the Kenyan Government to halt the planting of the biofuel crop jatropha within the Coast region of Kenya. Proposed jatropha plantations would do irreparable damage to coastal Important Bird Areas (IBAs), including the Tana Delta and Dakatcha Woodlands.

The reported decision has been applauded by BirdLife Partner NatureKenya, which has been fighting a vigorous campaign against the destruction of woodland and other coastal habitats to make room for biofuel crops. NatureKenya also provided much of the evidence on which NEMA’s decision was based, especially recent research which has cast doubt on the supposed benefits of jatropha as a “green” alternative to fossil fuels. Scientific studies now recommend growing jatropha only as a hedge or living fence.

Even before NEMA’s decision, a company planning to grow oil seed crops on 28,000 hectares of the Tana Delta pulled out after consultations with NatureKenya and other BirdLife Partners, citing concerns over environmental impacts and long-term climate change effects.

In July, two directors of NEMA were suspended after accusations that they had acted irregularly in granting a licence to the Canadian company Bedford Biofuels to grow jatropha on a 10,000 ha “pilot” site in the Tana Delta. According to the Nairobi press, NEMA’s Chairman, Mr Francis Ole Kaparo, said that the licence had been awarded in spite of mounting scientific evidence which has exposed the claims made for jatropha as false. “There is nothing to prove jatropha is viable. In fact, all evidence shows it has failed,” Mr Kaparo is quoted as saying.

NEMA has advised the Kenyan government to cancel Bedford’s licence, but the company is challenging the cancellation. Bedford’s local representatives have organised demonstrations in favour of the Jatropha plantations, which have been described as an attempt to “intimidate” the authorities.

“We congratulate the NEMA Chairman, Mr Francis Ole Kaparo, the NEMA Director General Dr Ayub Macharia, and NEMA technical staff for their wise decision”, said NatureKenya CEO Paul Matiku. “NEMA is on the right path to sustainable development, by using science to avoid irreversible environmental, social and economic costs. We hope the Ministry will follow this advice and cancel Bedford Biofuel’s licence for a ‘pilot’ of 10,000 ha of jatropha at Tana, and that this wise decision has been made clear to Kenya Jatropha Energy Limited at Dakatcha.”

He added: “Globally, biofuel crops, originally viewed as substitutes for climate-damaging fossil fuels, have replaced food crops and natural habitats, leading to rising food prices and loss of critical wildlife habitats and ecosystem services.”

The Tana Delta has long provided local communities with food and livelihoods. Its value to the nation includes ecosystem services such as water storage, shoreline protection and marine life spawning grounds. It also has huge tourism potential. But as demand for land to grow commodity crops has increased globally, the Tana Delta has become the focus of interest for international speculators and investors.

“Over the last decade, conflicts have been increasing in the Tana Delta as the demands for competing land uses, natural resources, nature conservation and community interests have intensified,” said Paul Matiku. “It is for this reason that NatureKenya and stakeholders, led by Office of the Prime Minister, are initiating a combination of strategic planning and integrated assessment to develop a long term General Management Plan.”

Source: BirdLife

3rd August 2011: Birds of Ghana book aims to inspire a new generation of conservationists

The first field guide to the birds of Ghana to be intended for the people of Ghana rather than overseas visitors has been launched in a ceremony in the Swiss Hall, Accra. The 352-page Birds of Ghana describes and illustrates all 758 birds species recorded in Ghana and, where possible, provides their names in three languages, Akan, Ewe and Gonja, to stimulate local interest in bird watching.

The book is the fruit of a joint project between the Ghana Wildlife Society (GWS, BirdLife in Ghana), the Swiss Society for the Study and Conservation of Birds (Ala), BirdLife International and the publishers A&C Blacks Ltd. GWS will make the guide available to schools, universities, conservation NGOs, protected area authorities and government environmental agencies.

The guide was launched in the presence of the ambassadors and representatives of India, Switzerland, France and The Netherlands by Mr Henry Ford Kamel Ghana's Deputy Minister of Lands and Natural Resources. Mr Kamel said that the book would raise awareness of birds and their conservation, and that birds and their habitats were an important source of revenue through eco-tourism.

Professor Yaa Ntiamoah-Baidu, Chair of the GWS management board, and Acting Pro-vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana, added in her welcome address that GWS would soon be launching a nationwide common bird survey, which would provide an opportunity for everyone to get involved in observing and counting birds in their homes and workplaces. The survey would provide an essential scientific basis on which decisions about the conservation of Ghana's changing environments could be made.

"Birds of Ghana is a present from Ala to the Ghana Wildlife Society and to everyone interested in the biodiversity of Ghana", said Ala's Gilberto Pasinelli. "May it help to promote knowledge about birds and their conservation in Ghana and West Africa."

Ade Long, from the BirdLife International Secretariat, added that the BirdLife Partnership was committed to providing local field guides for countries which lack them. Over the last ten years, BirdLife have published local language field guides for more than 20 countries. "Field guides have inspired generations of conservation specialists, and resulted in the formation of conservation NGOs, which in many countries have become self-sustaining, mass-membership organisations capable of saving species, restoring habitats, and working closely with their governments in favour of biodiversity", Ade Long said.

"Birds of Ghana will nourish and help grow the next generation of conservationists in Ghana. But there are still many gaps across the world, especially in many bird-rich African countries which lack field guides of any kind. The BirdLife International Partnership is seeking funding partners to help them change this."

Ala provided funding for Birds of Ghana to celebrate its 100th anniversary. Ghana was chosen because most long distance migrants breeding in Switzerland spend the European winter in West Africa, and Ghana has been the source of many ringing recoveries.

BirdLife International is grateful Ala and A&C Blacks Publishers Ltd. for working with BirdLife to make an edition of the field guide available in Ghana. Special thanks to the authors Nik Borrow and Ron Demey, as well as Nigel Redman from A&C Blacks for their support in making this book happen.

Source: BirdLife

1st August 2011: Universities invest in Seychelles Warbler research

Nature Seychelles (BirdLife Partner) has received a total of £40,000 to renovate the Cousin Island Field Station. The Seychelles Warbler Research Group comprising the Universities of East Anglia and Sheffield in the UK, and the University of Groningen (the Netherlands) have invested in the station for the implementation of ongoing Seychelles Warbler Acrocephalus sechellensis research as well as to enlarge research capacity for other species.

The funds will be used to repair the facility, upgrade equipment and materials for researchers, students and volunteers and generally make for a better working environment. The Field Station was set up by BirdLife International in 1971. It has served hundreds of students and researchers since.

“Cousin Island Special Reserve is a perfect model for doing scientific research. We have invested in it because it’s a natural laboratory where you can do controlled research in a contained, yet very natural, wild environment”, said Dr. David Richardson of the University of East Anglia who coordinates the Warbler Group. Seychelles Warblers have been the subjects of intensive ongoing research by the group since 1988 and Richardson has been coming out to the Seychelles since 1997. “We have monitored the birds for many generations,” Richardson says.

Continuous monitoring and research has covered many aspects of the species biology. Research has shown for example how important the extended family is to Seychelles warblers just as it is to humans. Seychelles Warblers often participate in what is called ‘cooperative breeding’ where young warblers, especially females, and grandparents help in raising offspring. Other research has looked at female infidelity in the warbler and its reasons, and there is ongoing work on genetic variability.

The Warbler Group has given scientific and public talks locally and throughout the world and has published papers in leading journals on many aspects of the warblers’ biology. Richardson delivered a talk on how science and conservation works hand in hand using the warbler as an example at Nature Seychelles on July 14.

The Seychelles Warbler story begins in the 1960s when the total world population of 26 individuals lived in a patch of mangroves on Cousin and the species was heading towards extinction. The cause of the decline was loss of habitat – Cousin was then a coconut plantation - and the introduction of rats. To save the bird, International Council for Bird Preservation (now Birdlife International) purchased Cousin for conservation. Management of the island was directed towards regenerating the indigenous vegetation and keeping Cousin rat free.

This led to a spectacular recovery of warbler numbers on the island and by 1982 Cousin had reached carrying capacity. After Cousin, new populations were established on Aride and Cousine to increase the bird’s population and range and improve its chances for survival. The 2001 action plan for the warbler aimed at getting populations on five islands with over 5,000 birds. Nature Seychelles undertook the fourth translocation to Denis in 2004 and the population is flourishing there. A fifth island will be added to the list by the end of the year.

Source: BirdLife

1st August 2011: Syrian ibises fledge; Morocco's ibis wardens need your support

Conservationists who feared that Syria’s political unrest might affect the fortunes of the Middle East’s only breeding population of Critically Endangered Northern Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita can relax a little. For the first time in the last three years, the remaining pair has reared two healthy young, which have left the nest and begun their migration to their non-breeding grounds.

Northern Bald Ibis (NBI) is currently the most threatened bird in the Middle East, with just one breeding pair left of the tiny colony that was found near Palmyra, Syria, in 2002. Until this momentous rediscovery, the species had not been seen in the region for 70 years.

“We’re delighted to report that the fledging of two chicks has reignited our hopes for the recovery of this bird”, said Chris Bowden, the RSPB’s international species recovery officer, who coordinates the Northern Bald Ibis programme for BirdLife International. “The Syrian Desert Commission has successfully protected the birds and their breeding grounds.”

He added: “As we trace their migration route across the Middle East, we have colleagues across the region poised to monitor them on their journey. However, local difficulties are confounding our efforts. One of our Yemeni colleagues was forced to wait nine hours for fuel before starting to search for the birds!”

Since the 2002 rediscovery, conservationists have sought to give the birds protection by working with local people, and using state-of-the-art technology to track their movements outside the breeding season. This research has identified the adult’s wintering grounds in the highlands of Ethiopia, but where the juveniles go still remains a mystery.

The NBI was once widespread across North Africa and the Middle East. The only other fully wild nesting population occurs on Morocco’s Atlantic coast, near Agadir. “The outlying birds in Syria will be an important addition, but only if the population can be sustained”, Chris Bowden said.

Meanwhile, Spanish Partner SEO/BirdLife has launched an appeal to secure the world’s largest remaining population. Morocco’s Souss-Massa National Park region is crucial for Northern Bald Ibis, as all the country’s breeding colonies occur here. Over the last 14 years SEO/BirdLife has supported a dedicated team of local wardens, who are deeply involved in the protection and scientific monitoring of the species. Now they are calling for additional support so this team can continue their vital work.

The nest sites are located on coastal cliffs within the National Park and Tamri area, with an estimated 110 breeding pairs in 2009. There are several roosting sites, and most of the coastal steppes and fallow fields are used as feeding areas. The main known threat is the growth of tourism, and related disturbance to breeding and feeding habitats. Additionally, some birds have been killed by poachers.

The Souss-Massa National Park works with SEO/BirdLife on NBI conservation and sustainable management activities. The main institutions which have supported this successful project are the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), Territori i Paisatge Foundation, Swarovski, and the Spanish National Parks Authority. Recently, the NBI conservation plan has gained the support of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation and Dublin Zoo.

A National Species Action Plan has been drawn up, including priority actions to be implemented to secure and further improve the growth of the population. Tagging individuals with coloured rings and satellite transmitters is a priority action. Satellite tagging has proven to be extremely useful in determining the movements of the tiny NBI population in Syria.

Source: BirdLife

1st August 2011: What does the Serengeti Highway decision mean for Lake Natron?

Focus is now squarely on Lake Natron, following the Tanzanian Government’s recent statement that the proposed highway through the Serengeti will not be paved. Conservation organizations and local communities worry that the construction of roads to connect major cities in the region could have detrimental effects on the ecology of Lake Natron and could be used as an incentive to revive plans to build a soda ash plant at Lake Natron.

Victoria Ferdinand is the Acting CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania (WCST – BirdLife in Tanzania). She said: “While we applaud the Government for scaling down its intentions for the Highway we call for a holistic look at the Northern Transport Corridor” “Development is required, but we must not destroy Lake Natron and the Serengeti, two unique jewels that we have as a country.”

Lake Natron is the most important breeding site for Lesser Flamingos Phoenicopterus minor in Eastern Africa. This region has 1.5-2.5 million birds – which constitute 75% of their global population – and they are all hatched at Lake Natron. Since 2006, plans have been underway to construct a soda ash plant at the Lake but it faced strong opposition from within Tanzania and globally.

Mr Lota Melamari, the former CEO of the WCST said: “The road through Lake Natron must progress in a manner that does not interfere with this sensitive environment, especially the Lesser Flamingos, which are a major tourist attraction. If we destroy Lake Natron, we interfere with three-quarters of the global population of Lesser Flamingos”

There are also fears that opening up Lake Natron through to Loliondo could be used as a justification to revive plans to build a soda ash plant at Lake Natron.

Source: BirdLife

25th June 2011: Africa's tree belt takes root in Senegal

An ambitious plan to build a vast forest belt straight across Africa to contain desertification has taken root in Senegal, greening huge tracts of land with drought-tolerant tree species. From west to east, the 15-kilometer-wide Great Green Wall (GGW) will span the continent from Senegal to Djibouti, passing through Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia.In all, the coast-to-coast forest will run 7,600 kilometers (4,750 miles).

"It is a crazy project, but a touch of madness helps when conceiving something which has never been conceived," Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade said when he launched GGW at a conference of Sahel countries in 2005. Work on Senegal's section has made rapid progress since planting began in 2008, with various species of acacia trees stretching over 535 kilometers, covering around 15,000 hectares (37,000 acres) surrounded by 5,000 kilometers of firewalls.

The idea of erecting a great wall of trees to stop the southward spread of the Sahara came amid UN forecasts that two thirds of Africa's farmland may be swallowed by Saharan sands by 2025. International agencies have pledged to invest more than three billion dollars in building the wall. In Senegal, the GGW is currently being funded almost entirely by the government to the tune of 1.4 million euros ($2.1 million) annually, but additional funding is expected from the European Union.

Some 140 million euros will be needed to complete the Senegalese section, which runs through the northern Tessekere-Widu rural region, according to Matar Cisse, head of the national GGW agency. "Initially, it was just a political idea. Here we added technical content adapted to the management of each eco-system in perfect harmony with rural populations," mostly ethnic Fulani herders, he said in an interview last month.

"It is a program to fight climate change, drought, poverty," said his deputy, Pape Sarr. In this semi-arid region where the rainy season lasts less than three months a year, locals remember the devastating droughts of 1970 and 1980. The GGW has transformed the area, with nurseries growing the various tree species to be planted, alongside fruit and vegetable gardens tended by local women. Water, a rare commodity, comes from wells, rain water basins and a branch of the river Senegal.

Gilles Boetsch, an anthropologist from the French National Centre of Scientific Research (NCSR) hailed the GGW's positive impact on the environment, human activities, health and diet. He runs an observatory set up in Tessekere jointly by the NCSR and the Dakar-based Cheikh Anta Diop University, to study the project's impact. Malian and Burkinabe scientists are also involved.

Lamine Gueye, a Senegalese professor studying the health impact of the green wall, however fears it may lead to a return of mosquitoes in a region where malaria was on the decrease. But he also noted that the influx of scientists and medical experts has given locals free access to medical care in an area where "99 percent of the people had never seen a doctor."

And every year hundreds of Senegalese students and foreigners now flock to Tessekere to plant trees and help develop this impoverished region.

Source: Independent

25th June 2011: Tanzania steps up for the Serengeti and says 'no' to asphalt road

The proposed asphalt road which would have bisected the Serengeti National Park, jeopardising the world’s last great mammal migration, will not now be built, the Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism has announced at the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting.

As the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting comes to a close in Paris, the conservation community congratulates President Kikwete and the Tanzanian Government for their decision to reconsider the proposed North Road through the Serengeti National Park.

Hon. Ezekiel Maige, Tanzania’s Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism, confirmed that the existing tourist route would remain as it is, while roads outside the Park to District capitals would be upgraded. “This decision has been reached in order to address the increasing socio-economic needs of the rural communities in northern Tanzania, while safeguarding the Outstanding Universal Value of Serengeti National Park,” stated the Minister.

The Serengeti National Park, a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site, is the world’s largest protected grassland and savannah ecosystem, and provides the stage for one of the last terrestrial animal mass migrations on earth. Shaped by the circular march of some two million herbivores, including wildebeest and zebra, in their endless search for forage and water, the park supports one of the world’s highest concentrations of large predators, and is home to over 450 bird species. It is also of huge importance for Tanzania’s tourism and the country’s economy.

Welcoming this announcement, Dr Markus Borner from the Frankfurt Zoological Society said ”We thank President Kikwete and the Tanzanian Government for recognising the importance of the Serengeti ecosystem and to balance development with conservation. We urge the international community and the donor agencies to consider providing support for the construction of a southern alignment, which will avoid Serengeti National Park.’

“This is a very welcome step in the right direction,” said Thomas Tennhardt, Vice President of NABU (the German BirdLife Partner). “We congratulate the Tanzanian Government and encourage them to consider the road to the South to ensure a sustainable long-term solution. As well as reducing impacts on wildlife, it would also be of considerably greater benefit to local communities. Coupled with an extension to the East of the Serengeti, it would also address the Tanzanian government’s objective to connect isolated communities to commercial centres and road networks”.

Dr Tim Stowe for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (BirdLife in the UK) added: “We are delighted the Tanzanian Government has decided to not build the road. We now encourage the Government to undertake a Strategic Environmental and Social Assessment of the Northern transport corridor route to assess alternatives which are likely to benefit the livelihoods of more communities without destroying the integrity of other important sites like Lake Natron.”

“By taking this bold decision to protect the Serengeti, the government of Tanzania has once again demonstrated its commitment to sustainable management of the country’s abundant biodiversity resources for the good of current and future generations of Tanzanians. Last year, the country received a top award for best practice in management of Lake Natron,” said Victoria Ferdinand, the Acting CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania. “The practice on the ground must adhere to this decision with TANAPA effectively controlling the traffic allowed into the Park”.

”The announcement at the World Heritage Committee session is a great advance and we warmly welcome the Tanzanian Government’s far-sighted decision,” said Dr Julius Arinaitwe, Director of the BirdLife International African Partnership Secretariat . “However, there are still serious concerns about traffic through the park after upgrade of the roads either side, which will need to be fully examined as the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment for the North route is finalised.”

The proposed road would have been used by 800 vehicles a day by 2015 (one every two minutes) and 3,000 a day by 2035 (one every 30 seconds). Collisions between people and wildlife would have been inevitable. The road would have acted as a barrier to migrating herds of wildebeest, and the follow-on effects on predators, including one of the world’s most important lion populations, would have been catastrophic.

The decision means that tracks through the Northern Serengeti will continue to be managed by the park authority TANAPA. Tarmac roads will not reach the border of the park but will end at Mugumu to the west (12 km from the border) and Loliondo to the east (57.6 km from the border), leaving fragile habitat on both sides of the park without tarmac roads.

Earlier this year, Federal Minister for Development Dirk Niebel announced that Germany would be willing to finance a study on alternative ways of connecting areas bordering the Serengeti in the north to the existing road network, without crossing the Serengeti. In addition, Niebel reaffirmed willingness jointly to finance an international feasibility study for an alternative southern bypass for the national park.

Source: BirdLife

13th June 2011: Mozambique’s Lake Niassa declared reserve and Ramsar site

Lake Niassa, has been officially declared a reserve by the Government of Mozambique today, protecting the species and natural habitats of one of the largest and the most bio-diverse, freshwater lakes in the world. The Government of Mozambique has also approved the proposal for the designation of Lake Niassa as a Ramsar site, including not only the reserve, but surrounding wetlands and watershed. This wetland will be the second Ramsar site for Mozambique after the declaration of Marromeu Complex in 2003.

Lake Niassa, spanning 1,363,700 hectares and 700 meters deep is Mozambique’s part of the third largest and the second deepest lake in Africa (referred to as “Lake Malawi” in Malawi, and as “Lake Nyasa” in Tanzania, which are the other two countries that share it). The lake’s tropical waters and shores are home to an estimated 1,000 species of cichlids, with only 5 percent found elsewhere. The region is also home to significant and diverse bird populations, mammals and reptiles.

Local communities were instrumental in achieving success by making several concessions in order to protect their main source of food and income by agreeing to the closure of all fishing rivers during the annual spawning runs for lake salmon and other species, and the total protection of the Chambo (Tilapia sp.) spawning beds during breeding season. Additionally they created a team of community rangers responsible to district administration and cooperating with the Navy to enforce existing laws surrounding illegal fishing, timber cutting, illegal migration, mining and piracy.

Source: Surfbirds / WWF

13th June 2011: New Madagascar species discovered weekly, many already endangered

Scientists in Madagascar discovered more than 615 species, including 41 mammals between 1999 and 2010 but many of the exciting and colourful creatures are already endangered. One of the greatest tropical wildernesses left on Earth and home to some of the most spectacular wildlife, the island is home to 5% of the world’s plant and animal species, of which more than 70% are found nowhere else on earth.

The wildlife includes the aye-aye, radiated and spider tortoises, marine turtles, flying fox, fossa, tenrec, chameleons, crocodiles and many others. But this biodiversity paradise is in danger with many species on the brink of extinction. As deforestation and habitat fragmentation continue, so do erosion and sedimentation of coral reefs, leaving communities more vulnerable than ever. Droughts force people to abandon their fields and move towards the ocean where they practice unsustainable fishing methods causing fish stocks to dwindle away even faster.

In the aftermath of a coup in March 2009 and subsequent political turmoil, Madagascar's rainforests were pillaged for precious hardwoods, especially rosewood. Tens of thousands of hectares were affected, including some of the island's most biologically diverse national parks Marojejy, Masoala, Makira and Mananara. These logging activities also resulted in the rise of commercial bush meat trade. Specialised restaurants in Madagascar’s north sold lemur meat for as little as 3 Euro a plate. The political instability and increased crime rates, resulting in part increased poverty hurt the once flourishing tourism industry, one of very few livelihood options for people around national parks.

Among other discoveries was an exceptionally-coloured new snake species discovered in 2010 within Makira National Park, where illegal logging has possibly reduced these snake populations already. Scientists also discovered a new colour-changing gecko, resembling the bark of a tree. It can quickly change its colour from a subtle brown to a colourful bright blue during courtship.

"These spectacular new species show what’s at stake in Madagascar and what can be lost if we don’t save it. WWF Madagascar will put all its effort and money towards protecting priority land- and seascapes and priority species” says Nanie Ratsifandrihamanana WWF Madagascar’s Conservation Director.

“By protecting the environment and the island’s biodiversity, we are helping both the local communities and national government to attain more sustainable long-term development goals, and helping the world to protect irreplaceable natural resources.”

Source: Surfbirds/WWF

13th June 2011: Celebrating the Uluguru watersheds for World Environment Day

Villagers in Tanzania’s Uluguru Mountains marked World Environment Day with a celebration of a project which is raising local incomes and protecting the forest that provides vital ecosystem services, including water for some of Tanzania’s major cities. The project, run by BirdLife Partner the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania and the RSPB, works with government, civil society, schools, universities and the private sector.

The Ulugurus are one of the 13 mountain blocks of the Eastern Arc chain. They support a biologically rich forest with several unique species, including the Critically Endangered Uluguru Bush-shrike Malaconotus alius. The forests provide much of the water which supplies Dar es Salaam, and almost all of the supply to Morogoro.

The Ulugurus, however, are under threat. The average income of the Uluguru communities is a quarter of the national average. This, along with a growing population is placing increasing demand on the forests, particularly for timber and fuelwood. It is causing unsustainable farming practices to spread up steep slopes, and encroach on the riparian zone, which is resulting in a deterioration of water quality and quantity. It is also causing a decline in agriculture production through increased run-off and soil erosion. Unless action is taken, the situation is likely to worsen, as water demand is expected to rise sharply through the next 30 years, climate change may reduce supplies, and alternative water sources are limited.

Source: BirdLife

13th June 2011: Longline fisheries continue to drive albatross declines

A new global estimate of the impact of longline fisheries on seabirds reveals that, despite efforts to reduce seabird deaths, upwards of 300,000 birds are still being killed every year. The study by scientists from BirdLife International and the RSPB is published in the journal Endangered Species Research. It is a powerful reminder of how far we still need to go to ensure ecologically responsible fishing.

Since the 1980s, scientists have linked global declines of albatrosses and other seabirds with ‘incidental catch’ in longline fisheries. Adult and juvenile birds become snared on hooks attached to the lines, which can be over a hundred kilometres long, and are dragged underwater to a premature death.

Dr Orea Anderson, policy officer for the Global Seabird Programme and lead author of this study said, “It is little wonder that so many of the affected seabird species are threatened with extinction – their slow rate of reproduction is simply incapable of compensating for losses on the scale this study has demonstrated.”

Some fisheries have enforced strict regulations, resulting in substantial bycatch reductions in recent years. Seabird deaths around South Georgia in the Southern Ocean have declined by 99% since regulations were enforced. South Africa achieved a drop of 85% bycatch in its foreign-licensed fleet in 2008, when a cap was placed on the number of seabird deaths permitted.

Source: BirdLife

13th June 2011: BirdLife International staff celebrate the World Migratory Bird Day

Bird migration constitutes one of the most impressive natural phenomena and is one of the wonders of nature involving millions of birds worldwide. However, migratory birds worldwide are facing a significant decline due to human-induced threats emanating from human activities at their breeding, stop-over and wintering sites. Various forms of interventions taking place at various levels include site-based conservation action, research and monitoring, education and awareness are targeted at minimizing these threats. One of the key events meant to raise awareness about the plight of migratory birds include the World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD), which is a global awareness-raising campaign highlighting the need for the protection of migratory birds and their habitats. The theme of the 2011 event was “Land Use Changes from a Bird’s-Eye View” based on the emerging global concerns about the currents trends in conversion and modification of natural habitats and its implications on the conservation of migratory birds.

This year, staff of BirdLife International office in Nairobi together with members of Nature Kenya, Olorgesaile Environment and Wildlife Conservation Group (OEWCG) and staff of the Olorgesaile Prehistoric Site celebrated the WMBD on 21-22 May 2011. The event was celebrated at Olorgesaile Prehistoric Site and L. Magadi. Olorgesaile is around 70km south of Nairobi City. The site is a bird watcher’s paradise with over 400 species recorded including a high number of both Palaearctic and afrotropical migratory bird species especially those using the Great Rift Valley flyway.

Recently, attention has been drawn and concerns raised by the bird watching fraternity concerning habitat degradation and deleterious land cover change that has occurred more rapidly in the past few years at Olorgesaile and its environs. This is driven by the charcoal production to meet the increasing and insatiable demand for charcoal and fuel wood by the urban population in Nairobi and other adjacent small towns. According to George Eshiamwata who spent three years in the area conducting research on a Banded Parisoma almost a decade ago when he was involved in a 3-year ornithological research at this site and its surroundings, he confirms that the vegetation cover has significantly declined and feels that for the sake of biodiversity and livelihoods, urgent interventions are needed to reverse these worrying trends.

This year’s theme was very appropriate for this site where even though migratory soaring birds, water birds and passerines bird species especially make stop-over or wintering during their long epic journey, the current rates of land cover is a major issue that needs to be mitigated.

Source: BirdLife

13th June 2011: Counting, monitoring and conserving birds and biodiversity in Botswana

BirdLife Botswana, through the financial support from the Global Environment Facility Small Grant Programme in Botswana and the technical and financial support from the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), has set up a Bird Population Monitoring Programme in Botswana. The programme is sustained by dedicated, enthusiastic participants who voluntarily collect bird data every February and November.

The programme is part of the global effort to monitor terrestrial birds around the world and has been adopted from the RSPB. The objectives of the programme are:

  1. To develop a Wild Bird Index for Botswana showing bird population trends over time.
  2. To use the trends to set conservation priorities, report on biodiversity changes/state of the environment in Botswana (and to contribute to African/global efforts – Convention on Biological Diversity). The data collected also feeds into our local database systems like the Department of Environmental Affairs Environment Information System.
  3. To show that changes in the overall condition of ecosystems can be used by decision-makers to influence politicians to find suitable biodiversity management solutions.
  4. To increase levels of community participation through building the appropriate capacity in bird identification and awareness.

Source: BirdLife

26th May 2011: Hunting threat to critically endangered Dwarf Olive Ibis

Reports from BirdLife Species Guardians on São Tomé – a small island nation in the Gulf of Guinea - indicate that hunting is increasing and includes the Critically Endangered Dwarf Olive Ibis Bostrychia bocagei. A group of hunters were found with more than 90 São Tomé Green Pigeons Treron sanctithomae and at least one Dwarf Olive Ibis on 26 April 2011.

BirdLife Species Guardians from Associação de Biólogos Santomenses (ABS, the BirdLife contact NGO in São Tomé and Príncipe) found the hunters whilst carrying out surveys in Monte Carmo in Obô Natural Park, one of the main strongholds for the ibis.

The hunters had gained access through estate land under Agripalma concession to foreign (Socfinco) and São Tomé investors and intended for oil palm plantations covering an area of 5,000 ha. The area lies in the impoverished regions of São Tomé (Ribeira Peixe and Porto Alegre) and to the north of Príncipe (Sundy). The Agripalma concession lies adjacent to the Monte Carmo forests of the Obô Natural Park and overlaps with the Natural Park’s buffer zone.

BirdLife has previously expressed concerns that the development of the oil palm plantation at Ribeira Peixe would have significant adverse impacts on the forest biodiversity. Among the many impacts cited was an increased threat of hunting of threatened species owing to clearance of secondary forest that would lower bushmeat availability to local people.

“Hunting of Dwarf Olive Ibis in Monte Carmo immediately following some forest clearance shows that BirdLife was justified in raising concerns about developing oil palm plantations at Ribeira Peixe,” said Dr Paulinus Ngeh, BirdLife’s West Africa Subregional Coordinator.

“BirdLife and ABS have been in dialogue with the government and investors about these issues before, and we are looking forward to positive engagement in safeguarding the natural heritage of São Tomé. This is good for the company, for biodiversity, for the Santomean people and government, and the global community interested in conserving biodiversity”, continued Dr Paulinus Ngeh.

“There is an urgent need for proper implementation of environmental laws in São Tomé and Príncipe. For example, in addition to regulating hunting activities, the laws that created the Obô Natural Park and made Environmental Impact Assessments compulsory need to be adhered to. This way, the current constraints to protecting the island’s rich biodiversity may be overcome” says Dr Ngeh.

“We are extremely worried that the increasing hunting pressure and habitat destruction may already be driving the Dwarf Olive Ibis closer to extinction than ever before,” said Dr Julius Arinaitwe, the BirdLife Regional Director. “One likely approach to reducing the hunting pressure could be promoting access to cheaper alternative sources of animal protein hand-in-hand with making the local people realise other values of the species, including ecotourism benefits.”

Since 2007, BirdLife’s Preventing Extinctions (PEP) Programme has been supporting ABS to undertake work on three Critically Endangered species including Dwarf Olive Ibis. The work comprises research and monitoring, training site-based guides, implementing conservation measures and promoting improved protection for the species and the forest habitat. The PEP Programme work in São Tomé has been with the support of the Species Champion, Peter Smith and the British Birdwatchinig Fair.

Source: BirdLife

13th May 2011: Gaining weight but still not waterproof: penguins still need care

As at 9 May, there are around 400 penguins remaining in the rehabilitation centre on Tristan – there have been no further releases since 3 April. All remaining birds have gained weight well, but their feathers appear in poor condition after having been oiled and then washed. Release of these birds cannot occur until they are in excellent condition, as sending them into a cold south Atlantic without their waterproofing intact would be disastrous. Around 25 Tristanians are still working full time with the penguins, and the entire community remains dedicated to seeing the remaining birds head out to sea as soon as possible.

Sadly, the overall rate of rehabilitation of the rescued penguins has been extremely low, with around an 88% mortality rate amongst those birds that were moved to Tristan. This is a much higher mortality than in other oiling incidents, and we hope that lessons can be learned that will improve this figure in any future incidents. The extreme remoteness of the Tristan islands and the necessary delay (at least 6 days sail from Cape Town) in getting vital supplies and staff to the islands probably contributed to the low survival, as birds would have been consuming toxic oil from their feathers for more than a week before rescue was undertaken.

All remaining wild penguins have now departed from the islands, and headed off to their winter feeding grounds. We will not know the true impact of this calamity on the population until the birds return to breed on the islands in August and September this year. The wreck of the MS Oliva remains in the water near Nightingale, and some oil is still leaking from the vessel – it is likely that winter storms will break the wreck up, and will disperse this oil, but we will need to continue to monitor the situation for possible impact on returning birds.

Source: BirdLife

13th May 2011: Study confirms IBAs are priority sites for expansion of protected area network in Africa

A recent paper has found a significant mismatch between the protected area network in Africa, and the key habitats occupied by the continent’s most threatened birds. Important Bird Areas (IBAs) are shown to be much more effective than current protected areas (PAs) at covering the key habitats. Expanding the protected area network to include unprotected and partially-protected IBAs would improve coverage of the most threatened bird species.

African IBAs cover 2.1 million km2, an area comparable to the extent of African PAs (2.2 million km2). However, PAs in Africa are often sited opportunistically or targeted at charismatic and financially important megafauna, resulting in an inefficient representation of species and habitats within the PA network. Two-thirds of African IBAs support significant populations of globally threatened species.

Source: BirdLife

25th April 2011: Trucks and timber seized after Asity Madagascar intervenes

In a joint operation with police, local communities and Government officers, and forestry officials, Asity Madagascar (BirdLife in Madagascar) has struck a blow against illegal loggers in the Tsitongambarika forest IBA in the far south-east of the island. Several trucks loaded with rosewood logs have been seized.

Evidence of the extent of illegal logging was provided by the local communities around Tsitongambarika, who supplied photographs and video material. Asity Madagascar has been working with these communities to develop sustainable ways of using the forest, which was suffering encroachment from slash-and-burn agriculture. As part of the project, Asity Madagascar has trained local people to monitor the state of the forest, and provides incentives such as investment in developments chosen by the villagers (such as schools or improved water supplies) and goods such as fertilizers, when monitoring (independently verified) demonstrates successful forest conservation .

More than 800 rosewood planks and 100 logs were recovered by the operation. Asity Madagascar praised the prompt and effective action by the local authorities, which followed a series of workshops organised by Asity Madagascar to increase awareness of the social, economic and environmental damage caused by illegal logging.

Tsitongambarika is the largest remaining area of lowland rainforest in southern Madagascar, and home to many bird species endemic to Madagascar, several of which are globally threatened, as well as other biodiversity unique to this part of the island. After years of work by Asity Madagascar, Tsitongambarika has been granted temporary protected status, which is expected to be made permanent within the next two years.

Source: BirdLife

20th April 2011: Fresh concerns as President orders Lake Natron soda ash mining fast tracked

Fresh concerns have been raised following a directive by the President of Tanzania to fast track the construction of the proposed soda ash factory at Lake Natron in Tanzania. Tanzanian press quoted the President who was speaking at the Ministry of Industry and Trade officials in Dar es Salaam last week. He said that the country would not continue reeling in poverty “while our minerals are lying untapped” adding “with harvesting at Lake Natron, we will not be the first to do so, because our neighbours, Kenya, are doing the same on the other side of the lake,” He said there was no need for further delay since “experience has it that excavation can continue without any disruptions to the ecosystem.”

Lake Natron is the only regular breeding site for Lesser Flamingos in Eastern Africa. The 1.5-2.5 million Lesser Flamingos – which represents three quarters of the world population – breed only at Lake Natron. Food is plentiful, nesting sites abound – and above all, the lake is isolated and undisturbed. The Lake is an Important Bird Area and also a Ramsar Site.

In 2006 an Indian company, Tata Chemical Industries Ltd, in collaboration with the Tanzanian Government put forward a proposal to construct a $450 million factory that would produce 500,000 tonnes of soda ash per year and employ 150 permanent staff. However, there was a huge outcry from conservation groups – BirdLife International, the Lake Natron Consultative Group, RSPB, among others – that opposed the move, saying, it would disrupt the breeding of Lesser Flamingos that are listed as “Near Threatened.” Intensive campaigning led to a shelving of the initial project and withdrawal by Tata Chemical Industries in May 2008.

Reacting to the new development, Sarah Sanders, from RSPB’s International Division, said “The new directive is very worrying. The concerns raised over the project in 2008 still stand. Moreover, constructing the soda ash plant away from the shores of Lake Natron will not address the threat to Lesser Flamingo breeding.” She explained that the raw material will still be mined from the Lake, which provides the substrate for making Flamingo nests. Noise from the heavy equipment, the presence of people and a network of pipes will chase away the birds which are highly sensitive to disturbance while breeding”. She also added that the waste water would prevent the development of a thick crust that can support the weight of the birds while breeding.

Tanzania should learn lessons from the Kenyan experience. “Soda ash mining has been going on at Lake Magadi for over 100 years and Flamingos have not attempted to breed there over the last 50 years” said Mr Paul Matiku, the Executive Director of Nature Kenya. “Soda ash mining at Lake Magadi has left local communities disillusioned with little to show for the 100 years of mining. The environment has been damaged and fresh water nearly depleted”. He said that in 2003, scores of local Maasai were injured by Police as they protested against a controversial land lease renewal in favour of Magadi Soda Company.

It is not yet clear whether a new project proposal nor a new Environmental and Social Impact Assessment has been submitted according to Tanzanian law. Neither is it clear who the new investor or funder is. What is clear is that the new directive is likely to spur a new uproar from conservation organizations and the local community at Lake Natron, which is vehemently opposed to soda ash mining.

Source: BirdLife

10th April 2011: First Tristan Penguins released from 'rehab'

The first 24 penguins of more than 3,600 admitted to the “rehab centre” on Tristan da Cunha after the oil spill around Nightingale Island have been released back to sea.

“The penguins were selected from the strongest ones, with no visible oil on their outer plumage,” reports Trevor Glass Tristan da Cunha Conservation Officer. “Of the many tested to see if they were ready for release, only 24 had perfectly waterproof plumage.”

Source: BirdLife

10th April 2011: Help protect the Kinangop grasslands in Kenya

NatureKenya is looking for funds to help save the Kinangop grassland. This habitat is vital for the Endangered Sharpe’s Longclaw Macronyx sharpei. It is endemic to Kenya and can only survive in this rapidly diminishing habitat, which is being destroyed to make way for agriculture and urban development.

The Kinangop grasslands are also a crucial habitat for hundreds of thousands of European birds that migrate to Africa every winter – from Barn Swallows, Common Swifts and House Martins, to Northern Wheatears, Common Quails and Pallid Harriers. The disappearance of this habitat could have a devastating impact on the birds that Europeans consider to be ‘our’ summer birds.

Largely unprotected, the remaining 77,000 hectares (190,200 acres) of tussock grassland is vanishing fast. NatureKenya is doing all it can to protect what is left and has already turned 28 ha (146 acres) into a wildlife reserve that is protected forever – but this is just a tiny haven for Sharpe’s Longclaw.

It is now vital that we extend the reserve, safeguarding more of this threatened habitat.

Source: BirdLife

28th March 2011: Tristan islanders rally to save oiled penguins

Hundreds of oil-soaked Rockhopper Penguins have now been put into ‘rehab’ by Tristan Islanders facing a race against the clock to help save the endangered species. But those assessing the impact of the disaster believe more than 10,000 birds could have been affected.

Local conservationists, volunteers and now experts from the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds have been working tirelessly to help the threatened birds. Almost 500 penguins are already in a rehab shed where a team has begun efforts to stabilise them with fluid, vitamins and charcoal to absorb ingested oil. Another 500 penguins arrived on a rescue boat late last night and a further 500 are awaiting transport to Tristan for the same treatment.

Source: BirdLife

21st March 2011: Environmental disaster at Nightingale Island

At 0700 on the 16th March, Tristan received news from the Ovenstones fishing vessel MV Edinburgh that the 75,300 tonne bulk carrier MS Oliva en route from Brazil to Singapore had run aground on Nightingale Island. All on board are OK but the ship is well and truly stuck at Spinners Point, a rocky promontory on Nightingale's rugged northern coast.

It was thought at first that the environmental threat was small but the ship has subsequently broken up causing penguins and other seabirds to be oiled. Oil from the stricken MS Oliva stretches eight miles offshore and is more or less around the whole island. The slick ranges from thin films of oil, small balls and larger clumps of tar with the smell of diesel everywhere.

The Tristan Conservation Team are busy doing what they can to clean up Northern Rockhopper Penguins presently coming ashore smothered in oil on Nightingale Island. Penguins have finished their breeding cycle and most adults have also left the island after their annual moulting ashore. So birds would not be expected to be coming ashore at this time of year when it would be usual only to see adults leaving with their new feathers.

Another concern is the impact that the ship's cargo of 60,000 tonnes of whole raw soya beans will have on the fragile local marine environment, especially any long-term effect on the economically valuable fishing industry for crawfish, crayfish or Tristan Rock Lobster Jasus tristani which is the mainstay of Tristan da Cunha's economy.

Source: Tristan website

7th March 2011: A lifeline to prevent Africa's first recorded bird extinction

Liben Lark with a population of possibly fewer than 100 birds, is widely tipped to become mainland Africa’s first recorded bird extinction, unless urgent action is taken to prevent its demise from the only area it now inhabits: a single grassy plain in southern Ethiopia. Classified as Critically Endangered, the highest level of threat, this globally threatened bird has now been thrown a lifeline thanks to funds raised by the British Birdwatching Fair held at Rutland Water last August.

These funds (£242,000) will be used by the Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society, the BirdLife Partner in the country, to work with local communities to reduce the impact of over-grazing livestock and prevent conversion of the land to arable farming. Helping the grasslands recover will benefit both the lark and the pastoralists living there.

Man-made and natural phenomena all conspired historically to ravage Ethiopia’s wildlife riches and this landlocked African country now has 22 species of bird facing extinction. Conservationists hope that the proceeds from the 2010 British Birdwatching Fair will help turn the tide and save the Liben Lark and a range of other highly threatened species.

Martin Davies, of the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) – one of the fair’s co-founders and key organisers – said: “Ethiopia has a remarkable natural heritage and is hugely rich in species found nowhere else in the world. Over 840 species of bird have been recorded in Ethiopia, 17 of which are unique to this country and 29 others nearly so. Unfortunately, this wonderful wildlife is under increasing threat and we hope that the proceeds from this year’s event will help the Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society and BirdLife International to take the urgent steps needed to secure the future of this country’s unique birds. We also hope that the event will help raise the international profile of this wonderful country, so rich in wildlife.”

Ethiopia’s UK Ambassador, His Excellency Berhanu Kebede, said: “Ethiopia’s biodiversity resources are under critical threat. Growing human and livestock populations pose the single most serious problem, resulting in deforestation, overgrazing, soil erosion, and desertification. To reverse the situation, the government of Ethiopia has promulgated laws and put in place the appropriate institutions. Significant achievements have been made in restoring the fauna and flora of the country; hence the percentage of land covered by forests has grown from three to nine per cent within five years.

“On behalf of my country, I’m delighted that Ethiopia’s unique birds have been chosen as a beneficiary of the British Birdwatching Fair. It is fantastic that British birdwatchers have a passion for conserving Ethiopia’s birds. With four out of ten of Africa’s birds having been seen in Ethiopia, my country has a great deal to offer visiting birdwatchers and we believe that eco-tourism will be vital in helping to protect our unique wildlife and landscapes.”

Another Ethiopian endemic species in trouble is the grandly-named Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco. This macaw-sized bird with scarlet and navy-blue wings, long tail and green-and-white head was first found among the personal effects of the Prince after he was crushed to death by an elephant in 1893. As the unfortunate nobleman had not had time to label the specimen, its origins remained a mystery for half a century before the species was seen in the wild by a Cambridge naturalist in southern Ethiopia. Other species set to benefit from the proceeds of the Birdfair include Ethiopian Bush-crow and White-tailed Swallow.

Source: BirdLife

11th February 2011: Grauer’s Swamp Warbler mist netted at Kibira National Park - Burundi

An Endangered Grauer’s Swamp Warbler Bradypterus graueri – so far found in the restricted range of swamps of Burundi, Rwanda and eastern part of DRC – was recently mistnetted at one of valley swamps of Kibira National Park called Mwokora. The bird was caught during field work as part of the BirdLife International / MacArthur Foundation project on ‘Implementing and monitoring an Adaptive Management Framework for Climate change in the Albertine Rift’’ implemented in Burundi by ABO (BirdLife Partner in Burundi). The field work took place from 24-30 January 2011 and the bird was caught in the net on 25th after we set the nets for approximately 4 hours form 6am.

ABO staff estimated the local population to be 30 singing individuals. The previous Burundi population was estimated as ten pairs in 1984. The bird currently faces many environmental threats as its habitat is under high pressure by the surrounding community looking mainly for raw materials for making mats or for thatching. At other valley swamps of the park, agriculture is growing and seriously jeopardising the suitable habitat for the species. Urgent conservation measures - targeting the valley swamps – are needed.

Source: BirdLife

7th January 2011: The Egyptian Vulture - What's going on in Africa?

Since 2003 BSPB (BirdLife Partner in Bulgaria) has been working to conserve the Egyptian Vulture in Bulgaria. The gained knowledge during these years firmly shows that the main reason for the species decline is the increased adult mortality due to various anthropogenic threats. A significant part of the loss of birds is happening outside Bulgaria during the migration and non-breeding period. In the last seven years probably more than 20 adult birds did not return from their wintering areas.

In 2009 BSPB started an initiative for creating of partnerships with the countries from the Middle East and East Africa aiming to survey the threats and and propose conservation measures for the Egyptian Vulture along its migration route and in the wintering areas. Three expeditions were held - two in Ethiopia (2009 and 2010) and one in Sudan (2010) together with the Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society (EWNHS/BirdLife in Ethiopia) and the Sudanese Wildlife Society.


The Ethiopian expeditions were implemented in December 2009 and November-December 2010 by a BSPB team together with colleagues from EWNHS. The main study areas was the Afar triangle, where the biggest known congregation of Egyptian Vultures from the Palearctic wintering in East Africa is located. The work also included parts of South Ethiopia and the Highlands. The team members were Ivaylo Angelov, Tsvetomira Yotsova, Vladimir Dobrev Nikolay Terziev (BSPB), Bruktawit Abdu, Yilma Dellelegn Abebe and Tesfaye Bikilla-driver)(EWNHS),  Alazar Daka (WildCODE) and Samson Zelleke.

In both years of the study, for one and the same transect in the Afar triangle respectively 1358 and 1400 Egyptian Vultures were counted. The vultures were recorded in a semi-desert area at an altitude between 140 and 1230 m. a. s. l. The vultures were recorded through counting of the individuals roosting on electricity poles along the main road in the region from the southwestern corner of the Afar triangle to the Djibouti border and in the region of Dire Dawa town (only in 2009). The count was implemented before sunset between 16:30 and 18:00.

The data gathered by interviewing local people shows that nowadays the Afar triangle is a relatively safe wintering place for the Egyptian Vultures. The use of poisons against carnivores seems to be not practiced, the electrocution is probably a very minor threat (no electrocuted birds were found) and the local people traditionally do not harm the vultures. Given the huge importance of Afar for the wintering birds from big parts of Asia, long-term work on the species needs to be initiated and the limiting factors closely monitored.

However, the developing and expanding medium voltage electricity network in Ethiopia, which is built mainly by dangerous pylons (for the birds) gives a strong alert for the future of the large birds of prey. We recorded electrocuted White-backed Vulture and the local people on a number of sites mentioned the deadly impact of the power lines on vultures. Another issue is the practice for control of the stray dogs, which was recorded to exist at least in the municipalities of Negele, Awassa and Addis Ababa. We collected information that poison is regularly used for control on the populations of stray dogs and in two sites we found poisoned Hooded Vultures.

A very interesting observation was the first record in Africa of an individual from the Indian subspecies of the Egyptian Vulture (N. percnopterus ginginianus). This observation enlarges the supposed area of origin of the vultures wintering in Afar to Pakistan and India to the east.


In Sudan a joint expedition of BSPB and Sudanese Wildlife Society (September-October 2010) has found 17 electrocuted Egyptian Vultures. The main study area of the was the Red Sea coast in North-Eastern Sudan.

The finding of the dead birds under a particular power line in the surroundings of Port Sudan confirms a threat there which is known to cause the death of many birds and continues to take victims. Still in 1982-83 the German ornithologist Gerhard Nikolaus found almost 55 electrocuted Egyptian Vultures under the same power line and during next visit to the area 21 years later, he found another 5 dead birds. With the new data almost 80 electrocuted Egyptian Vultures have been found but this is only the tip of the iceberg since the power line was built in the 50s and has probably caused the death of many hundreds of Egyptian Vultures.

Not only were Egyptian Vultures found to be electrocuted by this particularly dangerous power line, but also Lappet-faced Vulture, Steppe Eagles and Bonelli’s Eagle which was not found to breed in Sudan previously.

The probable high mortality during the non-breeding period is considered to be one of the main reasons in the complex of threats leading to the fast decline of the Egyptian Vultures in the Balkans. We assume that the decades of impact on the species by this dangerous power line may have caused the extinction the population of Egyptian Vultures which traditionally migrates along the western Red Sea coasts and breeds in Eastern Europe and Asia. Following the results from the expedition, a huge priority in the species conservation will be the insulation of the dangerous power line near by Port Sudan and convincing the Sudanese Electricity Company to use a safe model of poles.

The results from the three African expeditions (Ethiopia 2009 and 2010 and Sudan 2010) will be published in a report which will mark the priorities for future conservation work for the Egyptian Vulture and the other scavenging birds of prey in Ethiopia and Sudan. The report will be available on BSPB’s website by the end of February 2011.

The work on the Egyptian Vulture in Africa was funded by Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Program, African Bird Club, Stitching Vulture Conservation Foundation and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, to which we express our gratitude.

Source: BirdLife

7th January 2011: Study shows alarming drop in Kenyan vultures

Vultures in one of Africa’s most significant wildlife reserves are declining at an alarming rate according to a new study in Biological Conservation. Researchers found that vulture populations – including African White-backed Gyps africanus, Ruppell’s Gyps reuppellii, and Hooded Necrosyrtes monachus – around the Masai Mara National Reserve in southwestern Kenya have dropped up to 60 percent over three decades.

The primary causes are changes in land use and other human activity, particularly the poisoning of livestock carcasses intended to kill lions and other large predators. Vultures quickly die after scavenging on the tainted carcasses. "Staggering declines in abundance were found for seven of eight scavenging raptors surveyed,” said co-author Munir Virani. “Better land management and a ban on certain pesticides are needed to preserve these keystone members of the scavenging community.” “The situation in Kenya perhaps mirrors the situation throughout eastern Africa,” Virani said. “This is the first time that large-scale population declines in vultures and other scavenging raptors in and around the Masai Mara have been documented.”

Another study published in early 2010 by the Journal of Raptor Research showed similar trends, revealing declines of 70 percent for scavenging birds, primarily vultures, over a three-year period in central Kenya. The authors determined that food and weather were not limiting factors and suggested that poisoned bait was responsible for the die-offs. The latest study compared trends between the migration season of large ungulates like wildebeest and the non-migration season on reserve, buffer, and grazed lands. Large declines in all areas, including the reserve, during the ungulate migration – when food supplies are abundant for vultures – suggest that they are affected well beyond the study area.

In many areas, livestock owners misuse a pesticide called Furadan to poison lions and other large predators that kill their livestock. They set out a carcass laced with the poison, which is subsequently scavenged by vultures. Because they are social animals that feed together, many vultures can be killed by a single poisoning event. Scavengers occupy an essential niche in the ecosystem as a clean-up and recycling crew. Vultures quickly consume the carcasses of dead animals before they decay and develop diseases harmful to humans, livestock and wildlife.

Paul Matiku, Executive Director of Nature Kenya (Birdlife Partner) said: “if the use of Furadan and other chemicals like Dichlophenac are not removed from the Kenyan market, Kenya is likely to not only lose all the wildlife but also wipe out the entire vulture populations and other target species”.

Source: BirdLife

17th December 2010: Electrocution of Vultures in Sudan

Ivaylo Angelov from the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds and colleagues from the Sudanese Wildlife Society found 17 electrocuted Egyptian Vultures Neophron percnopterus under a notorious power line near Port Sudan. This was first reported as a cause of vulture mortality by the German ornithologist Gerhard Nikolaus. He found 55 electrocuted Egyptian Vultures there in 1982-1983 and a further five on a second visit in 2003.

The total found and reported by ornithologists is thus nearly 80, but this is surely just the tip of the iceberg. In the past, the area around Port Sudan was the most significant known stop-over site of Egyptian Vultures in Sudan during its autumn migration. However despite that the fact that the expedition took place in September / October during the peak migration period, very few were seen. The power line was built in the 1950s and Angelov believes that it has probably caused the deaths of hundreds and possibly thousands of Egyptian Vultures - recently listed as an Endangered species by IUCN.

Other electrocuted victims of this particularly dangerous power line included several Lappet-faced Vultures Torgos tracheliotos (Vulnerable), Steppe Eagles Aquila nipalensis, and a Bonelli’s Eagle Aquila fasciatus. The expedition discovered a territorial pair of the latter, confirming it for the first time as a breeding species in Sudan.

High mortality during migration and at wintering sites is considered to be one of the main factors behind the fast decline of the Egyptian Vultures in the Balkans. Data from monitoring in Bulgaria and Macedonia over the last eight years has shown that in spring a significant proportion of the birds do not return to their breeding territories. During migration and wintering Egyptian Vultures often roost on electric pylons. The power line causing the deaths of so many raptors is situated close to large farms which attract many birds and until last year it was the only power line going out of Port Sudan and offering an attractive roosting site for the birds.

This project was part funded by the African Bird Club

Source: Project report to African Bird Club

6th December 2010: More than 150 African Penguin chicks rescued from Dyer Island

An emergency operation to rescue 156 African Penguin chicks from Dyer Island, South Africa, has been co-coordinated successfully. The chicks faced starvation as they had been born late in the breeding season. Now their parents have begun to moult and are therefore to go to sea to fish preventing them from feeding their young which are often abandoned to die.

Removed by the CapeNature team the chicks were rapidly taken ashore by the Dyer Island Conservation Trust's research boat, Lwazi (Knowledge), before being transported to SANCCOB'S rescue centre in Cape Town where they will be fed and cared for about three months.  The chicks will then be released back into the breeding colony at Dyer Island.

The African Penguin was recently declared an endangered species. Dyer Island is one of the most important breeding colonies of the African Penguin but it now has fewer than 1200 breeding pairs following a 55% decline in the population.

Source: Dyer Island Conservation Trust

25th November 2010: Ethiopian surveys find high densities of Prince Ruspoli's Turaco but highlight threats

Recent surveys of Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco Tauraco ruspolii suggest that rates of habitat change have been very fast in the northern part of the species’s range, where large areas have been converted to agriculture and plantations of exotic trees.

Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco (Vulnerable), is a macaw-sized bird with scarlet and navy-blue wings, long tail and green-and-white head. It was first discovered among the personal effects of Prince Ruspoli after he was crushed to death by an elephant in 1893. As the unfortunate nobleman had not had time to label the specimen, its origins remained a mystery for half a century before the species was seen in the wild by an English naturalist in southern Ethiopia.

In 1995, its population was estimated at 10,000 individuals, but alarming rates of habitat destruction in the region were feared to have had negative effects on this bird, that lives along forest edges and in woodlands with scattered Podocarpus and fig trees.

Fortunately, in the central part of Ruspoli’s Turaco’s range, the woodlands bordering Sede and Lela Lemu forests are still largely intact, and support high densities of the species. The forests themselves are inhabited by a rich avifauna that also includes the White-cheeked Turaco Tauraco leucotis. This area is clearly a key site for the conservation of the species, as it hosts the most important surviving population. However, the survey also found that rates of illegal logging and agricultural expansions are increasing in the area, and rates of habitat destruction are bound to increase as the road system will soon be upgraded to support the expansion of the mining industry, that is already flourishing in the area. Urgent actions are now needed to improve the conservation of Sede and Lela Lemu forests and of the woodland belt that surrounds them.

Source: BirdLife

22nd November 2010: Liberia and Sierra Leone move to designate Gola Rainforest as National Park

The governments of Liberia and Sierra Leone have started the formal processes of designating the Gola Rainforest as a shared National Park and Protected Area.

“There is every reason for us to protect the Gola Forest on both sides of our border, since doing so will ensure that it will continuously provide ecological services to the surrounding communities”, said presidents of Liberia H.E. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Sierra Leone H.E. Dr Ernest Bai Koroma in a joint statement presented at a recent conference in Sweden.

Gola Rainforest is part of the Upper Guinea Forest Ecosystem, which is one of the world’s most biodiversity-rich ecosystems. Of the 240-250 forest dependent birds in the region – such White-breasted Guineafowl Agelastes meleagrides and White-necked Picathartes Picathartes gymnocephalus (both Vulnerable) – more than 25 are threatened or restricted-range species. It is also home to more than 50 mammal species, such as Forest Elephant Loxodonta cyclotis, Pygmy Hippo Choeropsis liberiensis and ten species of primate, including Chimpanzee Pan troglodytes.

Last year the Presidents of Sierra Leone and Liberia established the ‘The Across the River transboundary Peace Park’ project to protect the Gola Rainforest – an area covering the Gola, Lofa and Foya Forest Reserves (see map). This commitment is now being translated into actions by both countries.

Source: BirdLife

16th November 2010: Biofuels policy threatens wildlife habitats

Imports of biofuels from crops are due to treble over the next decade to reach the legally binding target for 10 per cent of all transport fuel to come from renewable sources by 2020. At present, just over 3 per cent of petrol and diesel sold in Britain comes from crops such as soya, palm oil and sugar cane.

Tim Stowe, the RSPB’s director of international operations, said: “We are seeing the impact of European renewable fuel targets first hand with our work in Kenya. The Tana River Delta and the Dakatcha Woodlands are both hugely important areas for wildlife and they are currently at risk from irresponsible and unsustainable biofuel plantations.

“Trees will be cleared, wetlands will be under threat and a range of species will be pushed to the brink if these proposals go ahead. The threatened Clarke’s Weaver will be driven to extinction first, but who knows how many more species will follow. Our message is clear: biofuels targets must be scrapped or wildlife will suffer.”

Speaking from Kenya, Paul Matiku – Executive Director of Nature Kenya said: “our biofuel message needs to sink among the decision makers in Europe. It is critical to ensure no net loss of biodiversity globally as a result of these biofuel targets”.

Source: BirdLife

15th November 2010: Kenyan IBA keeps National Park status

The High Court of Kenya has reversed an order by President Mwai Kibaki to downgrade the Amboseli National Park to a game reserve. The High Court found the move to ‘de-gazette’ Amboseli was illegal.

Amboseli National Park lies immediately north-west of Mount Kilimanjaro, on the border with Tanzania. It has been identified as an Important Bird Area, and has a rich avian fauna with over 400 bird species recorded, including over 40 birds of prey including Vulnerable Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni which uses the site during its migration period.

Amboseli National Park is surrounded by six communally-owned group ranches that are wet-season dispersal areas for wildlife, and whose management has direct influence on the ecological stability of the park.

Source: BirdLife

3rd November 2010: South African birds in trouble

Of the 10,000 bird species on Earth, 1,226 are listed as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable. Forty of these occur in South Africa and of these 20 are endemic. In South Africa, a number of birds are listed on the IUCN Red List, with several heading for extinction should some of the threats continue and should the NGOs who are implementing conservation action halt their important work.

The Wattled Crane Bugeranus carunculatus is the most severely threatened crane on the African continent. Recent surveys in Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia, countries long thought to be strongholds for the Wattled Crane, show that the global population is only half of what has been reported in recent years. Some of the greatest losses have occurred in South Africa, where a 38% decline between 1980 and 2000 left the national population Critically Endangered. Only about 250 individuals remain in South Africa, mostly concentrated in isolated pockets of the KwaZulu-Natal midlands.

The African Penguin Spheniscus demersus was uplisted to Endangered on the IUCN Red List earlier this year. The population has declined by 60.5% in the past 28 years, primarily due to food shortages linked to commercial fishing and recent, large-scale changes in fish distributions. The impacts of predation and competition (especially with Cape Fur Seals) is an increasing problem as penguin colonies shrink. Catastrophic oil pollution events remain a big potential threat, while chronic oiling and toxic pollutants in the oceans are increasingly problematic for African Penguins.

Another charismatic bird in urgent need of conservation attention is the Taita Falcon Falco taita. This species is threatened primarily by habitat loss and fragmentation. “The use of the Taita Falcon’s range and nesting sites by species such as the Lanner Falcon can be directly related to habitat change and the fact that the population is very fragmented,” says André Botha, Manager of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Birds of Prey Programme. South African raptor conservationists will be recommending an Endangered listing for the species when the Red Data Book is revised next year, as the national population numbers no more than 25 adult individuals.

The Blue Swallow Hirundo atrocaerulea inhabits short, undulating, mist-belt grasslands along the eastern South African escarpment and north-western Swaziland. The South African Blue Swallow population of approximately 50 known pairs is locally classified as Critically Endangered. The global population, estimated at less than 1 500 pairs, is considered Vulnerable. In South Africa (KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo Province), their numbers have declined by more than 80% over the last 100 years, mostly as a result of habitat destruction caused by afforestation.

Eighteen of the 22 albatross species occurring worldwide are threatened with some level of extinction. For long-lived, slow-breeding birds like the albatrosses, even apparently slow population declines can have alarming consequences over time. Dr Ross Wanless, BirdLife South Africa’s Albatross Task Force Manager, says, “Each year about 1 billion longline hooks are set, which catch and drown 300 000 seabirds, of which 100 000 are albatrosses. But we have achieved some impressive conservation gains for albatrosses. South Africa’s fisheries lead the world in implementing seabird bycatch mitigation measures. The trawl industry has mandatory measures to reduce bycatch, which is now down by 60%; longliners have mandatory measures to reduce bycatch and seabird bycatch is down by 80%.” Fifteen albatross species are recorded from South African waters.

Recent South African species uplistings include the Grey Crowned Crane Balearica regulorum and Black Crowned Crane Balearica pavonina, uplisted to Vulnerable, the African Penguin from Vulnerable to Endangered and the Southern Ground Hornbill Bucorvus leadbeateri upgraded from Vulnerable to Endangered. Only one species was downlisted, the Corncrake Crex crex, from Near Threatened to Least Concern.

Source: BirdLife

8th October 2010: Tana River Delta blues lift slightly

The Tana River Delta on Kenya's coast is at a cross-roads. The massive pressure to exploit the area for growing sugar and biofuel crops amongst other development pressure is forcing an intense campaign to ensure that the delta's peerless natural environment.

For biofuels in particular, the pressure on land is mounting in Africa and European governments, including our own are not able to identify good sources from bad – a fundemental flaw in policy that risks a wave of damaging landuse change.

There is little doubt that the natural richness of the area is outstanding, local communities alongside Nature Kenya (BirdLife Partner / with support from the RSPB) want to see necessary development in the area planned to ensure that the cost of smash and grab development isn't measured in the inevitable loss of one of the world's most important places for nature.

It's not about no development – it's about the right development shaped and led by the best information and with local communities at the heart of the process.

So it's encouraging to hear that there are now steps to develop a plan for sustainable development for the delta. The devil, as always, will be in the detail and there is a tough struggle ahead for Nature Kenya's campaign to ensure that the master plan does the job effectively and ends the era of bad planning and short-termism that has dogged the delta for years.

Source: Andrew Farrar RSPB vie e-mail on African Birding

5th October 2010: Project launched to identify conservation targets of Eastern Africa

BirdLife International and the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) have recently launched a new initiative to prepare a conservation and investment strategy for mountain ranges across eastern Africa, from Saudi Arabia and Yemen in the north to Zimbabwe in the south.

Collectively termed the Eastern Afromontane Biodiversity Hotspot, the region covers a total area of more than one million km2 across sixteen countries and is made up of three ancient massifs: the Eastern Arc Mountains and Southern Rift, the Albertine Rift, and the Ethiopian Highlands.

“The Eastern Afromontane Biodiversity Hotspot is incredibly important for wildlife and people”, said Julius Arinaitwe – BirdLife’s Director for Africa. “It’s very species-rich, with around 7,600 plants, 1,300 birds, 500 mammals, 350 reptiles, 230 amphibians 890 fish recorded so far. Many of these can be found nowhere else on earth. The hotspot also provides vital ecosystem services for millions of people’’.

Despite the huge biological and socio-economic value of the hotspot, about 15 percent is currently under any level of protection, and only 10 percent of the original vegetation remains in pristine condition.

Source: BirdLife

29th September 2010: Major population crash of the critically endangered Taita Apalis

Taita Apalis Apalis fuscigularis is endemic to the Taita Hills in south-eastern Kenya. It is one of the rarest birds in the world, surviving in only five small forest fragments at altitudes of between 1,500 and 2,200 m. Its known global range is less than 600 ha. In 2001, the population of this species was estimated to only be 300-650 individuals, thereby qualifying it for the highest threat category, Critically Endangered.

Field work carried out in 2009 and 2010 with support from BirdLife International, RSPB, CEPA and Chester Zoo strongly suggests that a major population crash is underway. Compared with 2001, sighting rates in April-May 2009 had dropped by about 38%; repeated counts done in September-December 2009 and May-July 2010 showed even larger decreases, approaching 80%. This means that the global population of the apalis might now be reduced to only 60-130 individuals, almost all of which are located in a single forest, Ngangao, which is only about 120 ha.

The causes of this extremely worrying drop are unclear. Little or no illegal logging is now occurring in the Taita, and human disturbance has been significantly reduced thanks to the effort of the Kenya Forest Service and local conservation groups. The impacts of other possible factors, such as nest predation and climate change remain unknown. Nonetheless, it is clear that all the possible candidates driving this apparent crash need to be urgently studied in order to stop this species from sliding further towards the brink of extinction. Similarly, research is also urgently needed on the second critically endangered bird of the Taita Hills forests, Taita Thrush Turdus helleri, whose population has not been assessed in recent times, but might be threatened by the same factors that are already affecting the apalis.

Taita Apalis and Taita Thrush are both receiving funding from the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme. The programme is spearheading greater conservation action, awareness and funding support for all of the world’s most threatened birds, starting with the 190 species classified as Critically Endangered, the highest level of threat.

Source: BirdLife

1st September 2010: The Serengeti highway must be stopped now

The Government of Tanzania is planning a major commercial highway across the Serengeti National Park, linking the Lake Victoria area with eastern Tanzania. The Government, via its agency TANROADS, proposes to construct a 171.5km road that will directly traverse the Wildebeest Migration route. It is part of a bigger plan to connect the proposed new port at Tanga to Musoma on Lake Victoria via Arusha and Lake Natron’s shores.

The road will be funded by the Tanzanian Government and the section from Serengeti to Musoma is estimated to cost £144 million. The Government has contracted two companies - one Indian and the other based in Tanzania - to jointly undertake an Environment and Social Impact Assessment, which we believe is to be completed before the end of the year. If the project is given the go-ahead then construction is likely to start at the beginning of 2012.

The area is home to over 450 bird species. These include three Tanzanian endemic species and two globally threatened species: the Grey-crested Helmet Shrike and Karamoja Apalis, a rare African warbler. It is thought that one third of Africa’s Ruppell’s Vultures use the Serengeti ecosystem.

Now this extraordinary national park and its wildlife are in great peril.

Source: RSPB

26th August 2010: Catastrophic forest fire delivers huge blow to Europe’s rarest seabird

A massive forest fire on the island of Madeira has killed several breeding adults and 65% of this year’s chicks of Zino’s Petrel.

Zino’s Petrel Pterodroma madeira is Europe’s rarest seabird and one of the rarest birds in the world, nesting only on a few mountain ledges in the rugged central massif of Madeira island. Once on the edge of extinction with numbers down to a few tens of pairs, intense conservation action over the past 20 years, led by the Natural Park of Madeira (Parque Natural da Madeira - PNM) with support from SPEA, the Freira Conservation Project and Funchal Municipal Museum, has seen its population grow to almost 80 pairs.

In recent weeks, forest fires have ravaged parts of Madeira, and on 13 August they hit the heart of the central massif. This area (which is protected as part of the EU’s Natura 2000 network) comprises a very important habitat and supports several endemic plants and animals, including the Zino’s Petrel breeding colony, where many nestlings were still in their burrows.

On 15 August, as soon as the ground and soil had cooled down sufficiently, PNM staff visited the breeding cliffs to assess the damage. The results were shocking: 25 young and 3 adults were found dead, and only 13 young fledglings were found alive in their underground chambers. As well as the dead birds, the fire exacerbated soil erosion, with several nesting burrows having disappeared.

Source: BirdLife

12th August 2010: Biofuel threat to Kenyan IBA continues

Kenya's National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) has refused a licence for a 50,000 hectare biofuel plantation at the Dakatcha Woodland Important Bird Area (IBA). However, they advise the proponent to 'redesign and scale down the project to pilot level to prove sustainability before an EIA license can be issued for the entire proposed area of 50,000 hectares'.

"This appears to indicate that the full 50,000 hectare project is still under consideration for conversion to biofuel plantations", remarked Paul Matiku - Executive Director NatureKenya (BirdLife Partner).

Dakatcha Woodland IBA, which has no formal protection status, holds significant populations of Endangered Sokoke Pipit Anthus sokokensis, and is one of only two known sites for Endangered Clarke's Weaver Ploceus golandi. It's a biodiversity hotspot and the communities around the forest depend on it for their livelihoods and cultural practices.

Source: BirdLife

6th July 2010: A nightingale from Norfolk sang in Guinea-Bissau

British scientists have solved a major mystery of the natural world by tracking for the first time a migratory songbird on its winter journey through Africa. The bird, a male nightingale code-named OAD, left Britain on 25 July last year after nesting in Norfolk, and travelled through France and Spain and down the coast of West Africa to Guinea-Bissau, the former Portuguese colony which is one of Africa's smallest and least-known states, where it spent the winter. It returned to Britain in April.

The tracking of its incredible 3,000-mile odyssey was made possible by using a tiny "data logger" locator device fitted to the bird which has lifted the curtain on one of wildlife's great enigmas: where exactly do our migrant birds go in the winter? The discovery is likely to prove vital in finding out why many of these species, such as spotted flycatchers, wood warblers and whinchats, have begun to decline sharply in Britain and Europe, as it may be on their African wintering grounds that they are running into trouble. As reported in The Independent last week, nightingale numbers in Britain have fallen by 91 per cent in the past 40 years.

The findings have been made possible by the miniaturisation of tracking devices, which are now so small they can be fitted to birds weighing only a few grammes, without hindering them on their vast migrations. Nightingale OAD was captured on 2 May last year near Methwold Hythe in Norfolk, and fitted with a tiny geolocator by researchers from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). Geolocators were developed by the British Antarctic Survey for tracking albatrosses. They use a light sensor and a memory chip to record the light level against a clock and a calendar, from which latitude and longitude on a particular date can be deduced. However, the geolocators are not big enough to transmit the information directly.

The one fitted to OAD, which was developed by the Swiss Ornithological Institute, weighed just one gramme and was the size of a shirt's button. As a result, birds fitted with the devices had to be recaptured on their return to Britain so the locator could be recovered and the data downloaded for analysis. After its breeding season, the bird, which was probably born in 2007, left Britain's shores somewhere near the border of Kent and Sussex, crossed the Channel, and headed due south down through Central France, crossing the Pyrenees in mid-August.

It turned down the eastern side of Spain and crossed the Mediterranean from the region of Almeria to Morocco, where it had a three-week stopover from late August to mid-September for rest and feeding. These stopover sites are increasingly seen as crucially important, and if they are suffering from environmental degradation, that may be a reason for declines in bird numbers.

Having rested and refuelled, OAD carried on flying down the Atlantic coast of Africa, through the Western Sahara and Mauritania, into Senegal and finally to Guinea-Bissau, where it arrived in mid-December, and spent about six weeks. It departed on its spring migration back to Britain in February this year, about which time the geolocator failed. But researchers believe it arrived in Norfolk in mid-April, and it was caught again on 9 May.

The researchers say that the word "breakthrough" is not too strong a description of what the geolocator's data showed. Scientists have traditionally relied on the recovery of birds which had been ringed in order to reconstruct their journeys. Although this works well enough within Britain and Europe, the number of recoveries of European-ringed migrants south of the Sahara has been minimal. In many cases, nothing whatsoever has been known about where European migrants fly to, once they cross the Mediterranean in the late summer, and head out into the vast African continent.

Source: The Independent

24th June 2010: NatureKenya oppose the destruction of Dakatcha Woodland IBA

NatureKenya is working alongside local community members to oppose the destruction of a vitally important woodland for biodiversity and people at the Kenya's coast. In total 50,000 ha have been identified for conversion to grow Jatropha - a plant used for biodiesel production which is largely untested and potentially destructive. The area identified poses a threat to Dakatcha Woodland Important Bird Area (IBA) which lies within the proposed development.

Dakatcha is an extensive tract of relatively intact coastal woodland, north of the Sabaki River and between 25 and 50 km inland from the Kenyan coast. It is an IBA and Key Biodiversity Area for many Globally Threatened species such as Endangered Clarke's Weaver Ploceus golandi.

Dakatcha is also the ancestral land for the indigenous minority Watha community. The Watha gain invaluable ecosystem services from the forest such as clean stream water for drinking, and a sustainable supply of firewood for cooking and lighting.

NatureKenya works with many community groups called Site Support Groups in and around priority conservation sites across the country. At Dakatcha, Nature Kenya - in collaboration with various partners - has initiated alternative livelihood activities including promotion of bee keeping, ecotourism and development of sustainable forestry management to conserve the Dakatcha Woodlands IBA.

Sadly, the County Council of Malindi and Kenya Jatropha Energy Ltd. have announced the setting aside of 50,000 ha of land within Dakatcha and the surrounding areas for conversion to Jatropha Plantations. "Jatropha curcas is an untested and potentially destructive plant", said NatureKenya's Director - Paul Matiku. "Large scale clearing of land for plantations in the Dakacha area will erode the fragile soil and take up scarce water".

NatureKenya is working alongside the Dakatcha Woodland Conservation Group SSG and Dakatcha Woodland Community Forest Association to fight the plans which endanger the future of both local people's livelihoods, and Globally Threatened biodiversity.

Speaking about the felling of indigenous trees before the completion of an Environmental Impact Assessment report, Paul Matiku warned: "any further cutting of forest, woodland or thicket in Dakatcha will damage the ability of the landscape to be a water catchment and protect the soil from erosion; and threaten with extinction plants and animals which Kenya has a global responsibility to conserve".

The local conservation group and the general community have held demonstrations in Mulunguni area, and communities in Chamari and Mulunguni villages have filed a court case against Kenya Jatropha Energy Ltd. to stop alienation of their land.

This week NatureKenya, the East African Wildlife Society, Youth for Conservation and community representatives held a press conference to oppose the project where local people spoke out. Joshua Kahindi, a representative of the Dakatcha community, decried the: "alienation of land from local communities to be given to the Kenya Jatropha Energy Ltd". "The community was not adequately consulted", said another member of the local community - Jacob Kokani. "We are against the project as it will displace us from our ancestral land", he concluded.

Source: BirdLife

24th June 2010: Vultures in Africa

Cape Vulture Gyps coprotheres - one of Africa's largest birds of prey - is believed to be under threat from the followers of muti magic in South Africa, who mistakenly believe smoking dried vulture brains will confer supernatural powers upon gamblers enabling them to predict match results from the forthcoming football World Cup.

Betting on the outcome of World Cup games will be big business and conservationists believe superstition and sorcery will be powerful attractions for gamblers desperate to increase their chances of a big win, placing even more pressure on the Cape vulture, which is already classified as facing global extinction.

Mark Anderson is the Executive Director of BirdLife South Africa. He said: "Many vultures species across the world are in trouble. Our very own species in southern Africa is declining sharply for a number of reasons, including reduced food availability, deliberate poisoning and electrocution from electricity pylons. The harvesting of the bird's heads by followers of muti magic is an additional threat these birds can't endure."

The RSPB's Dr Chris Magin works with BirdLife South Africa. He said: "One in every six of the world's birds of prey are facing extinction and during the past two decades vultures have virtually vanished from West Africa, South Asia and other parts of the world."

Steve McKean, from KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife, has been studying the decline of vultures related to the harvesting of birds for muti magic. He said: "Our research suggests that killing of vultures for so-called 'traditional' use could render the Cape Vulture extinct in some parts of South Africa within half a century. In the worst case, the Cape Vulture could be suffering population collapse within 12 years."

Conservationists remain concerned that most vultures are killed for muti magic are killed using the poison Aldicarb, which is also lethal to humans.

André Botha, manager of the Birds of Prey Working Group at the Endangered Wildlife Trust in South Africa, said: "Vultures fulfill an important ecological role as scavengers and their absence in Africa indicates an unhealthy environment. This threat is also known to occur widely in East and West Africa and poses a threat to all species of vulture on the African continent."

"Vultures are currently considered among the most threatened bird groups in Africa, with four out of eleven species Globally Threatened according to BirdLife International on behalf of the IUCN Red List", said Dr Julius Arinaitwe - Head of BirdLife's Africa Secretariat. "It is our duty to save them", he concluded.

Source: BirdLife

30th May 2010: African Penguin status

Each year BirdLife International revises the Red List for the bird species of the world. Today they announced that the African Penguin has gone from Vulnerable to Endangered. This assessment is based on rigorous criteria, for the penguin, the population has crashed by more than 50% in the past 30 years, signalling a strong warning to conservationists.

BirdLife International report that recent data have revealed that the African Penguin is undergoing a very rapid population decline, probably as a result of commercial fisheries and shifts in prey populations. Worryingly, the assessment notes that this trend shows no sign of reversing, and immediate conservation action is required to prevent further declines.

In 1956, the first full census of the species was conducted, and 150,000 pairs were counted. These were the birds that had survived more than a century of sustained persecution, principally from egg collecting and guano scraping. In 2009, after another decrease (the global population fell another 10% from the 2008 count), there were only 26 000 pairs. Those numbers represent a loss of more than 80% of the pairs in just over 50 years, equivalent to around 90 birds a week, every week since 1956!

“The colonies around our coast have shrunk to dangerously small numbers.” said Dr Ross Wanless, Seabird Division Manager for BirdLife South Africa. “Now the colonies are very vulnerable to small-scale events, such as bad weather, seal predation **or** seagulls taking eggs. In a large, healthy population these events were trivial. Now, they have potentially serious consequences. We’re almost at the point of managing individual birds.” he continued.

Dr Rob Crawford, chief scientist for Marine & Coastal Management, the government department responsible for monitoring and protecting seabirds, has worked on the African Penguins for more than 30 years. He said “While it’s difficult to prove exactly what has caused the decreases, all the indications are that the penguins are struggling to find enough sardines and anchovies. A huge amount is done to protect penguins from other threats, but the decreases have continued unabated.”

Earlier this year, research lead by Dr Lorien Pichegru, from the Percy FitzPatrick Institute at the University of Cape Town, reported on preliminary results from a study on the impacts of closing fishing areas around key penguin breeding islands. Their study suggests that preventing fishing directly around the penguin islands may well provide benefits to the penguins. Marine and Coastal Management has commissioned a team to consider how closures could be implemented to benefit the penguins while minimising the impacts on the fishing industry and fisher’s livelihoods.

Source: Africa Geographic

26th May 2010: Bird wiped out by introduction of killer fish

A lake bird only found in Madagascar, but not seen in more than 25 years, has been declared extinct - with its passing blamed on the introduction of a carnivorous fish.

The Alaotra Grebe Tachybaptus rufolavatus lived in a tiny area to the east of the Indian Ocean island. The species declined through the last century after the introduction of a Snakehead Murrel, a non-native fish. The demise of the grebe was accelerated by nylon fishing nets in which birds were caught and drowned.

Its death knell is featured in the latest Red List of endangered birds by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. It brings the number of bird species to have become extinct since 1600 to 132, with one in 8 species now at risk.

Source: The Times, UK

26th May 2010: Azores Bullfinch downlisted

The Red List update shows that we now know, more than ever, that conservation works. Azores Bullfinch Pyrrhula murina has been downlisted from Critically Endangered to Endangered as a result of conservation work to restore natural vegetation on its island home. SPEA (BirdLife in Portugal) and RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) have worked together with others to turn around the fortunes of this species in what is a model for other projects.

"This is a clear example of conservation action succeeding in turning the tide for a highly threatened species", said Andy Symes, BirdLife's Global Species Programme Officer. "Where there is commitment and financing we can save species. We have the knowledge and will, but there needs to be better funding globally to address the loss of species."

Source: BirdLife International

16th May 2010: Biodiversity in Africa's Protected Areas declining Fast

The status of Biodiversity is progressively declining in African Protected Areas according to BirdLife International. This was unveiled during a side event hosted by BirdLife during the on-going CBD SBTTA 14 meeting attended by Government delegates from all over the world at UNEP Gigiri in Kenya.

In total, BirdLife is working in 22 countries in Africa in over 1,200 IBAs. While all countries have increased efforts to conserve biodiversity, much more is still to be done. The side event in Nairobi, Kenya, shared results from a monitoring project of Protected Areas at 117 sites, across seven African countries, implemented by BirdLife and RSPB and funded by the European Commission. The monitoring results clearly show that the state of biodiversity in Protected Areas is declining. Sites identified as being in a poor state increased from 43% in 2001, to 57% in 2008.

At the same time there has been a general increase of threats facing Protected Areas. "The results of our monitoring indicate that the pressures on biodiversity have been increasing falling far short of the target to reduce biodiversity loss", said Dr. Muhtari Aminu Kano - BirdLife International's Global Policy and Advocacy Advisor.

Delegates at the meeting heard how BirdLife used a simple 'State, Pressure, Response' Model for the monitoring of the over 1,200 African Important Bird Areas (IBAs), of which about 46% are Protected Areas.

The data from the monitoring have been used to develop indicators to show trends over time within IBAs. These results form important components of the suite of indicators suitable to track biodiversity progress towards the 2010 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) target, and wider sustainable development around the globe.

"The results also show that if proper management responses are put in place it is possible to improve the state of biodiversity and reduce pressures", said Achilles Byaruhanga - Executive Director of Nature Uganda. "This was well demonstrated through the sites monitored in Botswana - Central Kalahari Game reserve, Okavango Delta and Mannyelanong - where comprehensive and effective use of existing management plans have been instituted".

Source: BirdLife

20th April 2010: South Atlantic becomes more seabird-friendly

BirdLife International and WWF South Africa recently achieved a major conservation success by improving the methods used by commercial fishermen in the south-east Atlantic Ocean to avoid killing seabirds. Seabirds, particularly albatrosses, are becoming threatened and at a faster rate than all other groups of birds. By far the biggest threat faced is death on longline fishing hooks.

"A single vessel may use a line extending for 10 km, from which can hang as many as 20,000 hooks", said Dr Ross Wanless - Southern Africa Coordinator for BirdLife's Global Seabird Programme. "Globally we estimate that around 300,000 seabirds grab baited-hooks and drown each year".

The south-east Atlantic Ocean is a particularly important area where large numbers of seabirds and commercial fisheries overlap; fisheries which are managed by The South East Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (SEAFO). SEAFO covers a vital area for seabirds. Endangered Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross Thalassarche chlororhynchos and Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophrys are just two of the thirteen Globally Threatened seabird species found within SEAFO's region.

Working alongside WWF South Africa, BirdLife's Global Seabird Programme recently reviewed SEAFO's seabird conservation measures, and presented a number of improvements to result in fewer birds being killed. "Using BirdLife's Seabird Mitigation Fact-sheets, we suggested ways in which SEAFO's conservation measures could meet current best practice", said Ross.

SEAFO subsequently accepted the BirdLife / WWF recommendations, and have now incorporated them into their new seabird conservation measures. "We were delighted", noted Ross. "Thousands of seabirds could be saved each year as a result of this decision. SEAFO now sets the gold standard for other regional fisheries management organisations around the world to follow".

Source: BirdLife

19th April 2010: New species of shrike described

The discovery, backed by DNA analysis, means scientists now know that there is one more species of black shrike in Africa’s Albertine Rift Valley than was previously thought. The bird Laniarius willardi, is a newly described species of boubou shrike (Malaconotidae) whose single distinctive trait is its blue-gray eyes.

“This bird has been around for probably at least a couple million years, it's old, but it’s new to science at least in the DNA age,' said Voelker, assistant professor of wildlife and fisheries and curator of birds with Texas AgriLife Research at College Station. 'Clearly, it was noticed before, because as we started to look at comparative material from other natural history collections, we saw that several specimens collected in 1910 were noted to have had gray eyes,' he said. 'But it apparently never occurred to those collectors that their find was potentially something different than other black shrikes that might have been collected in the same basic region.'

“The DNA work that shows this to be a new species is recent, though the actual birds sampled were collected in 1997 by Gnoske and Marks on a research expedition for the Field Museum of Natural History,' Voelker said.

“Another significant aspect of this particular species, at least from what we can tell from the data we”ve gathered, is that it occurs in a narrow elevational band between 1,200 and 2,000 meters,' he said. 'Those birds collected in 1910 were taken from sites that are now likely completely deforested to make way for tea plantations which grow successfully to about 2,000 meters elevation. Above that level, Laniarius willardi gets replaced by another shrike species that looks exactly like it except for the eye-colour difference.'

The paper describing the new species will appear in the July issue of the international ornithological journal The Auk.

Source: Africa Geographic

18th February 2010: Celebrating Natron's Flamingos with action

The 2010 World Wetlands Day celebrations in Tanzania focussed on a meeting to support the conservation of Lesser Flamingo Phoenicopterus minor (Near Threatened) through the completion of a National Single Species Action Plan.

"This is an important step in ensuring the protection of this important species not only for Tanzania but also for the world", said Lota Melamari - CEO of Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania (WCST, BirdLife Partner). "This action plan provides Tanzania with an opportunity to ensure that threats facing Lesser Flamingo are thoroughly addressed", he added.

Tanzania is home to the most important breeding site in the world for Lesser Flamingo - Lake Natron. Of the world's global population of Lesser Flamingo, 75% breed at Lake Natron.

These flamingos drew global attention when a proposal to build a soda ash processing plant at Lake Natron came to light in 2006. The global community, led by BirdLife International, WCST, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB, BirdLife in the UK), and the Lake Natron Consultative Group opposed the plans citing serious threats to the critical flamingo breeding site.

During the meeting, actions were agreed aimed at ensuring that the species is protected at Lake Natron and eleven other lakes within Tanzania.

Source: BirdLife

18th February 2010: Africa Climate Exchange

This website, developed by BirdLife International, serves as a one stop shop on information on climate change, mitigation and adaptation in Africa. Using birds and BirdLife's Important Bird Area network as entry points, it demonstrates how biodiversity in Africa will respond to climate change and what can be done.

The site contains information and news about climate change and its potential impact on Africa birds and includes a suite of maps, showing how the ranges of the majority of bird species breeding in sub-Saharan Africa could be impacted by climate change.

These ranges have been prepared for 1608 species, the entire breeding avifauna of sub-Saharan Africa, minus 71 species recorded from fewer than five grid cells, for which modeling was impractical.

Source: Africa Climate Exchange

18th February 2010: Radar station in Madeira threatens Zino's Petrel

After many years of uncertainty and inaction, the Portuguese Government has finally started building a military radar on top of Pico do Areeiro, one of Madeira’s most popular tourist destinations and the only home of Zino’s Petrel Pterodroma madeira, a rare endemic seabird.

The Pico do Areeiro lies within a Natura 2000 site designated as a Special Protection Area, and therefore has the highest level of protection under European Union law. “It is the only known breeding site in the world of Zino's Petrel, a globally Endangered species whose total population of 65-80 pairs makes it the rarest seabird in Europe and one of the rarest birds in the world”, said Dr Ian Burfield – European Research and Database Manager at BirdLife International.

Since as long ago as 2000, SPEA (BirdLife in Portugal) and BirdLife International have opposed the construction of this radar station at Pico do Areeiro, which is an area of extreme importance for rare high-altitude flora, as well as Zino’s Petrel.

Concerned that its construction and operation could have a detrimental impact on Zino's Petrel, as well as the unique landscape, SPEA and BirdLife have repeatedly requested the plans to be shelved and EU nature legislation respected.

“Unfortunately, none of the valid arguments presented proved sufficient to convince the Madeiran and Portuguese authorities, who have now gone ahead, arguing that building the radar is a matter of national security”, added Dr Burfield.

Source: BirdLife

31st January 2010: Unique Cameroon mountain area gets crucial protection

A new park created by the Cameroonian government that encompasses the highest mountain in West and Central Africa will help protect some of the rarest ecosystems in the Congo Basin.

The government of Cameroon recently signed a decree creating the 58,178 hectare Mount Cameroon National Park which includes the 4,095-metre high Mount Cameroon – also one of the largest active volcanoes on the African continent.

“A park of such importance will help animal populations to rebuild,” said Atanga Ekobo, Manager of WWF Coastal Forest Project, which covers the region. “It will also encourage the sustainable use of natural resources by introducing and promoting alternative sources of income to the local communities”.

Mount Cameroon is an important refuge and home to many species found nowhere else, including high numbers of plants. A very isolated population of forest elephant also lives there.

For many years, poor land-use planning, land clearance, increasing agriculture, and the bushmeat trade damaged the area’s forest resources and high biological diversity.

But if well managed, the new park will both conserve the remaining natural richness of this fragile ecosystem and improve the livelihoods of local people, according to WWF.

Source: WWF

31st January 2010: Twelve years of site support in Burkina Faso

In 1997, Georges Oueda of Naturama (BirdLife in Burkina Faso) came to the northern wetland of Oursi to find volunteers to perform water bird counts. Acting on a request from the government, who had been asked by Wetlands International to organise participation in the African Waterbird Census, he asked the mayor of Oursi town to identify young people keen to be trained as ornithologists.

A group of about six young men took up the challenge. Among them were Housseini Salou, Maiga 'Mero' Hamidou and Aly Issa, now president, deputy and member respectively of the board of Site Support Group (SSG) Oursi.

Through the IBA Local Conservation Group approach BirdLife Partners around the world are working in partnership with communities and other stakeholders at IBAs towards shared objectives of conservation and sustainable resource management. In Africa, 'Site Support Groups' are organised, independent groups of volunteers who work with community stakeholders at IBAs to protect biodiversity and enhance benefits from the wise use of the natural resources.

The SSG at Oursi now numbers 28 people from several villages around the lake. They include not only bird enthusiasts but also representatives of the different livelihood communities: fishermen, pastoralists, schoolteachers, and community groups working the vegetable gardens and tree nursery established by the SSG.

Source: BirdLife

3rd December 2009: Langebaan Lagoon saved from port expansion project

Two and a half years of intensive, high profile lobbying by BirdLife South Africa (BirdLife Partner) and its partners has saved the internationally important wetlands of Langebaan Lagoon and the Saldanha Bay area from a port development project. Langebaan Lagoon is an Important Bird Area (IBA) and Ramsar site, and regularly supports more than 34,500 waders. BirdLife South Africa worked with representatives of BirdLife West Coast and the Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve – with financial support from the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) - to appeal to the Ramsar Secretariat, and lobby the media to raise the profile of the threat. "BirdLife South Africa’s successful lobbying for the proper management and protection of Langebaan Lagoon represents one small victory for the environment", said Carolyn Ah Shene-Verdoorn – BirdLife South Africa's Policy & Advocacy Division Manager. "However, the battle is far from over as the threats remain on the increase for our Important Bird Areas around the country".

Ferruginous Ducks migrating south

For the first time a huge flock of some 3,500 Ferruginous Ducks Aythya nyroca has been recorded in the Durankulak IBA, along the Black Sea Coast in Bulgaria. It is likely the Ducks are now migrating south, heading to their wintering sites along the Nile or in Sudan.

Dwarf Olive Ibis nest found

Great news from Associação dos Biólogos Santomenses (ABS), the BirdLife Species Guardian for Dwarf Olive Ibis Bostrychia bocagei in São Tomé. Researcher, Hugulay Maia, leading a team of ABS members located an ibis nest with two eggs at a height of 8 m in primary forest. Although it was not possible to photograph the female, it was observed at the nest on the following day. ABS will continue to monitor the nest in the coming weeks and hopes to provide more detailed data on its breeding and nesting habits. The BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme is providing help and funding to this and more than 50 other threatened species.

Ethiopia to join AEWA and CMS

Ethiopia will become the 63rd Party to the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), and the 113th Party to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CSM) early next year. Ethiopia has a total of 69 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) and is a range state for many AEWA species including Corncrake Crex crex, Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca, Lesser Flamingo Phoeniconaias minor and White-winged Flufftail Sarothrura ayresii.

Source: BirdLife

30th November 2009: Wildlife poisoning in Africa

BirdLife has learnt that a widely available poison is being used to kill thousands of birds illegally every month in an area of Kenya, and by game poachers in Botswana to kill vultures. The poisoning of wildlife seems to have increased across Africa recently, and BirdLife International is calling for increased concerted efforts to address this threat.

Situated in western Kenya near Lake Victoria and the Ugandan border, the Bunyala Rice Scheme is a heavily irrigated area which provides ideal growing conditions for rice. This water-logging also creates suitable feeding habitat for both non-breeding migratory and resident birds, which are being targeted by local people who view the meat as a delicacy.

The poison used is called Carbofuran – or Furadan – and is designed to control insect pests in a wide variety of field crops such as potatoes, corn and soybeans. However, Carbofuran is also toxic to vertebrates, and has one of the highest acute toxicities to humans of any insecticide widely used on field crops. As little as a quarter teaspoon can be fatal, and there have been reports of a child dying recently in Kenya after ingesting the poison.

BirdLife has learnt that in Bunyala the widely available poison is placed inside snail shells to present an attractive bait. Decoy birds are used, and poachers disturb the surroundings to encourage wild birds to settle into the baited areas. Once captured, target birds are killed and sold for human consumption.

Throughout Eastern and Southern Africa there are increasing reports of the use of Carbofuran to illegally poison wildlife. In Botswana, poachers have recently been observed lacing their Giraffe carcases with the poison to attract vultures and kill them. “It appears as though the poachers are deliberately aiming to eliminate every vulture in the area, since the birds are quickly alerting the authorities to the occurrence of their poaching activities”, said Pete Hancock - BirdLife Botswana’s (BirdLife Partner) Conservation Officer.

In two recent incidents, over 80 individual vultures – including White-backed Gyps africanus and Hooded Vulture Necrosyrtes monachus have been deliberately poisoned in Botswana. “We are very concerned by the escalating and indiscriminate use of poisons for killing vultures, as this has decimated their numbers throughout Africa, and is the single greatest threat facing all vulture and raptor species here in Botswana”, added Pete.

Source: BirdLife

27th November 2009: ICCAT leaves albatross conservation dead in the water

After a 3-year seabird risk assessment that found tuna and swordfish longline fishing has significant impacts on Atlantic seabird populations, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) failed to act at a recent meeting in Recife, Brazil.

“Albatrosses and petrel populations in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea are undergoing some of the most severe decreases anywhere in the world”, said Dr Cleo Small - Senior Policy Officer for the BirdLife Global Seabird Programme, based at the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK).

More than 40 fishing nations are members of ICCAT, and they gathered recently in Recife, Brazil for the annual meeting of the commission. Collectively they control longline fishing effort in the Atlantic Ocean that is conducted on a massive scale.

“In Recife we recommended that fishers use a few simple, cheap but effective measures to reduce the rate at which seabirds get caught and drown”, added Dr Small. “However, ICCAT refused to endorse our recommendation which is a big blow for Globally Threatened seabirds”.

Each year hundreds of millions of longline hooks are set in the Atlantic. The impact of longline fishing on albatrosses and other seabirds has been a source of concern for scientists and conservationists for decades. Globally, 18 of 22 albatross species are threatened with extinction, and longline fishing is known to be the leading cause of decreases for many species.

Source: BirdLife

25th November 2009: Climate change and forests workshop in West Africa

BirdLife’s regional office for West Africa, in collaboration with the Ghana Wildlife Society (BirdLife Partner), has organised a four-day workshop on climate change mitigation and forest biodiversity conservation for protected area managers from five West African countries (Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana). The workshop aimed to raise awareness of emerging conservation opportunities to mitigate climate change impacts, such as carbon finance (trading), Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD), and Forest Law Enforcement and Governance (FLEG).

The workshop was organised under the framework of a project funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, which aims to sustain and secure capacity for biodiversity conservation in the Upper Guinea Forest of West Africa. Extending from Guinea to Togo, this is one of the world’s biodiversity hot spots, with more than 15 endemic bird species.

But centuries of human activities has led to the loss of more than 70% of the overall forest cover. The remaining forest is highly fragmented, restricting habitats to isolated patches, and threatening the ecosystem’s unique flora and fauna. Without effective intervention, climate change impacts on the remaining forest will be catastrophic.

Source: BirdLife

25th November 2009: Save the Flamingo

Kamfers Dam, a large wetland near Kimberley, South Africa, is one of only four places in the whole of Africa where the spectacular Lesser Flamingo Phoeniconaias minor breeds. Unfortunately it is in serious trouble. Untreated sewage from a broken sewage works is flooding into it, and a large housing development has been proposed near it. The flamingos and other wildlife that depend on the dam, as well as the numerous people who live in surrounding suburbs, are now in danger. Save the Flamingo, a non-profit organisation, has positive solutions for the problems facing Kamfers Dam, but we need supporters all around the world to help us persuade the local authorities to take the threats facing this precious waterbody seriously. Without urgent action the dam will become a polluted cesspool devoid of birdlife, and a hazard to the people of Kimberley.

Source: Save the Flamingo

3rd November 2009: African nations make a stand at UN climate talks

African countries have said they are prepared to provoke a major UN crisis if the US and other rich countries do not start to urgently commit themselves to deeper and faster greenhouse gas emission cuts.

In a dramatic day in Barcelona, UN officials were forced to step in after 55 African countries, in an unprecedented show of unity, called for a suspension of all further negotiations on the Kyoto protocol until substantial progress was made by rich countries on emission cuts.

Earlier, the UN chair had been forced to abandon two working groups after the Africa group refused to take part.

The African countries were supported by all other developing country blocks at the talks. In a series of statements, the G77 plus China group of 130 nations, the Alliance of Small Island States (Aosis), the Least Developed Countries (LDC) group, as well as Bolivia and several Latin America countries, all broadly backed the African action.

The move by developing countries reflects their deep and growing frustration over the slow progress that industrialised countries are making towards agreeing cuts. With less than three days full negotiating time left between now and the opening of the final talks at Copenhagen, the split between rich and poor countries threatens to blow the talks fatally off course.

Source: Guardian

3rd November 2009: Extinction crisis continues apace

The latest update of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species shows that 17,291 species out of the 47,677 assessed species are threatened with extinction.

BirdLife International is the Red List Authority for birds and released the 2009 update for birds earlier in the year, listing 192 species of bird as Critically Endangered, the highest threat category, a total of two more than in the 2008 update. But the update did highlight some successes, including the downlisting of Lear's Macaw Anodorhynchus leari, from Critically Endangered to Endangered, as a direct result of targeted conservation action.

"In global terms, things continue to get worse – but there are some real conservation success stories this year to give us hope and point the way forward", said Dr Leon Bennun, BirdLife's Director of Science and Policy. Of the world's 9,998 birds, 137 are Extinct or Extinct in the Wild, with 192 Critically Endangered, 362 Endangered and 669 Vulnerable.

The results of the full Red List update reveal 21% of mammals, 30% of amphibians, 12% of birds, and 28% of reptiles, 37% of freshwater fishes, 70% of plants, 35% of invertebrates assessed so far are under threat. "The scientific evidence of a serious extinction crisis is mounting", says Jane Smart, Director of IUCN's Biodiversity Conservation Group. "January sees the launch of the International Year of Biodiversity. The latest analysis of the IUCN Red List shows the 2010 target to reduce biodiversity loss will not be met. It's time for governments to start getting serious about saving species and make sure it’s high on their agendas for next year, as we're rapidly running out of time."

Source: BirdLife

28th October 2009: Princess Eleonora's falcons leave for Africa

Two recent studies have revealed new information on the migration routes of Eleonora’s Falcon Falco eleonorae, tracking the birds 9,500 km from their European breeding colonies to their main non-breeding grounds in Madagascar.

Eleonora’s Falcon is a patchily distributed breeding visitor to rocky coasts and islands in the Mediterranean. It is unusual among birds of prey in having a reproductive cycle adapted to match the southward migration of passerine birds, which it eats. This means it breeds much later than many other species, with the young hatching in late August. The species was named after Giudicessa Eleonora de Arborea (1350-1404), a Sardinian princess who fought for Sardinia's independence from the Kingdom of Aragon, and who drafted the first laws in Europe protecting birds of prey.

Until recently, it was believed the species migrated east through the Mediterranean, then south via the Red Sea and the east coast of Africa to Madagascar, where 70% of the global population is estimated to converge in the winter. However, the new studies used satellite transmitters to show that these birds reach their destination by flying right across the centre of the African continent. Other secrets uncovered include the finding that they migrate by both day and night, crossing huge barriers such as the Sahara Desert. Some of the birds took two months to complete their mammoth journeys, including a stopover in West Africa.

Their return route to European breeding grounds in spring also crossed the heart of the African continent, but involved a longer crossing (1,500 km) of the Indian Ocean than in the autumn. Adult birds returned directly to the Mediterranean, whereas immature falcons spent their first summer in the tropical Africa.

These studies provide valuable new insights into the migration routes of this raptor, and also underline its vulnerability to threats it may face en route, such as hunting, collisions, habitat loss and desertification. BirdLife International is working to try and save migratory birds on their amazing journeys. Earlier this year, we launched the Born to Travel Campaign to protect migratory birds along the African-Eurasian flyway.

“Every time a migratory bird manages to cross a continent, it tells us an extraordinary story of courage and successfully overcoming the many obstacles along the way”, said Ania Sharwood Smith, European coordinator of the Born to Travel Campaign. “To follow migratory birds satellite tracking is a fantastic technology that greatly improves our understanding of where the main dangers may lie”.

Source: BirdLife

26th October 2009: Natron community vows to protect the lake and its flamingos

Villagers around Tanzania’s Lake Natron have vowed to protect the lake and its treasure of Lesser Flamingos Phoeniconaias minor from industrial development, pointing out that their own future depends on the sustainable use of the lake.

BirdLife’s Tanzanian Partner - the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania (WCST) - has put forward an alternative to the environmentally destructive soda ash extraction plant proposed for the lake, calling instead for its unmatched tourism potential to be developed, and for the people of Lake Natron to be enabled to benefit from the income generated.

Three-quarters of the world’s Lesser Flamingo population lives in East Africa, and Lake Natron is by far their most important breeding site. In 2007, the Indian-based multinational company, Lake Natron Resources Ltd., proposed to build a major soda ash extraction plant to exploit the very alkaline water of the lake. Breeding flamingos are very sensitive to disturbance, and quickly abandon their breeding effort. The proposed soda ash plant could, therefore, jeopardise Lesser Flamingo breeding in East Africa. The Lake Natron flamingos are one of the highlights of East Africa’s wildlife tourism industry, which contributes 12-16% of East Africa’s Gross Domestic Product.

Tata appears to have withdrawn its interest following a successful appeal by BirdLife and the Lake Natron Consultative Group, a coalition of 50 community and environmental groups in East Africa. But earlier this year BirdLife learned that the Tanzanian government had published invitations to tender for soda extraction equipment, and plans an extension of the rail network to link Lake Natron to the port of Tanga. The Government subsequently denied being responsible for the invitations.

Speaking at a meeting organised by WCST at Ngare Sero village, a Maasai elder, Mr Lasoi Ole Nareshoi, said: “God gave us this resource for use by ourselves, our children and children’s children. We will protect it from any industrial exploitation that may chase away the flamingos and damage the environment. “No one can take the Lake Natron away from us”, he added

Speaking at the same meeting, the Chairman of Ngare Sero Village, Mr Christopher Ndurway, recalled how in January 2008 a community delegation from Lake Natron rejected the soda ash plant at a public hearing organised by the National Environment Management Council in Dar es Salaam. “We said ‘No’ in Dar es Salaam in 2008 and that stand remains. We stand to gain more by conserving this lake and its resources and using it sustainably for many years to come. A soda ash factory is of no use to us”, Mr Ndurway said.

Source: BirdLife

12th October 2009: Lake Nakuru becomes Africa's first IBA-branded National Park

Lake Nakuru National Park, famous for its population of up to 1.5 million non-breeding Lesser Flamingo Phoenicopterus minor, has become the first National Park in Africa to be branded as an Important Bird Area (IBA). The branding is a triumph for BirdLife Partner NatureKenya, which began identifying IBAs within the country in 1995.

Some 450 bird species have been recorded in and around Lake Nakuru, including Endangered Madagascar Pond Heron Ardeola idae, Near Threatened Grey-crested Helmet Shrike Prionops poliolophus and Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus. The site is also key for regionally important numbers of congregatory waterbirds such as Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus, African Spoonbill Platalea alba, Great White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus and Grey-headed Gull Larus cirrocephalus.

“The IBA branding makes Lake Nakuru National Park part of the global network of places recognised for their outstanding value to bird conservation”, said Kenya Wildlife Service Director Dr Julius Kipng’etich. He added that Nakuru’s new status was a huge boost to the KWS’s efforts to market the lake as: “The world’s greatest ornithological spectacle”.

Kenya’s Minister for Forestry and Wildlife, Dr Noah Wekesa, said that IBA status would raise awareness and thus reduce stress on the lake’s birds. According to the Environment News Service, he added that other IBAs, such as those around Lake Victoria and in the Cherang'ani Hills, will be used to extend and market Kenya’s ecotourism circuits. At the same ceremony, the Minister launched the Fourth Edition of the ‘Checklist of the Birds of Kenya’, which now lists 1,100 species, and is available from NatureKenya.
Income from the 300,000 visitors to Lake Nakuru each year supports conservation work at other, less glamorous but no less important, Protected Areas. However, the flamingos and other spectacular birds and large mammals at Lake Nakuru are suffering the short-term effects of the severe drought affecting the country.

Source: BirdLife

9th October 2009: Solving the mysteries of migratory bird declines


The RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), have joined forces and are working with BirdLife Partners in Ghana (Ghana Wildlife Society), Burkina Faso (Naturama), the Netherlands (Vogelbescherming Nederland) and Denmark (Dansk Ornitologisk Forening) to mount the largest research project of its type to understand more about migratory birds that spend the non-breeding season south of the Sahara desert.

Some of the greatest declines of birds in the UK are among migratory songbirds such as Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus, European Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur, Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos and Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata. These species breeding in Europe and migrate to sub-Saharan Africa.

Recent figures suggest that more than 40 per cent of all migratory species passing between Europe and Africa have declined in the last three decades. Alarmingly, one in 10 of these are classified by BirdLife as Globally Threatened or Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List.

The project will involve researchers monitoring birds along a corridor stretching from Ghana’s Atlantic coast to northern Burkina Faso, spanning a range of habitats from coastal rainforest to the edge of the Sahara desert.

Source: BirdLife

7th October 2009: Loophole looms for illegal loggers ravaging Madagascar

An exceptional authorisation from the Malagasy transitional government for the export of raw and semi-processed precious woods risks opening a loophole for the legal export of illegally cut timber and encouraging further assaults on Madagascar's endangered forests and wildlife, conservation groups active on the island have said.

"It legalises the sale of illegally cut and collected wood onto the market (...) and constitutes a legal incentive for further corruption in the forestry sector. " said a communique published locally by WWF, Conservation International (CI) and the World Conservation Society (WCS).

The communique follows a Reuters report quoting Prime minister Monja Roindefo denying that the transitional government was legalising the plundering of forests, but refusing to rule out issuing future licences.

Niall O’Connor, Regional Representative for WWF Madagascar and West Indian Ocean Programm Office in Antananarivo says "We condemn the impact of the plundering of Madagascar’s forests, particularly the protected areas, on biodiversity and the loss of livelihood options for the local population."

A study entitled "Evaluation of rosewood and ebony stocks in two communities in the North East and in the middle-west of the country“, commissioned by WWF Madagascar in August 2009 revealed shocking details about the professional exploitation of precious woods such as the above mentioned in Madagascar.

In Andranopasy, a community in western Madagascar, only 6 of 15 species of rosewood survive. No rosewood trees with a trunk diameter of more than 30cm have been found. Three species of rosewood are very unlikely to regenerate. Another species, Diospyros perrieri, is no longer regenerating.

"This can be explained by the abusive commercial exploitation of the forest by foreign economic players. Even more, the local population cannot benefit from the precious woods in their forest for their very survival. Wood workers are paid the equivilent of 2 Euros a day while rosewood sells at 8.5 Euros per kilogramm." says the study.

Another statement, signed by 15 Madagascar and international conservation groups including WWF, said that “Precious woods are being extracted from forests by roving and sometimes violent gangs of lumbermen and sold to a few powerful businessmen for export. . . . Those exploiting the trees are also trapping endangered lemurs for food, and the forests themselves are being degraded as trees are felled, processed and dragged to adjacent rivers or roads for transport to the coast.

“No forest that contains precious woods is safe, and the country’s most prestigious nature reserves and favoured tourist destinations, such as the Marojejy and Masoala World Heritage Sites and the Mananara Biosphere Reserve, have been the focus of intensive exploitation. Currently thousands of rosewood and ebony logs, none of them legally exploited, are stored in Madagascar’s east coast ports, Vohémar, Antalaha, and Toamasina. The most recent decree will allow their export and surely encourage a further wave of environmental pillaging.”

Source: WWF

23rd September 2009: Madagascar NGOs unite against plunder of natural resources

Asity Madagascar (BirdLife in Madagascar) has joined a group of Malagasy civil society organisations, Voahary Gasy, calling for an end to the plundering of natural resources in the national parks of north-east Madagascar.

Following the change of government in March this year, all but essential humanitarian aid has been withdrawn by the international community, leaving Madagascar's national park and forestry services with little or no funding. Loggers have moved into the protected areas, stripping the forests of valuable hardwoods such as rosewood, ebony and mahogany. They work for influential business people who are in possession of illegal but "official" documentation permitting them to export these hardwoods.

Local communities who depend on forest resources and on tourism have been threatened and attacked when opposing these illegal and highly destructive activities. A new trade in bushmeat has developed. Lemurs in particular are being killed in large numbers, and some hunters are supplying restaurants 'to order'.

A number of endemic birds are largely or entirely confined to pristine primary forest in north-east Madagascar, among them the Endangered Madagascar Serpent Eagle Eutriorchis astur and Vulnerable Helmet Vanga Euryceros prevostii and Bernier's Vanga Oriolia bernieri. With the complete breakdown of the enforcement of protected area regulation, and armed gangs operating with impunity in the forests, it has not been possible to assess the impact on these and other threatened species.

The Malagasy NGOs which have come together to form Voahary Gasy are calling for an immediate halt to exports of hardwoods, particularly rosewood, the enforcement of protected area regulation, the creation of a task force to combat environmental crime, and a campaign to raise awareness within Madagascar of the nature and extent of the destruction of the island's remaining forests.

Source: BirdLife

22nd September 2009: Local group makes its mark at Egypt's Lake Qarun

Egypt’s first IBA-Local Conservation Group / Site Support Group (SSG) has persuaded one of the country’s largest construction groups to end the dumping of waste at Lake Qarun, which holds regionally important numbers of waterbirds in winter. The construction company has also pledged to restore an area of saltmarsh destroyed by tourism development along the lake shore, as a bird sanctuary.

The Lake Qarun Protected Area LCG/SSG was established by Nature Conservation Egypt (NCE; BirdLife Affiliate) in 2008, with a grant from the Aage V. Jensen Charity Foundation.

The lake occupies the deepest part of the Fayoum Depression, more than 40 metres below sea level. Once a large body of fresh water supporting Nilotic flora and fauna, the lake now receives almost all its water as drainage from irrigated land. As a result, and because the only ‘outflow’ is via evaporation, levels of salinity have been steadily increasing. The lake is now slightly more salty than seawater.

Because of these environmental changes, a local subspecies of Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala norrisae has become extinct, while Slender-billed Gull Larus genei, which began breeding in the 1990s, has now reached around 8,500 pairs. Numbers of breeding Spur-winged Lapwing Vanellus spinosus also meet IBA criteria, as does the wintering population of Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis.

Source: BirdLife

16th September 2009: BirdLife Africa Wildlife Clubs Project

The BirdLife Africa Wildlife Clubs Project has taken a step closer to its goal of connecting over 400,000 children across the continent with young and adult conservationists around the world.

The project, subtitled ‘Linking African children to the global conservation community - for the benefit of nature and people’, combines biodiversity conservation with education and sustainable development initiatives, and uses bird conservation to help bridge the digital divide in Africa.

Along with the people responsible for the project - the ‘focal points’ - from 15 of the 17 participating BirdLife Partners, representatives from 13 other environmental organisations and educational institutions participated in a workshop in Accra, Ghana, with the theme ‘information and experience sharing’.

Source: BirdLife

6th September 2009: Dyer Island Conservation Trust

The Dyer Island Conservation Trust, in partnership with Cape Nature, has embarked on a programme to introduce artificial African Penguin nests on Dyer Island in order to provide extra shelter for breeding birds. Click on the link above to find out more about their work.

4th September 2009: International call to learn to love vultures - or lose them

BirdLife Partners in Africa and elsewhere have joined with raptor conservation and research organisations around the world to call for an “image makeover” for vultures. They will be celebrating International Vulture Awareness Day on 5 September 2009.

This comes against a backdrop of recent reports of problems facing vultures in Africa and the ongoing ones in Asia. Across the Indian subcontinent, populations of three formerly very common species of vulture have declined by more than 97% as a result of consuming cattle carcasses contaminated with the veterinary drug diclofenac.

There have been mass vulture deaths in East Africa associated with misuse of chemicals, huge population declines in West Africa due to habitat loss, and the disappearance of vultures from large areas of their formers ranges in South Africa because of the continued use of vulture parts in traditional medicine and sorcery.

Other threats include power line collisions and electrocutions, disturbance at breeding sites, drowning in farm reservoirs, direct persecution and declining food availability.

Vultures fulfill an extremely important ecological role. They keep the environment free of carcasses and waste, restrict the spread of diseases such as anthrax and botulism, and help control numbers of pests such as rats and feral dogs by reducing the food available to them. They are of cultural value to communities in Africa and Asia, and have important eco-tourism value.

"Indeed vultures provide a perfect example of the link between birds and people. Loss of vultures would mean loss of important natural services to people, for example the cleaning of the environment of animal carcasses and waste at no charge”, said Dr Hazell Shokellu Thompson, BirdLife's Regional Director for Africa.

Source: BirdLife

2nd September 2009: Intercontinental migration of a Eurasian Hobby

The Eurasian Hobby is a small falcon. It breeds across Europe and Asia and is a long-distance migrant. European birds winter in Africa. More than 5,700 Hobbies have been ringed in 10 European countries, but so far there have been only two ring recoveries south of the Sahara desert. Satellite tracking using the Argos system is now an accepted technique for long distance migration studies of birds. It is generally accepted that any device we burden a bird with should weigh no more than 3% of the bird’s weight if we are not to affect its behaviour.

Source: Raptor Research

27th August 2009: Sierra Leone re-affirms intention to declare Gola forest a National Park

BirdLife recently received a letter from H.E. President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone confirming his intention to declare the Gola forest a National Park. “I would like to re-assure you of my government’s commitment to implementing the Sierra Leone Biodiversity Action Programme in collaboration with your organisation, not only to mitigate the effects of global warming, but also to preserve our rich fauna and flora, and cultural heritage for generations to come”, wrote H.E. President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone. “I am hopeful that the Gola Forest National Park Bill will be introduced in Parliament in the coming weeks”. The Gola Forest National Park will form part of a new Trans-boundary Peace Park recently announced jointly by the Presidents of Sierra Leone and Liberia. The Trans-boundary Peace Park will protect one of the largest remaining blocks of intact forest in the Upper Guinea Area of West Africa.

Source: BirdLife

26th August 2009: Lake Natron faces renewed threat from soda-ash mining

BirdLife has learnt that a Tanzanian Government Agency is seeking to buy mining equipment for large-scale soda ash extraction from Lake Natron – the most important breeding site for Lesser Flamingo Phoeniconaias minor (Near Threatened) in the world. “This is worrying indeed”, said Lota Melamari - the CEO of Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania (WCST-BirdLife in Tanzania).

“An advert for the supply of mining equipment, and a recent announcement of the expansion of the railway and building of a new port at Tanga to handle soda ash all point to deliberate efforts to keep alive the intention of mining Lake Natron's soda ash", added Lota Melamari.

The Tanzania Investment Centre, a Tanzanian Government Agency, is inviting interested parties to quote for the “Supply of machinery and equipment, as well as trucks in a greenfield soda ash / caustic soda processing plant”. The advert was placed on behalf of KDCL Minerals (T) Ltd - a private company which states that the $US 125 million project at Lake Natron in Northern Tanzania will produce approximately 200,000 tonnes of soda ash annually.

Three-quarters of the world’s population of Lesser Flamingo live in East Africa – and all depend on Tanzania’s Lake Natron as a breeding site. The development and associated infrastructure could permanently prevent the birds from nesting at Lake Natron, spelling doom for the region’s spectacular flamingo flocks. In opposition to development proposals of 2007, BirdLife launched its ‘Think Pink’ campaign. At the same time the Lake Natron Consultative Group - a coalition of 49 mainly African institutions - was formed to urge the Tanzanian Government to abandon the project. “Through campaigns like Think Pink, the world, local communities, Tanzanian NGOs and ordinary citizens have said a big ‘No’ to the project - this will not change”, warned Ken Mwathe of BirdLife Africa Partnership Secretariat and Coordinator of Lake Natron Consultative Group.

Earlier plans for mining Lake Natron involved Tata Chemicals Ltd. and the governmental National Development Corporation. BirdLife welcomed the withdrawal last year of an initial, inadequate and inappropriate Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA), and is awaiting a new ESIA to be produced and reviewed by a competent team of experts. “The Tanzanian Government has promised, and consistently maintained, that no new ESIA would be conducted before having in place an Integrated Management Plan for the Lake Natron Ramsar Site, and this process is still ongoing”, concluded Lota.

Source: BirdLife

22nd August: In search of the Madagascar Pochard - the world's rarest duck

We’re in search of the world’s rarest duck. Actually we aren’t really, because thanks to the dedicated work of the The Peregrine Fund, we know where it is. But we also know that there are only a handful left. In fact until it was rediscovered by the TPF’s Lily Arison René de Roland in 2006, the duck was thought to have gone extinct.

On a couple of small lakes some 300 km north of Antananarivo are fewer than 20 Madagascar Pochard. Although once part of an extensive wetland system throughout the central plateau these are now the last remaining unmarred high elevation volcanic lakes of their kind.


Having such a small population means that even if the number of ducks remains stable, it is incredibly vulnerable to any random event, like a storm, that might wipe them out. Getting this species back to relatively safe numbers is a major priority and it was decided that an in situ captive breeding programme to build up numbers for release onto other lakes was the best way to go. This would be coupled with protection and study of the species in its remaining habitat. A partnership was formed between ourselves, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), The Peregrine Fund (TPF) and Ministry of L’Environement et Forêts (E & F).

Source: durrell wildlife conservation trust

2nd July 2009: One million Southern African bird records!

Just two years ago, an exciting project was initiated to map the distribution of birds in Southern Africa using the efforts of keen civil society volunteers. Early on the morning of Monday 29 June, the millionth record was submitted to the project!

Southern Africa's birdwatchers are making a massive contribution to one of the country's most important biodiversity research projects. Ornithologists and conservationists are tapping into the skills and enthusiasm of Southern Africa's birdwatchers to collect information about the distribution and relative abundance of its 850 or so bird species.

Source: BirdLife

2nd July 2009: Our penguins get a champion

African Penguins have been sliding towards extinction since industrial fishing started around the Cape. The last four years have seen a population crash. BirdLife South Africa has found someone to champion their cause.

Conservationists fear that if nothing is done soon, the iconic African Penguin is in danger of becoming extinct. Oil spills, predation by seals, disease and a few other problems have contributed to the situation. But by far the major culprit is food scarcity, say scientists.

In the 1920s, despite more than a century of sustained persecution, principally from egg collecting and guano scraping, around 1 million pairs of African Penguins Spheniscus demersus bred at Dassen Island, off the West Coast of South Africa. Now the global population is a mere 28,000 pairs. As for Dassen, last year fewer than 6,000 pairs nested. That’s half a per cent of the former numbers. Averaged out over 100 years, this collapse represents a loss of 20 thousand birds per year from just one colony, equivalent to 1,600 birds a week, or more than two birds per hour. This phenomenon is not unique to Dassen Island but is an example of the massive reduction in African Penguin numbers around our coast.

In the past four years, the stocks of sardine and anchovy on the West Coast have collapsed. Stocks along the south coast are doing somewhat better. While fishery managers debate whether it is due to climate change or overfishing, the penguins and other seabirds that depend on the fish are disappearing. Fishing companies find it inconvenient to close operations in Lamberts Bay and move to Mossel Bay, where the healthier sardine stocks are located; the penguins don’t have that option. Dr Rob Crawford, penguin specialist at Marine and Coastal Management, explained: “There are no islands along the South Coast where the penguins can move to. They simply cannot follow the fish the way the boats can”.

In April, at the 2nd International African Penguin Conference, the latest depressing results were presented, and speaker after speaker reported shrinking populations from their respective islands. Dr Ross Wanless, Seabird Division manager for BirdLife South Africa, was there. “I was deeply shocked at the state of the penguin population. The results that were presented at the conference were almost unbelievable, but I couldn’t argue with the numbers”.

Fortunately, BirdLife South Africa has not been idle. Executive Director Mark Anderson put out a call for help a few months ago. “BirdLife International developed their ‘Preventing Extinctions’ programme a few years back, whereby someone could become a ‘Species Champion’, to fund conservation work for an endangered or critically endangered bird species. When I announced that BirdLife South Africa was looking for someone to become the Species Champion for the African Penguin, I got an immediate response, from Dr Roelof van der Merwe, a Trustee of the Charl van der Merwe Trust”.

The Charl van der Merwe Trust asked Dr Wanless to identify interventions that would help turn the species’ fortunes around. Through BirdLife South Africa, the trustees will provide a significant amount of funding to fund collaborative projects, focusing initially on fish stocks and food availability. “If good progress is made after two years, the Trust has dedicated itself to providing additional resources.” explained Dr Wanless.

“This couldn’t have come at a better time” said Prof Peter Ryan of the Percy FitzPatrick Institute at the University of Cape Town, one of the collaborators. “We are at a critical juncture, with the African Penguin population in apparent free-fall. A Species Champion will provide the resources we need to try and rescue the situation”.

Contact: Dr Ross Wanless; +27 21 419 7347 (office); +27 73 675 3267 (mobile); e-mail: [email protected].

2nd July 2009: Hope for Seychelles' last Critically Endangered species

The first Seychelles Paradise-flycatcher Terpsiphone corvina chicks to fledge successfully outside La Digue Island, Seychelles for over 60 years is flying on Denis Island, a coral island in the inner Seychelles group. The newly-fledged birds are flying well, very noisy, and being fed by their parents –"typical normal and healthy flycatcher chicks", according to Nirmal Shah, Director of BirdLife Partner Nature Seychelles, the Species Guardian for the paradise-flycatcher.

The paradise-flycatcher is the only Seychelles species still listed as Critically Endangered. Formerly Critically Endangered Species including Seychelles Magpie-robin Copsychus sechellarum, Seychelles White-eye Zosterops modestus and Seychelles Scops-owl Otus insularis have all been downlisted as a result of conservation action. The population of the paradise-flycatcher has been steadily increasing in recent years. In 1996 there were 69-83 pairs; this had risen to 104-139 pairs by the last comprehensive survey in 2000.

Seychelles Paradise-flycatchers, probably "overspill" birds from the population on La Digue, are regularly seen on neighbouring islands, but have been unable to establish viable populations. The reintroduction to Denis Island is part of a three-year project, funded by the UK Government's Darwin Initative, and carried out by Nature Seychelles together with the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) and the collaboration of other organisations and the Seychelles Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources.

Source: BirdLife

2nd July 2009: Sustainable forest management increases local income one hundred-fold

A Tanzanian group supported by The Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) has helped two local communities to become fully-certified sustainable forest managers. “This is a first for Africa”, said CLP project leader Steve Ball. “It ensures that the forests are managed sustainably and that local communities can earn over 100 times more from their woodlands than they have done previously”.

The CLP is a partnership between BirdLife International, Fauna & Flora International, Conservation International, the Wildlife Conservation Society and BP. The Mpingo Conservation Project (MCP) was first supported by the CLP in 1996 to provide much needed basic information on the distribution, ecology and exploitation of the East African Blackwood tree Dalbergia melanoxylon, also known as Mpingo.

The African Blackwood tree has long been over-harvested across the continent to obtain its dark, lustrous heartwood. The wood is greatly prized for its strong structural qualities by local wood carvers and international manufacturers of woodwind instruments. Although African Blackwood is still relatively abundant in South-East Tanzania, illegal logging is widespread and very poor, forest-dependent communities generally receive little benefit from logging on the land around their villages.

After successful early projects, the MCP team received additional CLP awards in 2004 to begin developing a programme of community-managed sustainable forestry - working towards the long-term goal of conserving large areas of forest and woodland in southern Tanzania.

Source: BirdLife

12th June 2009: Conserving bustards in South Africa

BirdLife South Africa has formed a working group to aid the conservation of bustards within the country. "South Africa’s bustards are in trouble, with six of the country's ten species listed in the South African Red Data Book", said Mark Anderson - Executive Director of BirdLife South Africa. For example, experts identified that populations of Ludwig's and Denham's Bustard [Near Threatened] are threatened by a single mortality factor - collisions with the cables of power-lines. Studies by Mark Anderson and the University of Cape Town's Dr Andrew Jenkins, found that on average about one Ludwig’s Bustard collides per kilometre of power line per year at these sites. "The thought that we could be potentially losing them at a rate of over 10,000 birds killed annually by this factor alone is terrifying", said David Allan, ornithologist at the Durban Natural Science Museum.

Source: BirdLife

5th June 2009: Wader populations decline faster than ever

According to a new publication by Wetlands International, more than half the populations of waders in Europe, West Asia and Africa are declining at an accelerating rate.

Waders are a group of relatively small waterbirds including species like lapwings, plovers, godwits, curlews and sandpipers. Many of them undertake long distance migrations from their Arctic breeding grounds to wintering areas as far away as Southern Africa. Some concentrate in huge numbers at just a few sites, making these wetlands critical for their survival.

The new ‘Wader Atlas’ is the first comprehensive overview of key site networks for waders in Europe, West Asia and Africa, and the publication highlights a need for better protection of the key wetlands along their flyways, especially in Africa and the Middle East.

The wetlands of the African west coast are under enormous pressures. The sparse water resources in the Sahelian zone are tapped by dams which have turned formerly shallow wetlands into permanently dry lands. Irrigation schemes for growing human population disrupt the water flow in wetlands such as the shrinking Lake Chad. The atlas also outlines that wetlands themselves are often converted to agricultural use - such as in the Tana River Delta in Kenya, which is threatened by conversion to sugar cane plantations.

Source: BirdLife

25th May 2009: ‘Mountains of the Moon’ get nod for international wetlands protection

Part of the Rwenzori Mountains – home to some of the last glaciers in Africa and likely Ptolemy’s ‘Lunis Montae’ – has received international recognition as a protected wetland site under the international Ramsar convention, a major conservation decision that will help protect the region’s vast ecological riches.

The Rwenzori Ramsar Site covers a 99,500 hectares area of the mountain region located in western Uganda and bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the DRC, the mountains are part of Virunga National Park, which is also designated as Ramsar and recognized as a World Heritage Site.

The Rwenzori Mountains are one of the only three places in Africa with unique high altitude wetlands, including glaciers at the equator – the other two being Mount Kilimandjaro in Tanzania, and Mount Kenya in Kenya. Located in the western arm of the African Rift Valley, the Rwenzori Mountains act as a natural water tower for the Nile River basin. In 300 AD, the Alexandrine geographer Claudius Ptolemy suggested that the Nile had its source from snow peaks on the Equator, the ‘Lunis Montae’ or ‘Mountains of the Moon’.

Source: Surfbirds

25th May 2009: Spectacled Petrel Odyssey

The first ever satellite study of the globally vulnerable Spectacled Petrel has revealed new information about the rare bird’s ecology, with important conservation implications.

“For the first time, the species was tracked from its winter feeding grounds all the way to its only breeding site across thousands of miles of ocean,” said Dr. George Wallace, American Bird Conservancy’s Vice President for International Programs. “The data revealed a substantial overlap of Spectacled Petrel feeding grounds with the preferred fishing areas of the Brazilian longlining fleet, indicating that the birds are at high risk from drowning on longline hooks.”

Seabirds often follow fishing vessels looking for a free meal, and can drown when they try to take the bait attached to longline fishing hooks. The Spectacled Petrel has a breeding population of just 9,000 pairs. It was only recognized as a unique species, separate from the White-chinned Petrel, a decade ago, and up until now, very little was known about its non-breeding distribution. However, thanks to a donation of satellite transmitters by North Star North Star Science and Technology, LLC, in partnership with American Bird Conservancy, researchers were able to obtain groundbreaking data on the petrel’s non-breeding activities in Brazil.

Leandro Bugoni and his colleagues from the University of Glasgow, Scotland, and Projeto Albatroz, Brazil, captured five birds off the coast of Brazil using handnets. They attached transmitters to them that provided exact locations every 30 minutes, enabling the researchers to track the birds’ movements, day and night, for about a month.

“The petrels travelled vast distances, each covering up to 45,000 square miles of open ocean. One bird travelled an astounding 8,800 miles in just 49 days,” said Bugoni. Its final journey was from the coast of Brazil all the way to the aptly named Inaccessible Island, the species’ sole breeding grounds in the South Atlantic, mid-way between South America and Africa, at times flying as far as 370 miles in a single day.

To the researchers’ great surprise, rather than foraging in the cold, shallow waters of the productive currents close to shore, the birds mostly fed farther out to sea, in waters nearly two miles deep, and along the continental shelf break.

The Brazilian pelagic longline fleet now sets about 9 million hooks annually. “We know there are high rates of bycatch of both Spectacled and White-chinned Petrels, and also two albatross species, the Atlantic Yellow-nosed and the Black-browed, both of which are considered globally endangered,” said Tatiana Neves, a researcher with the Brazilian conservation group Projeto Albatroz, who has been studying seabird bycatch in the region for over a decade.

Through the satellite tracking project, the Spectacled Petrels were observed travelling similar distances and at similar speeds both day and night, indicating that, unlike the White-chinned Petrels, they may forage around the clock. This is significant for the conservation of the species, because, if verified, it means that mitigation measures must be used at all times of day to prevent bird deaths in the fishery.

Source: Fatbirder

25th May 2009: Trans-boundary Rainforest Park will be a symbol of peace and stability

The Presidents of Sierra Leone and Liberia today met in the Gola Forest, Sierra Leone, to announce the establishment of a new Trans-boundary Peace Park, to protect one of the largest remaining blocks of intact forest in the Upper Guinea Area of West Africa.

At today’s meeting H.E. President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone said:"The long-term benefits of the conservation of the Gola Forests far outweigh the short-term benefits of extraction and destruction. As I have said since I was elected in 2007, the Gola Forests will become a National Park in Sierra Leone and mining will not be permitted".

H.E. President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia said: “This launch of the Sierra Leone-Liberia Trans-boundary Peace Park Project will serve as a symbol of our renewed commitment to peace, stability and biodiversity conservation in this region."

The Peace Park unites the Gola Forest Reserve in Sierra Leone (75,000 ha) and the Lofa and Foya Forest Reserves in Liberia (80,000 ha and 100,000 ha respectively), with additional forest to provide corridors for the movement of wildlife between them.

The local communities in Sierra Leone, through their traditional chiefs and Members of Parliament, have both expressed their support for the conservation of the Gola Forest and its designation as a national park.

Dr Hazell Shokellu Thompson, BirdLife’s Regional Director for Africa, who has worked for more than 20 years on the protection of Gola Forest said: “The establishment of the Trans-boundary Peace Park is a tribute to the success of the governments of both countries in putting their recent history of civil war behind them. I wish to congratulate both Presidents for this far-sighted initiative. In the run up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen later this year, they have shown their wholehearted commitment to taking the measures needed to reduce the threats of climate change and increase collaboration in the conservation of their Nation’s natural resources.”


Source: BirdLife

25th May 2009: BirdLife International announces more Critically Endangered birds than ever before

BirdLife International's latest evaluation of the world's birds has revealed that more species than ever are threatened with extinction. A staggering 1,227 species (12%) are now classified as Globally Threatened but the good news is that when conservation action is put in place, species can be saved.

"In global terms, things continue to get worse – but there are some real conservation success stories this year to give us hope and point the way forward", said Dr Leon Bennun, BirdLife's Director of Science and Policy.

Sidamo Lark Heteromirafra sidamoensis from the Liben Plain of Ethiopia has also been uplisted to this category due to changes in land use, and is in danger of becoming mainland Africa’s first bird extinction.

Source: BirdLife

25th May 2009: Stopping seabirds going under

Even among disheartening conservation statistics, those for seabirds don’t look good. With devastating deaths and fishing bycatch indicated as a critical problem, 80% of marine bird species are in decline. Within seabirds, albatrosses and petrels are particularly at risk. They are slow-maturing and breed infrequently, raising only a single chick. “The loss of a few birds can have serious implications”, said Dr Ben Sullivan – BirdLife’s Global Seabird Programme Coordinator.

The main cause of these birds’ demise is longline fishing. Boats cast fishing lines behind them - some over 100 km long with thousands of baited hooks. Birds swarm to the baits, get hooked and are subsequently drowned. “We estimated more than 100,000 albatrosses die each year”, warned Dr Sullivan.


Completing more of the knowledge of albatrosses’ and petrels’ movements is what it’s hoped new projects will achieve. For example, On Marion Island (South Africa) scientists from the British Antarctic Survey - in conjunction with the Percy FitzPatrick Institute and Marine and Coastal Management (South Africa) - are currently fitting Grey Petrel Procellaria cinerea with satellite tags. "The results of this tracking study will help to collect the first at-sea distribution data for this Near Threatened seabird", added Helen Booker.

In total, three albatross and five petrel species in the southern Indian and Atlantic Oceans will be tracked over the next two years. The species include Spectacled Petrel Procellaria conspicillata (Vulnerable), Sooty Albatross Phoebetria fusca and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross Thalassarche carteri (both Endangered).

Source: BirdLife

4th May 2009: 2009 Waterbird Census in Zambia

The Zambia Ornithological Society have completed their Africa Waterfowl Census activities across the country. This year proved to be particularly difficult with the heavy rains making many sites impossible to visit. Nearly 3,000 records were collected – including sightings of White-backed Duck Thalassornis leuconotus, Blacksmith Lapwing Vanellus armatus and Ruff Philomachus pugnax.

Source: BirdLife

17th April 2009: Tiny warbler at risk from longer African migration

They are some of the world's most remarkable and improbable journeys – vast odysseys across desert, mountain and sea by creatures often no bigger than a Mars bar. But the annual flights of Europe's migratory birds to and from sub-Saharan Africa are set to get even longer.

Climate change, shifting the breeding range of many European bird species northwards, is likely to lengthen the migrants' marathon journeys substantially, in some cases by hundreds of miles, a new scientific study predicts. The added distance is likely to make what are already hazardous and chancey long-distance flights even more risky, with possible fatal consequences for many birds.

One example is one of Britain's most charming summer visitors, the Whitethroat, a small bouncy warbler pouring into Britain by the thousands right now after journeying from its winter quarters in the Sahel, the arid zone south of the Sahara. The Whitethroat may face another 300 miles or more on the average length of its Africa to Europe trip by the end of this century. This added distance would be a considerable threat, said Stephen Willis of Durham University, leader of the research team which produced the study.

Three more of the warbler species face increased distances on their migratory journeys from sub-Saharan Africa as long as, or longer than, those faced by the Whitethroat, the study shows. These are birds of central and southern Europe which are not often found in Britain.

* The first is the Subalpine Warbler Sylvia cantillans a very pretty songbird with an orange breast set off by a white "moustache" which is found in southern Europe, especially around the Mediterranean coast. It faces an average increase in its journey of about 470 miles.

* The second is the Orphean Warbler Sylvia hortensis which looks rather like a larger version of the Blackcap familiar to English bird lovers, which has a very similar range to the Subalpine Warbler. It faces an increase in its journey of about 340 miles.

* The third is the Barred Warbler Sylvia nisoria a fairly inconspicuous bird of an ashy grey-brown colour, which migrates to breed in central and eastern Europe. It faces an average increase in its annual journeys of nearly 600 miles.

The researchers only studied 17 bird species in total and it is quite possible that many more migrants to Europe from Africa may face longer annual journeys.

Source: Independent Online

17th April 2009: The Red List 2009 is coming and Africa is in the spotlight

On May 14 BirdLife International will release the 2009 Red List update for birds. BirdLife is the official IUCN Red List Authority for birds and this year will see a number of species being uplisted – meaning their situation is getting worse.

The 2009 update highlights the plight of Sidamo Lark Heteromirafra sidamoensis. Found only in south-central Ethiopia, its global range was previously estimated at 760 km2 with a population size of almost 2,000 individuals. But studies in 2007-2008 by researchers from BirdLife, the University of Cambridge, Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society (BirdLife in Ethiopia) and University of East Anglia discovered that available habitat covered just 35 km2, and density estimates provided a global population estimate of only 90-256 adults, all found on the Liben plain. This new information – recently published as a paper in the journal Animal Conservation – means that Sidamo Lark is being uplisted to Critically Endangered – the highest level of threat – in the 2009 Red List update. If it were to go to extinct, it would have the dubious honour of being the first known bird extinction for mainland Africa.

The lark is adapted to Ethiopia's "rangeland" – the savanna of native grasses that traditionally covered large parts of east Africa, but is now rapidly disappearing. In areas where the Liben plain has been overgrown by bush, converted into farmland or destroyed by overgrazing, the team rarely found Sidamo Larks. If the rangeland goes, so will the lark.

Rangeland degradation is often overlooked by conservationists, but it is not just the birds that suffer from the change in land use. The native people, the Borana pastoralists, also rely on intact rangeland to support their nomadic lifestyle. The degradation of the Liben Plain results directly from the Borana losing the use of their traditional rangelands. This has disrupted the subtle and sustainable seasonal movements of livestock which previously allowed grassland to be maintained in good condition.

Source: BirdLife

6th April 2009 : Killer mice bring albatross population closer to extinction

The Critically Endangered Tristan Albatross Diomedea dabbenena, has suffered its worst breeding season ever, according to research by the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK). The number of chicks making it through to fledging has decreased rapidly and it is now five times lower than it should be because introduced predatory mice are eating the chicks alive on Gough island - the bird’s only home and a South Atlantic territory of the United Kingdom.

The mice are also affecting Gough Island’s other Critically Endangered endemic species, Gough Bunting Rowettia goughensis. A recent survey of the bunting’s population revealed that the population has halved within the last two decades. Now there are only an estimated 400-500 pairs left.

“We’ve known for a long time that the mice were killing albatross chicks in huge numbers. However, we now know that the albatrosses have suffered their worst year on record”, said Richard Cuthbert, an RSPB scientist who has been researching the mice problem on Gough Island since 2000. “We also know that the mice are predators on the eggs and chicks of the Gough bunting and mice predation is the main factor behind their recent decline.”

Despite the grave situation for both species on Gough Island, UK government funding to plan for and take forward the eradication of mice is still lacking. This is despite recognition from two prominent UK House of Common's Committees that the "biodiversity found in the UK Overseas Territories is equally valuable and at a greater risk of loss" (than the UK) and that current levels of funding are "grossly inadequate". Eradicating mice is the single action that would solve the primary conservation threat facing both species.

A complete survey of the Tristan Albatross on Gough Island in January showed there were 1764 adult albatrosses incubating eggs. A later survey revealed that only 246 chicks had survived to fledging.

“Tristan Albatross is being hit by a double whammy. The chicks are predated by mice and the adults and juveniles are being killed by longline fishing vessels”, said John Croxall, Chair of BirdLife’s Global Seabird Programme. “Unsustainable numbers are being killed on land and at sea. Without major conservation efforts, the Tristan Albatross will become extinct”.

The RSPB has been involved in a feasibility study to test whether it’s possible to remove the mice. So far, the trials look promising, giving both species a more optimistic future. Funding of this year's work on Gough has come from the Overseas Territory Environment Programme (OTEP).

“Tackling alien invasives species in UK Overseas Territories is one of 10 Key Actions to prevent extinctions that BirdLife has highlighted in a new publication, Critically Endangered Birds: a global audit”, said Richard Grimmett, BirdLife’s Head of Conservation. “It is also attainable, the removal of rats from seabird islands has been conducted at many other sites across the world with great success.”

Alistair Gammell, the RSPB’s International Director continued “It is essential that the UK Government commits adequate funding for the protection of the many threatened species found on the UK’s Overseas Territories. We are challenging the Government to prove its commitment to conservation by properly funding conservation initiatives in these territories, and most urgently to commit to funding the removal of mice from Gough.”


Source: BirdLife International

6th April 2009: Giant carnivorous mice threaten world's greatest seabird colony

Whalers who visited remote Gough Island in the South Atlantic 150 years ago described a prelapsarian world where millions of birds lived without predators and where a man could barely walk because he would trip over their nests. Today the British-owned island, described as the most important seabird colony in the world, still hosts 22 breeding bird species and is a world heritage site.

But Gough is the stage for one of nature's greatest horror shows. One of those whaling boats, probably from Britain, carried a few house mice stowaways who jumped ship on Gough. Now there are 700,000 or more of them on the island, which is the size of Guernsey.

What is horrifying ornithgologists is that the humble house mouse which landed on Gough has somehow evolved to two or even three times the size of an ordinary British house mice, and instead of being a vegetarian, eating insects and seeds, has adapted itself to become a carnivore, eating albatross, petrel and shearwater chicks alive in their nests. They are now believed to be the largest mice found anywhere in the world.

Those who have witnessed the phenomenon say that the supersized mice attack at night either on their own or in groups, gnawing through the nests and into the baby birds' bodies. Their parents, who have never experienced predators, are unable defend their offspring from the rodents' furtive attacks.

Yesterday, Birdlife International, a global alliance of conservation groups, recognised that the mutant mice, who are without predators themselves, are now completely out of control and are threatening to make extinct several of the world's rarest bird species.

The organisation, which runs the Red List of endangered bird species, raised both the Tristan Albatross, of which only a few remain in the world, and the Gough Bunting, a small finch found nowhere else in the world, on to the list of the world's most critically endangered species, the highest category of threat. Five other bird species on the island are also said to be threatened.

"Things are getting worse on Gough. In the presence of house mice, the albatross and bunting have no chance of survival. The only hope for these threatened birds is the complete eradication of mice", said Dr Geoff Hilton, an RSPB scientist who has been researching conservation problems in UK overseas territories.

"The world's greatest seabird island is being eaten alive, as the mice are likely to be affecting the fortunes of many seabirds on the island. Without help, Gough Island will be likely to lose the majority of seabirds," said Hilton. Studies suggest that about 60% of all Gough's bird chicks die in their nests, probably because of predation by the mice. "It is a catastrophe. The albatross chicks weigh up to 10kgs. Ironically, they evolved on Gough because it had no mammal predators - that is why they are so vulnerable. The mice weigh just 35g; it is like a tabby cat attacking a hippopotamus", said Hilton.

Yesterday, the RSPB proposed hiring helicopters to drop thousands of tonnes of rodent poison on the island. "A government-funded feasibility study done with New Zealand, which has eradicated rats from many islands, shows it is possible. They mice would take the poison and just go to their nests and die. We think it could be done fairly easily and would cost about £2.6m", said a spokeswoman.

"The study shows there is a glimmer of light showing that we might be able to fix this problem. The UK government has supported us in discovering the problem, in conducting the feasibility study, and now in finalising our plan for the mouse eradication. The big question is whether the UK will take its international commitments seriously and do what the governments of New Zealand and Australia have done, and provide the big money needed to actually do the mouse eradication. If they don't, we won't be able to give two critically threatened species the lifeline they need".

Britain has long been criticised for not maintaining the ecology of its overseas territories which are mainly made up of groups of islands like Pitcairn, Tristan da Cunha, and the Falklands. Of the world's 190 most endangered birds, 32 are now officially British responsibility.

The discovery that the mice had supersized themselves and adapted their diets was made by Richard Cuthbert, a professional ornithologist who spent a year on the island in 2001 and only stumbled on the phenomenon as he was leaving the island. "It sounds incredulous, implausible that a mouse could attack a chick, but these chicks are really big spherical balls of fat covered in down, and because they are so fat and big they cannot defend themselves", he said later.

Source: The Guardian

27th March 2009: North African waterbird conservation gets a boost

A new 3-year project to ‘Strengthen waterbird and wetland conservation capacities in North Africa (WetCap)’ has just started. The project will build the capacity of wetland management activities at key sites in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt and Mauritania. It will also promote the wise use of wetlands which benefit local people by providing clean water and opportunities for fishing, agriculture, recreation and tourism.
Through a series of regional and national workshops specifically tailored to the needs and requirements of the region, WetCap will provide training for conservation professionals from the five countries to improve the conservation status and management of waterbirds at key wetland sites. The project will also allocate small grants to local waterbird and wetland conservation projects.

WetCap is linked to the ongoing ‘Wings over Wetlands (WOW)’ project. “This unique project perfectly complements the WOW project by implementing its objectives in North Africa, a region which has not been in the focus of the WOW project so far”, said Bert Lenten – Executive Secretary of AEWA, a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) administered international treaty dedicated to the conservation of migratory waterbirds across Africa and Eurasia.

“Waterbird conservation work is often hampered by a lack of data on population sizes, the movements of the birds or the sites used by them”, said Dr Jonathan Barnard - Senior Programme Manager at BirdLife International. “WetCap will help familiarise conservation professionals with flyway-level information developed under the Wings over Wetlands project, and link this to local needs to ensure that the project benefits both people and nature ”.

Source: BirdLife

23rd March 2009: BirdLife campaigns to save migratory birds

More than 40% of migrant birds passing between Africa, the Middle East and Europe, have declined in the last three decades. Of these 10% are classified by BirdLife as Globally Threatened or Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List. “Every year, migratory birds brave mountains, oceans, deserts and storms on their journeys to survive”, said Dr Marco Lambertini - CEO of BirdLife International.

“Their epic flights connect us all - crossing our borders, cultures and lives. However, we are destroying the habitat they need to rest and re-fuel, building hazardous structures such as powerlines which cross their path, and illegally shooting and trapping them", added Dr Lambertini.

In response to these worrying declines, BirdLife has launched the Born to Travel Campaign to protect migratory birds along the African-Eurasian flyway. "There is no better moment than the first day of the northern spring to celebrate the arrival of migratory birds from Africa, and for BirdLife to announce our Born to Travel campaign to improve the conservation of these amazing trans-continental travellers", added Dr Lambertini.


Source: BirdLife

23rd March 2009: Are Lake Natron's flamingos on the edge of extinction?

With the American dream in shambles and our country struggling with its own environmental and conservation issues why should anyone care about a bunch of flamingos nesting in some obscure lake in Tanzania? Why should it matter that a chemical company wants to build a soda extraction plant at or near their only nesting site forcing the birds into extinction? It should matter because the door will slam shut on the balance of nature.

Source: Nature Uganda

23rd March 2009: The sound of silence: The Cuckoo is vanishing

The cuckoo is vanishing. But its loss isn’t merely a wildlife tragedy – it’s the clearest possible sign that the natural world is changing for ever. In his moving new book, Michael McCarthy counts the cost


Source: The Independent

11th March 2009: The Saloum-Niumi Complex becomes the first Transboundary Ramsar Site in Africa

The Saloum-Niumi Complex has been officially declared as the first African Transboundary Ramsar Site by the Governments of The Gambia and Senegal. Shared between these two countries, the Saloum-Niumi complex forms a single ecological system comprising coastal wetlands and savannah forests, and includes one of the largest tracts of mangrove forest in West Africa.

The Wings Over Wetlands (WOW) Project has actually been fostering the cooperation between the site authorities on the ground in both Senegal and The Gambia, building the foundation for the transboundary protected area. Through the WOW Project, the Direction des Parcs Nationaux du Senegal, the Department of Parks and Wildlife Management of The Gambia, and The Wetlands International Africa Office in Dakar have developed and are now implementing an integrated transboundary management plan for the Saloum-Niumi Wetland Complex.

By definition, Transboundary Ramsar Sites are Ramsar sites which are part of an ecologically coherent wetland that extends across national borders, where the Ramsar site authorities on both sides of the border have formally agreed to collaborate in its management and have notified the Secretariat of that intent.

Source: Wings over Wetlands

5th March 2009: Rare Birds and Ripe Opportunities in Kenya

Hope sometimes arrives in very small packages, like the 10 Taita Thrushes that were recently released in the tiny forest fragment known as Chawia Forest in the Taita Hills of Kenya.

That modest addition to the forest’s Taita Thrush Turdus helleri population - which had been estimated at around 10 - represented a potential milestone for a species that is listed as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and whose total population is estimated at 1,350. It also marked the cumulative impact of years of conservation efforts in the Taita Hills.

The Taita Hills have lost 98 percent of forest cover during the last 200 years, mainly due to clearance for agricultural purposes. The remaining 400 hectares (almost 1,000 acres) of indigenous moist tropical forest is scattered in 11 fragments throughout the district. What remains is under continuing pressure from the densely populated communities nearby.

But those fragments also support numerous rare and endemic plants and animals. “The biodiversity is still there, so it’s not too late,” said Professor Luc Lens, head of the University of Ghent Terrestrial Ecology Unit, who has been studying the Taita Hills area since 1996.

Source: Conservation International

5th March 2009: Conserving biodiversity hotspots in Africa

BirdLife Partners from nine countries are meeting this week in Tunis to discuss progress of a major project to enhance monitoring of Africa’s biodiversity hotspots. Participants will discuss conservation challenges facing 160 of the most critical biodiversity sites across the continent.

The project is seeking to support eight biodiversity-rich African countries to meet the Convention on Biological Diversity’s target to ‘achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on Earth’. BirdLife Partners are currently achieving this by developing accurate, cost-effective and robust methods to monitor biodiversity in Protected Areas (PA) and Important Bird Areas (IBAs).

“Birds are well-recognised indicators of biodiversity and a key contributor to livelihoods through food, medicine, energy and other ecosystem services”, said Dr Hazell Shokellu Thompson - Head of BirdLife Africa Secretariat. “Thus, this project which contributes to the conservation of birds and their habitats also makes a major contribution to sustainable development in Africa”, he added.

Source: BirdLife International

5th March 2009: Protecting Africa's IBAs – People and Partnerships

A new report documenting the condition of Kenya’s 60 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) has been launched. It shows an overall slight improvement in their conservation status, with the greatest progress being made at protected sites. However, this was offset by the continued deterioration of many unprotected locations. “This impressive report shows the importance of site protection for Kenya’s IBAs”, said Dr Leon Bennun, BirdLife’s Director of Science, Policy and Information.

IBAs are key sites for the conservation of birds and other biodiversity, and have been identified all over the world using BirdLife International’s objective and scientific criteria. Over 1,200 IBAs have been identified in Africa; many of which are threatened by habitat degradation and a lack of legal protection.

‘Kenya’s Important Bird Areas - Status and Trends 2007’ is the result of concerted effort by NatureKenya (BirdLife in Kenya), government environmental agencies and Site Support Groups (SSGs). It documents that thirty-five IBAs (58%) are under the protection and management of the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Kenya Forest Service, and shows that increased patrols have led to a substantial reduction in the number of illegal activities.

However, despite increased action at Kenyan IBAs, it is still too little to offset the ever increasing pressures. “The overriding threat to Kenya’s IBAs continues to be the increasing human demand for land, coupled with changes in land-use”, commented Dr Bennun.

Source: BirdLife International

26th January 2009: Google Earth reveals hidden oasis

Space may be the final frontier, but scientists who recently discovered a hidden forest in Mozambique show the uncharted can still be under our noses. BirdLife were part of a team of scientists who used Google Earth to identify a remote patch of pristine forest. An expedition to the site discovered new species of butterfly and snake, along with seven Globally Threatened birds.

The team were browsing Google Earth – freely available software providing global satellite photography – to search for potential wildlife hotspots. A nearby road provided the first glimpses of a wooded mountain topped by bare rock. However, only by using Google Earth could the scientists observe the extent of woodland on the other side of the peak. This was later discovered to be the locally known, but unmapped, Mount Mabu. Scientific collections and literature also failed to shed light on the area.

“This is potentially the biggest area of medium-altitude forest I’m aware of in southern Africa, yet it was not on the map”, related Jonathan Timberlake from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (RBG Kew), who led the expedition. “Most Mozambicans would not even have recognised the name Mount Mabu.”

Following scoping trips, a team of 28 experts from the UK, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Belgium, Ireland, and Switzerland ventured into it last autumn. They included scientists from BirdLife. The group was able to stay in an abandoned tea estate where the road ended, but had to hike the last few kilometres into the forest to set up camp. They had to contend with steep terrain and dense vegetation.

Inside, they found a wealth of wildlife, including three new species of butterfly and an undiscovered species of adder. The scientists believe there are at least two novel species of plant and perhaps more new insects to identify. They took home over 500 samples. “The phenomenal diversity is just mind-boggling”, exclaimed Jonathan Timberlake. Despite civil war from 1975 to 1992 ravaging parts of Mozambique, the landscape was found virtually untouched.

The site also proved to be important for birds, especially Endangered Thyolo Alethe Alethe choloensis, which is common throughout. “This may be the most important population of Thyolo Alethe known”, remarked Dr Lincoln Fishpool, BirdLife’s Global IBA Co-ordinator, who joined the expedition. “At other sites, forest is rapidly being lost or much of the habitat is sub-optimal”. There were six other Globally Threatened birds among the 126 species identified. Of these, Vulnerable Swynnerton's Robin Swynnertonia swynnertoni is particularly significant - bridging a large gap between known populations. Mozambique’s only endemic species, Near Threatened Namuli Apalis Apalis lynesi, was also seen. This was the first record of it away from nearby Mount Namuli.

Conserving Mount Mabu is now a priority. The forest’s value as a refuge to villagers during the war has thus far helped to protect it, along with poor access and ignorance of its existence. However local people are returning to the area and Mozambique’s economy is booming. There is a risk the forest will come under pressure to be cut for wood or burnt for crop space.

Source: BirdLife International

23rd January 2009: A new dawn for Malta

Situated on the central European-African flyway the Maltese Islands should be a haven for migrating birds. Unfortunately this is not the case. Internationally, Malta has a deserved reputation for bird persecution as trapping and illegal hunting are widespread. Since accession to the European Union (EU), conditions have improved on the islands, with spring hunting and trapping stopped last year. This year, if Accession Treaty negotiations are honoured, an even bigger step forward will be taken, with the banning of trapping.

The Birds Directive forbids trapping in EU member states. During Accession Treaty negotiations prior to joining the EU in 2004, Malta negotiated a five year phasing out period for the practise of trapping. This period expired at the end of 2008, and according to these agreements, 2009 will be the first year that trapping should be banned in Malta.

Source: BirdLife International

16th January 2009: Penguins are walking an increasingly rocky road

A new study, published in BirdLife International’s journal, Bird Conservation International, has revealed that the Northern Rockhopper Penguin Eudyptes moseleyi – which is principally found on UK territories in the South Atlantic – has declined by 90% over the last 50 years.

Historical records estimate that millions of penguins used to occur on Tristan da Cunha and Gough Island, but, declines (of more than 90%) have dramatically reduced their numbers in the last half century.

Historically, we know that penguins were exploited by people, and that wild dogs and pigs probably had an impact on their numbers. However, these factors cannot explain the staggering declines since the 1950s, when we have lost upwards of a million birds from Gough and Tristan. The declines at Gough since the 1950s are equivalent to losing 100 birds every day for the last 50 years", said Richard Cuthbert of the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and lead author of the paper. "With more than half the world’s penguins facing varying degrees of extinction, it is imperative that we establish the exact reason why the Northern Rockhopper Penguin is sliding towards oblivion. Understanding what’s driving the decline of this bird will help us understand more about other threatened species in the Southern Ocean."

Possible factors for the decline of the Northern Rockhopper Penguin include climate change, shifts in marine ecosystems and overfishing. There is concern that the British Government will not put any great effort or resources into wildlife conservation for the United Kingdom’s overseas territories. Meetings held so far between ministers from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Department for International Development have failed to reach agreement.

"They are completely disinterested," said Sarah Sanders, the RSPB’s Overseas Territories Officer, said. "It's ridiculous and embarrassing. We are meant to be world leaders in biodiversity conservation and we can't even decide who is responsible for the overseas territories."

The Northern Rockhopper Penguin population on Gough is estimated at 32,000 to 65,000 pairs, with another 40,000 to 50,000 pairs on Tristan. These two strongholds account for more than 80% of the world population, the rest are found on two French-administered islands, St Paul and Amsterdam in the Indian Ocean, and are declining just as rapidly.

British overseas territories boast several species of bird found nowhere else in the world including four species classified as Critically Endangered, the highest threat category.

Source: BirdLife International

7th January 2009: Eurasian Hobby satellite tracked to Zimbabwe

German raptor specialists B.-U. Meyburg and K. D. Fiuczynski have, apparently
for the first time, used a 5 g solar satellite transmitter to track a female adult Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo breeding in Germany slightly north-west of
Berlin as far as Zimbabwe near Bulawayo.

These little transmitters have not been on sale so far. No other birds have apparently been tracked over such a long distance with the few experimental transmitters of this size produced by Microwave Telemetry, Inc.

The bird which had been trapped near the nest in August had reared young and
continued to behave normally after fitting the transmitter. Before arriving in Zimbabwe, the bird spent a long time in southern Angola.

Source: Raptor Research

7th January 2009: Sooty Falcon requires urgent action

A Sooty Falcon Falco concolor has been tracked from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to its wintering areas in Madagascar by the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD). This is the first satellite tracking of Sooty Falcon anywhere in the world. BirdLife believes this monitoring to provide useful information to help conserve this declining species. However, urgent action is now needed to protect breeding sites of this rare falcon on Abu Dhabi islands and elsewhere in the Gulf.

Sooty Falcons breed in scattered, highly localised colonies in the Middle East and time their breeding to coincide with the autumn migration of small birds. Most of the population winters in Madagascar where they hunt large insects.

The Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD) fitted the Sooty Falcon with a satellite transmitter at its nest on islands in the Sila Peninsula, Abu Dhabi. H.E Majid Al Mansouri, Secretary General of EAD, expressed his pride and reiterated the importance of such scientific studies.

"We chose to track the Sooty Falcon … because it is a key species for the Emirate of Abu Dhabi," said Abdulnasser Al Shamsi, EAD Director of Biodiversity Management Sector.

The bird – known as 'Ibn Battuta' - departed the UAE in October and was recorded flying over Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique before crossing into Madagascar, its final destination for the winter. "This first ever tracking of the species is a fantastic addition to world science," said Dr Salim Javed, EAD Deputy Manager of Bird Conservation. Altogether Ibn Battuta flew through seven countries and covered 6,700 km.

Sooty Falcon has recently been uplisted to Near Threatened owing to concerns that its population may be much smaller than previously thought, and in decline. A recent EAD breeding survey revealed a fall of 64% since 1994. They reported that the species had disappeared from several former nesting locations, and only six known breeding pairs remain. EAD scientists believe that the loss may be a result of disturbance from development and human presence during the nesting season.

“In the Arabian Gulf the situation appears to have reached a critical stage for nesting Sooty Falcons”, said Ibrahim Al-khader, BirdLife’s Director for the Middle East. “BirdLife is extremely concerned about this rare falcon. In biological terms the UAE Sooty Falcon population now critically close to extinction and requires immediate conservation action”.

Source: BirdLife International

29th December 2008: Christmas cracker at South African roost

Scientists monitoring at Mount Moreland - South Africa’s largest Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica roost - have captured their first overseas ringed bird from a festively snowy location. The young Barn Swallow had flown all the way from Finland – a total of 11,000 km! “This is an amazing Christmas gift”, said Hilary Vickers of the Lake Victoria Conservancy – sponsors of the Mount Moreland ringing programme.

“We were carefully fitting the swallows with rings so we can monitor their movements when we spotted a bird already carrying one”, said Mount Moreland bird-ringer Andrew Pickles. “A magnifying glass provided the words Helsinki - Finland!”

The Barn Swallow undertakes one of the world’s most remarkable migrations, with many individuals flying thousands of miles in spring to breed in Europe and then repeating the feat in the autumn, to spend the boreal winter in southern Africa.

The Finnish Barn Swallow is the first record of an overseas ringed bird being caught at Mount Moreland. However, it is likely that swallows travel from a number of European countries to the site.

Source: BirdLife International

22nd December 2008: World can watch breeding flamingos

The whole world now has an opportunity to watch the breeding antics of 20,000 Lesser Flamingos! A state-of-the-art webcam was recently installed on Kamfers Dam's famous flamingo breeding island, and the images are now broadcast to the world via Africam.

The equipment has numerous sophisticated functions, including pan, tilt and zoom, so close-up images of chicks hatching out of eggs, parents feeding their chicks, and many other aspects of the previously unseen breeding behaviour of Lesser Flamingos are now available to wildlife enthusiasts around the world. Infrared lights allow for 24 hour / day viewing, and a microphone allows one to hear the hustle and bustle of life in the flamingo colony. On the website, one can either see live-streaming images or static images which are refreshed every ten seconds.

"The equipment was sponsored by Nedbank Capital, Ekapa Mining and Nugen, with Herbert and Brenda Booth, Kamfers Dam's landowners, providing assistance and logistic support", said Campbell Scott, one of the directors of Africam. Brad Maxwell, joint-head of Mining & Resources at Nedbank Capital said, "Nedbank has a long history of promoting environmental responsibility, and therefore we are proud to have assisted in sponsoring the webcam." The project was coordinated by the Save the Flamingo Association, a group of concerned people, businesses and organizations who are committed to ensuring the conservation of Kamfers Dam and its flamingos and other waterbirds.

The artificial flamingo breeding island, the first such structure for Lesser Flamingos in the world, was funded and constructed by Ekapa Mining in September 2006. According to Jahn Hohne, Managing Director of Ekapa Mining, "…this exciting project enabled Ekapa to contribute to the conservation of Kimberley's magnificent dam and its flamingos."

The Lesser Flamingos bred successfully on the island last year, producing 9,000 chicks. A massive breeding event is currently underway and, as it is six weeks earlier than last year, more chicks are expected this time around. Breeding events are irregular at other sites and, for example, only successful every 12 years at Etosha Pan in Namibia. The annual breeding of Lesser Flamingos at Kamfers Dam will contribute to the conservation of these flamingos.

The Kamfers Dam Lesser Flamingo breeding island has received international acclaim, including both national and international awards. Ekapa Mining received the prestigious Nedbank Capital Green Mining Award in 2007 for their contributions to the project. Mark Anderson, who proposed and then coordinated the project, received an African - Eurasian Waterbird Agreement award in Madagascar in September 2008. Dr Brooks Childress, Chairman of the SSC / IUCN Flamingo Specialist Group, described the project as "…the most important contributions to flamingo conservation internationally in many years".

According to Mark Anderson, Executive Director of BirdLife South Africa, "Kamfers Dam is the only breeding locality for Lesser Flamingos in South Africa, and one of only four breeding localities in Africa". "This globally near-threatened species needs active conservation management, as the population is declining and there are very few breeding sites" he added.

Kamfers Dam's flamingos also have their problems. The Save the Flamingo Association was recently formed to address two important threats to the dam's flamingos, namely pollution from a sewerage works and a proposed massive housing development which will be located on a property adjacent to the dam.

As Lesser Flamingos only breed at vast, open pans and lakes, there has until now been no opportunity to view the breeding close-up and also to study the birds' biology. The webcam opens up so many opportunities to create an awareness about these interesting birds. Ornithologists will also use the camera to obtain much-needed scientific information about these flamingos' breeding biology.

Source: Mark D. Anderson, Executive Director, BirdLife South Africa

21st December: British team discovers lost Eden amid forgotten forest of Africa

It was one of the few places on the planet that remained unmapped and unexplored, but now Mount Mabu has started to yield its secrets to the world.

Until a few years ago this giant forest in the mountainous north of Mozambique was known only to local villagers; it did not feature on maps nor, it is believed, in scientific collections or literature. But after "finding" the forest on a Google Earth internet map, a British-led team of scientists has returned from what is thought to be the first full-scale expedition into the canopy. Below the trees, which rise 45m above the ground, they discovered land filled with astonishingly rich biodiversity.

The scientists found what they believe are three new species of butterfly, a previously undiscovered adder snake and new populations of rare birds. They also expect to find new plants among the hundreds of specimens they have brought back with them. Photographs from the trip - published here for the first time - show just part of the forest, tropical creepers, giant snakes such as the gaboon viper, and other wilodlife seen by the team, including small klipspringer and blue duiker antelope, noisy samango monkeys, elephant shrew, and the granite-like rocky peak of Mount Mabu. Back at Kew Gardens in west London, where he is based, expedition leader Jonathan Timberlake said the wonder of what they experienced was only sinking in now that they are home: "That's when the excitement comes out - when you come back home or start reading some of the background and realise you're breaking new ground."

Mount Mabu was "discovered" in 2005 when Timberlake's team were looking for a site for a conservation project. Soon afterwards, locally based conservationist Julian Bayliss visited the site and studied satellite photos which showed a forest of about 80 square kilometres. "It's then we realised this looked [to be] potentially the biggest area of medium-altitude forest I'm aware of in southern Africa," said Timberlake, who has spent most of his working life in the region. "Nobody knew about it. The literature I'm aware of doesn't mention the word 'Mabu' anywhere; we have looked through the plant collections of Kew and elsewhere and we don't see the name come up. It might be there under another name, but we're not aware of any collection of plant or animals or anything else taking place there."

After a few exploratory trips, in October and November this year 28 scientists and support staff from the UK, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania and Switzerland, with 70 porters, drove to an abandoned tea estate where the road ended and hiked the last few kilometres into the forest to set up camp for four weeks. One highlight was emerging from the canopy on the peak of Mount Mabu, 1,700m up, where "hundreds upon hundreds" of male butterflies had gathered in the sunlight to attract mates by flying as high as possible. "There were swifts flying in and peregrines in the air above: it was phenomenal," said Timberlake.

Source: The Guardian

19th December 2008: Natron's flamingos star in Disney film!

Walt Disney have chosen Lake Natron’s Lesser Flamingos Phoeniconaias minor to star in their first wildlife blockbuster in nearly half a century. ‘The Crimson Wing - Mystery of the Flamingos’ takes viewers to the isolated shores of Lake Natron, in northern Tanzania, for a birds-eye view of the mysterious and perilous lives of Lesser Flamingos. The film was premiered in Paris this week, and reminds the world of the threats facing one the world’s greatest wildlife spectacles.

Walt Disney produced wildlife documentaries called the ‘True-Life Adventure’ series between 1948 and 1960. These Oscar-winning films showed people the beauty of the natural world. The Crimson Wing marks the return of Disney to the genre. “We hope these films will contribute to a greater understanding and appreciation of the beauty and fragility of our natural world”, said Robert A. Iger, president and CEO, The Walt Disney Company.

Disney chose Lake Natron’s Lesser Flamingo population to relaunch their new company - Disneynature. For film maker Matthew Aeberhard, the extraordinary gathering of one and a half million flamingos on the shores of Lake Natron surpasses all the wonders of the natural world. “What’s fascinating to me is that so few people have been here”, said Aeberhard. “More people have walked on the moon than have been out on the mudflats where the flamingos have their breeding colonies”.

Lake Natron is one of the largest soda lakes in the Rift Valley, its eight saline lagoons covering an area of approximately 80 km2. It’s extremely alkaline; providing ideal environment for the salt-loving micro organisms which support East Africa’s largest population of Lesser Flamingos.

The Crimson Wing tells the story of the birth, life and death of a million Lesser Flamingos. Life at Natron is tough for the flamingos, with many predators threatening their daily survival. According to Aeberhard: “they have a number of predators such as Marabou Stork Leptoptilos crumeniferus, hyenas and jackals... The contrast here between life and death is very stark”.

Source: BirdLife International

17th December 2008: Seychelles success story

This week BirdLife International and Nature Seychelles (BirdLife in Seychelles) are celebrating the anniversary of one the world’s greatest conservation success stories. In 1968, Cousin Island was purchased by the International Council of Bird Preservation (ICBP now BirdLife International) to save the last remaining population of Seychelles Warbler Acrocephalus sechellensis from extinction. Forty years on, warbler numbers have risen by 300%, and the island has been transformed from a coconut plantation to a profitable Nature Reserve which greatly benefits local people and global biodiversity.

Cousin Island – a small island in Seychelles - is today home to a wealth of globally important wildlife. It is the most significant nesting site for Hawksbill Turtle Eretmochelys imbricata in the Western Indian Ocean, and supports over 300,000 nesting seabirds of seven species. Cousin also hosts five of the Seychelles’ eleven endemic land-birds including: Seychelles Magpie-robin Copsychus seychellarum (Endangered), Seychelles Sunbird Nectarinia dussumieri, Seychelles Fody Foudia seychellarum and Seychelles Blue-pigeon Alectroenas pulcherrima.

Until 1968 Cousin was a coconut plantation which had lost most of its native vegetation. The Seychelles Warbler was almost extinct and fewer than 30 birds remained in the world; being confined mostly to a mangrove swamp on Cousin. In response, ICBP launched a world wide campaign and bought the island with the aim of saving the warbler. That year Cousin was declared a legally protected Nature Reserve by the Seychelles Government.

“Seychelles Warbler population was so small that a single severe climate, disease or man made event could have caused their extinction”, said Dr Mike Rands – BirdLife’s CEO and Director. “Transformation from a coconut plantation to an ecologically-restored island was achieved through careful habitat management and preventing alien predators - such as rats - from arriving”.

Source: BirdLife International

9th December 2008: Soaring migratory bird deaths in Egypt

Large numbers of migrating Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina and White Stork Ciconia ciconia have been found dead near a water treatment plant in Egypt. The exact causes of their death are not known. However, a new BirdLife project will address key threats to soaring migratory birds as they undertake their epic journeys.

Soaring migratory birds glide between areas of rising hot air to aid their long-distance passage. This method, which cannot be used over large water bodies or high mountains, limits the potential routes and concentrates birds into vulnerable corridors. Egypt is at a critical geographic bottleneck for soaring migratory birds, and at the time of the recent deaths thousands of birds were passing through the country.

In total, local bird watchers found 27 Lesser Spotted Eagles and over 30 White Storks dead near a water treatment plant in Sharm el Sheik, Egypt. In addition, BirdLife received reports of a grounded European Honey-buzzard Pernis apivorus and a number of dead 'wader' species.

"We don't know the exact causes of these deaths", said Hala Barakat, President of Nature Conservation Egypt (BirdLife in Egypt). "These birds face a number of different threats such poisoning, hunting, habitat-loss and direct collisions with structures such as wind-farms and power-lines".

"BirdLife's Migratory Soaring Birds project aims to address these threats. We will be working with these key economic sectors to better understand the underlying causes of the threats to soaring birds, and develop best practice guidelines", commented Dr Jonathan Barnard - BirdLife's Programme and Projects Manager. This will be achieved through regional awareness-raising and training, combined with six pilot projects in partnership with the key stakeholders across the Middle East and north-east Africa.

"Following lessons learned from our pilot projects, our aim is to set up an accreditation scheme to encourage companies to adopt a 'Soaring Bird friendly' approach to their work", noted Dr Barnard.

Source: BirdLife International

5th December 2008: Slender-billed quest

The RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and other partners have launched a last push to find one of the world's rarest birds. They have issued a call to search for and find any remaining populations of Slender-billed Curlew Numenius tenuirostris. This announcement was made at the Ninth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Migratory Species (UNEP-CMS COP 9), in Rome, Italy, 1-5 December.

Classified as Critically Endangered, Slender-billed Curlew is the rarest species found in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, with no confirmed records since 1999. Regarded as very common in the 19th century, it declined dramatically during the 20th. It migrated from its presumed breeding grounds in Siberia, across central and eastern Europe to wintering grounds in North Africa and the Middle East. Flocks of over 100 birds were recorded from Morocco as late as the 1960s and 1970s. However, between 1980 and 1990, there were only 103 records, and from 1990-1999, this dropped to 74, with most recent verified records being of one to three birds. However, the Slender-billed Curlew is easily overlooked, challenging to identify and may use countries, such as Iraq and Iran, that have been relatively inaccessible to experienced birders in recent years.

"Although the situation for Slender-billed Curlew does look gloomy, the fact that other species have risen from the 'dead' recently does fuel our optimism. We are encouraging people not to give up on this bird", said Nicola Crockford of the RSPB and chair of the Slender-billed Curlew working group. "Additionally, this bird was known to inhabit remote areas - so it is just possible that small numbers of the bird may still be wintering in an isolated part of North Africa or the Middle East, or that some unknown nesting site may be discovered in the depths of Central Asia. But our quest is definitely a race against time."

The working group has developed a tool kit to assist people to identify and report Slender-billed Curlew in the field. This identification leaflet, a downloadable mp3 file of the call and a map of all recent sightings by season, mean that birders will now know what to look for, and when and where to look for it. Technological advances will assist with this work. Satellite tags are now small enough for use on Slender-billed Curlews; if any can be found and caught then the sites used during the migratory cycle could be determined. Also, research on feather samples from museum skins may soon enable a narrowing down of the search area for the breeding grounds (the only nesting records date from 1909-1924 in the Tara area of the Omsk-Novosibirsk region, south-west Siberia).

"This is the last chance to find Slender-billed Curlew. If we lose this species, it will be the first extinction of a European bird since Canary Islands Oystercatcher Haematopus meadewaldoi in 1981", said Richard Grimmett, BirdLife's Head of Conservation. "We've launched The BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme to save the world's most threatened birds. For many species - such as Slender-billed Curlew - the first step is to confirm if they still survive, and then identify and protect the sites that they use."

Source: BirdLife International

1st December 2008: Tanzanian Minister outlines Natron’s value

Speaking at a recent Conference of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, Tanzania's Environment Minister outlined the value of Lake Natron as the world's most important breeding site for Lesser Flamingos Phoeniconaias minor. Dr Batilda Salha Buriani stated that Lake Natron is: "The sole breeding ground of up to 2.5 million flamingos ... representing 75% of the global population".

During the conference, Tanzania's Environment Minister spoke about Lake Natron as: "the flamingo's birthplace". She continued: "Tanzania is conscious of the potential that the wise use of wetlands can offer to sustain the economic and social activities of a wide range of public and private stakeholders".

Responding to concerns raised over the proposal to construct a soda ash plant at Lake Natron, Dr Buriani assured delegates that: "Tanzania is very cautious and whatever decisions that will be made will not in any way be at the expense of nature and ecosystems values". Furthermore, she stated that: "The government recognises the contribution of Lake Natron to accelerated national economic growth, meeting the Millennium Development Goals and sustainable livelihoods of local communities and to poverty reduction initiatives, particularly through tourism".

"The Government of Tanzania and the global community have a unique opportunity to enhance the conservation values of Lake Natron for the benefit of local communities and its extraordinary wildlife", said Richard Grimmett, BirdLife's Head of Conservation. "There are few places on earth like Lake Natron. We should take advantage of the current goodwill to protect it in perpetuity".

There is a proposal to construct a plant capable of producing 500,000 tonnes of soda ash at Lake Natron. The project's Environmental and Social Impact Assessment was recently withdrawn after worldwide opposition. BirdLife International believes the development, and associated infrastructure, will displace and scatter the Lesser Flamingos, and is spearheading the "Think Pink" campaign to conserve Lake Natron. Similarly, the Lake Natron Consultative Group - a consortium of 46 concerned institutions in Africa, Europe, Americas and Asia - has called for a halt to the soda ash plant plans.

The Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention passed a resolution requesting that the 'Government of Tanzania provide the Secretary General with updated information in relation to the advice and recommendations of the Ramsar Advisory Mission to the Lake Natron Basin Ramsar site, in particular concerning the proposed development of soda ash facilities'. "Let me reiterate Tanzania's unfaltering commitment to the effective implementation of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands", commented Dr Buriani.

"I am one of those who strongly believe that we have not inherited this planet from our ancestors but rather we have borrowed it from our children ... whatever decision we make should be with their interests in our hearts", said Dr Buriani.

"Africa faces many challenges including extreme poverty", said Achilles Byaruhanga, Nature Uganda's Executive Director and BirdLife Africa's Wetlands focal point. "However, we should avoid the temptation of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs in the process of addressing these problems. This might be the case if we allow soda ash mining to take place at Lake Natron".

Source: BirdLife International

28th November 2008: Nigerian community empowered by wetland project

A collaborative project by BirdLife and the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF; BirdLife in Nigeria) has empowered a community to improve a local wetland. Habitat management has greatly improved the wetland, and local people are already catching more and bigger fish. The forthcoming annual waterbird count will soon reveal how birds have also benefited.

The pilot scheme is part of the Wings Over Wetlands (WOW) project, a large collaborative initiative aimed at conserving migratory waterbirds and their habitats in the African-Eurasian region. WOW has been operational in Nigeria since the middle of 2007, and is working with local partners to foster local solutions to the environmental challenges they face with regard to the wetlands and their livelihoods.

The Hadejia Nguru wetlands are an Important Bird Area and Ramsar site in the Sahel zone of north-eastern Nigeria, and the location for the WOW demonstration project. The wetlands are an important wintering and stop-over site for waterbirds migrating between Europe and Africa. They offer respite and water for 68 species such as Ruff Philomachus pugnax and Spur-winged Goose Plectropterus gambensis.

The wetland is also very valuable to the 1.5 million farmers, herders and fishermen who depend on it for their income and subsistence. The area is a floodplain comprising permanent lakes and seasonal pools, all connected by channels. These pools are very important, as they allow fishermen to fish, and farmers to irrigate their land outside of the wet season.

However, the role of the plain, as both a habitat for birds and a livelihood resource, is under threat. Hydrological changes, caused by upstream dams and other land-use activities, have slowed the water flow through the channels, and have allowed the native Typha species - a type of reed - to thrive. This has blocked the waterways; stemming their flow, reducing the flooding needed to irrigate farms, and preventing pools from forming.

The WOW demonstration project is enabling one community - Dabar Magini - to restore an area of the wetlands. A village committee has been set up and provided with basic hand-tools to manually clear the Typha, and since the beginning of the year in excess of 10km of waterways have been reclaimed. Already local people are reporting benefits, saying pools are forming further from the lakes than before and that bigger and more fish are being caught. They're so impressed with the results that they've independently set-up a maintenance programme. An annual waterbird count will soon reveal how birds have also benefited.

Source: BirdLife International

27th November 2008: Project emphasises conservation and livelihood link

A pilot project in Burkina Faso, Botswana and Kenya implemented by BirdLife Africa Partners, has confirmed that communities do benefit from the sustainable use of natural resources. Over the last four years, the 'Improving Livelihoods' scheme has demonstrated clear links between biodiversity conservation and poverty reduction.

"The livelihood security of millions of rural people all over Africa is inextricably linked with biodiversity and the use of biological resources, either through the direct use of the goods which they supply to people, or indirectly through the wider environmental and cultural services", said Dr Hazell Shokellu Thompson, BirdLife Director for Africa and Secretariat Head. "This is what BirdLife in Africa has been showcasing through this project and it's satisfying to see results".

Women who have been implementing this project through Fondation des Amis de la Nature (BirdLife in Burkina Faso) have greatly benefited from the sale of products from parkia grains - increasing their incomes by 50%. As a result they are now taking great care of the indigenous trees that produce these grains, and enhancing biodiversity by planting more.

In Kenya, the Kijabe Environment Volunteers are one of BirdLife's Site Support Groups (SSGs), with NatureKenya (BirdLife in Kenya). They have been providing local communities with the information and resources they need to advance environmentally friendly businesses, implementing a management plan for the local forest and are providing practical livelihood and conservation training.

At Botswana's Lake Ngami IBA, canoeing bird guides are benefiting from their chaperoning activities by earning about 35 pula (just over 220 Euros or 280 US Dollars) from each tourist. Furthermore, Vulnerable Cape Vulture Gyps coprotheres at the Mannyelanong Hill IBA are breeding more successfully, due to intervention of the Cape Vulture Environment Club, which is implementing the Mannyelanong management plan in collaboration with the Wildlife Division. This involves activities such as reducing human disturbance to vulture breeding sites. Both these projects are supported by BirdLife Botswana (BirdLife in Botswana).

However, as well as celebrating successes, stakeholders were now keen to push the project forward. "Our IBAs are in rural settings where often the poorest are also found, and continuing to emphasise this link between biodiversity conservation and poverty reduction is crucial", stressed Jane Gaithuma, BirdLife Regional Project Manager and Policy and Advocacy Coordinator for Africa.

"We are excited by the outcomes of this project, but clearer tangible results are needed to show win-win solutions for linking biodiversity conservation with poverty reduction", added Dr Karin Gerhardt, representative for the Swedish Biodiversity Project (SwedBio), who funded the scheme. "It is important for conservation organisations like BirdLife to scale up the project within the piloting countries, particularly on the level of empowerment, capacity building, linking today's knowledge about the 'free' ecosystem services and local knowledge. The Lessons learnt from the pilot project should be disseminated to the conservation and development NGOs, Governments, Donors and international policy maker".

There is already a scale up of the project through the collaboration between the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation and Development and BirdLife Africa Partners. This is being implemented in Kenya, and will expand into Ethiopia and South Africa. BirdLife Africa hopes to continue work started in all these countries in the years to come.

Source: BirdLife International

24th November 2008: African Important Bird Areas get conservation toolkit

A toolkit that synthesises lessons learnt by the BirdLife Africa Partnership in the identification, monitoring and conservation of Important Bird Areas (IBAs) was recently launched. “This toolkit will be valuable, not only to the members of the BirdLife Partnership, but also to other practitioners interested in biodiversity conservation”, said Dr Hazell Shokellu Thompson, Regional Director for BirdLife in Africa.

In 2001 BirdLife published a directory of IBAs in Africa and its associated Islands. Since that time, BirdLife Partners in Africa have embarked on an ambitious process of advocacy, action and monitoring to protect these sites in perpetuity. The new book, entitled ‘A Toolkit for Important Bird Area Conservation in Africa’ presents the results of lessons learned towards the sustainable conservation of these key sites.

All stages of the IBA Programme are covered, from identification and monitoring, to undertaking conservation action through to training and development. “The toolkit is published in both English and French, as a resource aimed primarily at supporting BirdLife Partners and other conservationists to apply the IBA approach in identifying, monitoring and safeguarding sites that are critical to the conservation of birds and biodiversity”, remarked Dr Julius Arinaitwe, BirdLife’s Regional IBA Programme Manager.

“BirdLife wishes to thank the Aage V. Jensen Charity Foundation for the generous support, not only towards the production of the toolkit, but also to other key programmes of BirdLife’s conservation and livelihoods work” added Dr Thompson.

Source: BirdLife International

23rd November 2008: BirdLife volunteers receive prestigious prize

A group working to conserve the Kikuyu Escarpment forest Important Bird Area (IBA) in Kenya has won the prestigious Equator Prize for 2008. The Kijabe Environment Volunteers (KENVO) were chosen from 310 nominations and received the award at the IUCN World Conservation Congress, in Barcelona, Spain.

Site Support Groups (SSGs) like KENVO are key to BirdLife's work and one of the most practical ways of achieving conservation by local communities. They work to protect the most threatened biodiversity sites, whilst ensuring benefits from the wise use of the natural resources. SSGs are valuable tools for the future, due to their intricate relationships with the wider community and to the resources within IBAs.

KENVO are providing local communities with the information, education and resources they need to advance environmentally friendly businesses, by connecting local entrepreneurs with low-interest loans. They also provide practical training in bee-keeping and eco-tourism guiding, and work with clubs and local schools to promote conservation education. They contribute to direct management of Kereita forest - part of Kikuyu Escarpment forest - through a tree-planting initiative focused on indigenous species.

The SSG was one of 25 winners, chosen out of recommendations from 70 nations in the tropics. They were selected to celebrate outstanding community efforts to reduce poverty through the conservation of biodiversity. KENVO, which works with NatureKenya (BirdLife in Kenya), has shown remarkable success in addressing conservation issues at Kikuyu Escarpment forest, where human pressure has been increasing. This IBA is rich in bird species and is home to regionally threatened species such as African Olive Ibis Bostrychia olivacea and Crowned Hawk-eagle Stephanoaetus coronatus.

Source: BirdLife International

14th November 2008: British company endangers wildlife paradise

A British company wants to mine coal in the heart of one of South Africa’ most ecologically sensitive natural environments. Conservationists believe the prospecting rights obtained by Delta Mining, which is now majority owned by London Mining plc, is illegal and poses one of the most serious threats to the country’s natural heritage for decades.

The extraction of coal from almost 200 km2 of the Wakkerstroom / Luneburg region, a vast area of wetlands and grassland east of Pretoria, would destroy habitats used by over 300 bird species including South Africa’s national bird, Blue Crane Grus paradisea (Vulnerable).

More than 85% of the world’s Rudd's Lark Heteromirafra ruddi (Vulnerable) live on the Wakkerstroom where Bush Blackcap Lioptilus nigricapillus and Yellow-breasted Pipit Anthus chloris (Vulnerable) also thrive. Thousands of jobs could be lost if the development went ahead. The sources of four major rivers are found in the region and all could be heavily polluted by mining operations.

BirdLife South Africa supported by the RSPB has applied to the South African High Court for a judicial review of Delta’s prospecting rights in the Wakkerstroom / Luneburg region. These prospecting rights were obtained without proper consultation with affected landowners and without adequately taking the severe conservation impact of mining into consideration. The application is being opposed, by both Delta Mining and the South African Government’s Department of Minerals and Energy.

Wakkerstroom’s high altitude grasslands host more than 300 species of bird and more than 100 endemic plants, and more than 80% of bird-watching trips in South Africa include Wakkerstroom in their schedule. Among sites threatened by the prospecting is the Pongola Forest Reserve, which is a formally protected area and forms part of the Eastern Grasslands region. Delta Mining claims in its Environmental Management Plan that there are “no threatened species on the site”, yet 13 of the country’s endemic bird species are found only in this grassland region and this area was designated an Important Bird Area by BirdLife South Africa in 2001.

Carolyn Ah Shene said: “We have absolutely no confidence in the company’s promises of environmental safeguards. It has blatantly ignored the legal requirements for environmental impact studies so far, suggesting it has no regard for the impact of its proposed development on the region’s natural environment. Thousands of people who depend on farming and tourism in the region will lose their jobs if mining goes ahead”.

“This is one of the biggest threats to South Africa’s wildlife to emerge for decades”, said Paul Buckley, RSPB Africa Specialist. Wakkerstroom is known worldwide as a biodiversity hotspot and has long been a unique environmental showcase for South Africa”.

“British companies are improving their environmental records and we expect Delta Mining and London Mining to be equally responsible. They must go back to the drawing board, recognise the global importance of these grasslands and its biodiversity and undertake the required consultations legally required in South Africa. Those earning a living from showcasing Wakkerstroom’s rich natural environment expect nothing less”.

Source: BirdLife International

14th October 2008: Saving the Pink Pigeon

Hundreds of years after the Dodo became extinct, conservationists in Mauritius are trying to save one of the birds relatives, the Pink Pigeon. The Dodo lived on the island of Mauritius before the year 1700 but was hunted to extinction.

Pink Pigeons grabbed the attention of conservationists world-wide when a few of the birds - thought to be extinct like the Dodo - were discovered in a tiny section of the forest in the 1970s. Efforts to save the bird have been fairly successful, despite the danger posed by rats, cats and monkeys brought to the island by settlers 400 hundred years ago.

Thanks to institutions like the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation there are now Pink Pigeon sanctuaries in Mauritius and the numbers have increased to some 400 birds - enough to suggest the bird will survive into the future.

Source: Reuters to see a video of the conservation efforts on Mauritius.

13th October 2008: New sightings of the Ibadan Malimbe in Nigeria's newest proposed IBA

Surveys of the Ifon Forest Reserve, Nigeria, in November 2007 and March 2008 provided confirmed sightings of Endangered Ibadan Malimbe Malimbus ibadanensis, which is endemic to south-west Nigeria. These and earlier sightings have led Ifon Forest Reserve to be proposed as Nigeria's newest Important Bird Area.

"The sighting of the Ibadan Malimbe in Ifon Forest Reserve indicates an extension of the earlier range, and have raised interesting research questions about the distribution of Ibadan Malimbe in south-western forests", said Ademola Ajagbe of Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF, BirdLife Partner Designate in Nigeria),

Ibadan Malimbe was known only from a small area circumscribed by Ibadan, Ife, Iperu and Ilaro in south-western Nigeria. In December 2006, the species was first discovered in Ifon Forest Reserve of Ondo State, where six sight records were obtained during a ten-day survey. Foraging pairs were seen on two separate occasions and lone males were recorded twice. Records of this species from Kakum National Park, Ghana, in February 2002, September 2004 and February 2005 are yet to be confirmed.

One male was identified during the eight-day survey in 2007, while two males were identified at two different locations during the eight-day 2008 survey in the central and northern portion of the reserve. It was difficult to ascertain the presence of female Ibadan Malimbe during the 2008 survey as the males were observed in the company of several Red-headed Malimbe M. rubricollis pairs.

Widespread forest clearance for subsistence agriculture is cited as a possible cause of the Ibadan Malimbe's decline since the 1970s, and human pressure on forests within its range is ongoing. Most of the forest patches within the species's current range are community-owned forests and their preservation is dependent upon local communities.

Source: BirdLife

9th October 2008: Birds show that world is falling short of biodiversity target

In 2002 the world’s governments took the unprecedented step of committing themselves to achieve a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010. With two years to go, birds are showing that we are falling far short of the target – and that, far from slowing down, the rate of biodiversity loss is still accelerating. This is the conclusion of State of the Worlds Birds, a new website and publication from BirdLife International showcased today at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, Spain.

“Global change in biodiversity is hard to measure and effective indicators are still in short supply”, said Alison Stattersfield, BirdLife’s Head of Science and lead editor on the State of the Worlds Birds report. “This is where birds can really help, as we know much more about them than for most other animals and plants. Birds provide an accurate and easy to read environmental barometer, allowing us to see clearly the pressures our current way of life are putting on the world’s biodiversity.”

State of the Worlds Birds highlights several indicators that help to measure progress towards the 2010 target. The Red List Index for birds, based on the number and status of threatened species, shows that bird species are slipping faster than ever towards extinction. Other measures, including the Wild Bird Index for Europe, highlight rapid erosion around the world in the populations of more common and widespread birds, including songbirds, birds of prey, waterbirds and many migrant species. Initial results from monitoring of key sites, the Important Bird Areas, shows that their condition continues to deteriorate, though, encouragingly, more conservation responses are being put in place.

“Overall, the rate of deterioration has been speeding up since our last global assessment in 2004,” says Alison Stattersfield. “The accelerating decline in relatively common and widespread birds is especially alarming and can be linked to ever-increasing pressures on natural habitats. Our data suggest that recent policy changes such as the drive towards producing biofuels are damaging biodiversity and seriously undermining efforts to meet the 2010 target.”

Not all the news is bad. A companion report, Critically Endangered birds: A global audit, also showcased today at the IUCN meeting, shows that 16 bird extinctions have been prevented in recent years through conservation action. Eighteen Critically Endangered birds have also now qualified for lower categories of threat.

“It is clear that conservation action can and does work”, said Dr Leon Bennun, BirdLife’s Director of Science, Policy and Information. “What we need is commitment, from decision-makers and not just conservationists. It’s time to recognize the real value of biodiversity and for Governments to honour the commitments they have made to invest in its conservation. Given the enormous benefits that biodiversity provides to people, the investment needed to look after it represents an absolute bargain.”

BirdLife’s State of the world’s birds website provides the most up-to-date information on bird indicators, threatened birds and Important Bird Areas, and a searchable database of carefully documented and referenced case studies expanding on and supporting the overall analysis. It is a flexible and authoritative resource for decision-makers, conservation practitioners and researchers looking for information on the condition of the world’s birds, the pressures on them and the responses needed.

Source: BirdLife

4th October 2008: Key conservation caucus urges protection of Lake Natron

Conservationists from all over Africa and other parts of the world have strongly urged the Government of Tanzania to ensure the protection of Lake Natron. The site is the world’s most important breeding site for Lesser Flamingos Phoeniconaias minor.

At the recently concluded 12th Pan-African Ornithological Congress (PAOC 12), held near Cape Town, South Africa, the experts expressed concern that the proposed soda ash mining at Lake Natron raises serious questions about the future of the lake and its flamingos.

In a resolution unanimously passed during the closing day, the meeting noted that the lake is uniquely suitable for Lesser Flamingo nesting because of the chemical composition of the water, the presence of a suitable substrate for nest construction, and very effective isolation from disturbance by humans and predators.

“The Lesser Flamingo population in Eastern Africa, of some 1.5-2.5 million birds, accounting for 75% of the global population, is therefore dependent on this lake for its survival”, stated the resolution signed by the PAOC Committee Chairman Professor Adrian Craig.

Tata Chemicals Ltd backed up by the Government of Tanzania has proposed to construct a soda ash plant capable of producing 500,000 tonnes of soda ash (sodium bicarbonate) at Lake Natron. The project has drawn worldwide opposition. BirdLife International led the “Think Pink” campaign against the project while a coalition of conservation institutions in Eastern Africa, Lake Natron Consultative Group, spearheaded another.

The PAOC 12 resolution further noted that the display of pink flamingos at lakes in the East African Rift Valley is a major tourist attraction, described as “the greatest ornithological spectacle on earth”. This natural heritage therefore needed to be conserved.


Source: BirdLife

16th September 2008: Delegates discuss flyway conservation

Over 150 representatives of government and non-governmental organisations as well as waterbird experts from 80 countries are meeting in Madagascar this week. They are discussing urgent conservation responses necessary to reverse the declines of many migratory waterbird species along the African-Eurasian Flyway.

The meeting highlights recent findings which show continuing declines of many waterbird species in Africa and Eurasia. Delegates are discussing how best to restore the status of these species to meet the target of ‘halting the decline of global biodiversity by 2010’.

“Flyway conservation at work – review of the past, vision for the future” is the theme of the Fourth Meeting of the Parties to the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA). AEWA is an international treaty dedicated to the conservation of migratory waterbirds such as ducks, waders, storks, flamingos and many others which migrate along the African-Eurasian Flyways. Countries which have become Parties to the Agreement commit to putting measures in place to conserve the region's waterbird populations and the habitats on which they depend.

“BirdLife are working with partners on the largest international wetland and waterbird conservation initiative ever to take place across the AEWA region”, said Dr Vicky Jones, BirdLife’s Global Flyways Officer. The Wings Over Wetlands (WOW) project is aiding international collaboration along the African-Eurasian flyways, improving the availability of waterbird information, building capacity and demonstrating best practice in the conservation and wise-use of wetlands.

WOW supports field projects in eleven important wetland areas in 12 countries. These demonstration projects focus on a number of wetland-related conservation issues including community mobilization, management planning, ecotourism, field research, wetland restoration, control of invasive species, trans-boundary management, education and alternative livelihoods.

The project is also developing the Critical Sites Network Tool, an open access web portal which will  improve the availability of information on migratory waterbirds and the sites critical to their survival and help to unify conservation efforts along the flyways. Furthermore, a training and capacity development framework is being developed which focuses on enhancing the professional capacity and understanding of flyway-scale conservation concepts among conservation professionals and decision makers at various levels across the AEWA region.

WOW is a joint effort between Wetlands International, BirdLife International, the Global Environment Facility through the United Nations Environment Programme, the Secretariat of the AEWA, the Ramsar Convention Secretariat, the United Nations Office for Project Services and a range of donors and local partners along the African-Eurasian Flyways.

Source: BirdLife International

5th September 2008: Iron grip closes on Langebaan lagoon

BirdLife South Africa says time is running out for the Langebaan Lagoon - one of it's most precious Ramsar sites, and part of the West Coast National Park and Saldanha Bay islands Important Bird Area (IBA). Langebaan Lagoon is the most important wetland for waders in South Africa, regularly accounting for around 10% of South Africa's coastal wader numbers. The lagoon can support more than 37,500 non-passerine waterbirds in summer, of which 34,500 are waders, 93% of which are Palearctic migrants.

Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola, Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea, Sanderling C. alba, Red Knot C. canutus and Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres are the major components of the summer wader assemblage. The coastal strandveld supports several restricted-range and biome-restricted species, including the recently described Long-billed Lark Certhilauda curvirostris.

In winter, the lagoon regularly supports more than 10,500 birds, of which 4,500 are Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus and 4,000 are waders. BirdLife South Africa reports that this important Western Cape wetland is now plagued by port expansion, sewerage pollution, urban development and tourism infrastructure development, and may lose its conservation status as a important site for South Africa's breeding coastal birds.

The existing iron ore terminal is set to double its capacity for iron ore exports. This planned expansion has been seriously criticized by conservation organisations due to the expected impact on the hydrology, lagoon sediments, birdlife and shoreline of the lagoon. Evidence of the long-term negative impacts of the original port development in the early 1970s is visible on the eastern shores of the lagoon at the Langebaan village.

"The beaches have practically disappeared due to the scouring tidal action that was created by the causeway and jetty when the iron ore terminal was constructed," said Carolyn Ah Shene of BirdLife South Africa's Policy & Advocacy Division. "Tidal water that used to take four days to return to the Atlantic Ocean is now believed to take up to seventeen days to return. The extra dredging that will be required for the double capacity terminal will have devastating impacts on the lagoon sediments and its biota. We believe this will have a serious knock-on effect on bird diversity and numbers at the lagoon."

Source: BirdLife International

5th September 2008: Scientists axed in battle of flamingo dam

Three high-ranking scientists face disciplinary action and the loss of their jobs because of their work to save rare Lesser Flamingos in South Africa. All three were employed by the Northern Cape provincial government which has suspended them after discovering their links to a campaign to save Kamfers Dam, one of only six Lesser Flamingo breeding sites in the world. Deputy Director Julius Koen, ornithologist Mark Anderson and scientist Eric Herrmann have yet to receive charges or a date for their disciplinary hearing but have been suspended from their jobs with the department of tourism, environment and conservation.

They had called for action to tackle pollution of the dam, which is being blamed for swollen joints and lesions on the legs of many of this year’s 9,000 lesser flamingo chicks. In addition, plans to build a commercial park, shopping mall and 6,400 upmarket homes within the wetland’s protective buffer zone could force these vulnerable birds to leave.

Duncan Pritchard, Acting Executive Director of BirdLife South Africa, said: “The action against Mark and his colleagues has bewildered and outraged conservationists throughout South Africa and beyond. Kamfers Dam is one of the best places in the world to see lesser flamingos and could have the greatest potential of all lesser flamingo nesting sites in Africa, and especially southern Africa, to help these birds start recovering their numbers.” Kamfers Dam’s flamingo island was built less than two years ago to help reverse the lesser flamingo’s rapid decline. The idea was conceived by Mr Anderson in 1995 and he has been pivotal in the project since then. After the island’s construction in 2006, schoolchildren, scouts and guides built 1,000 nesting turrets on the site, which was designed in an S-shape to protect the island from wind and soil erosion.

More than 50,000 Lesser Flamingos – half the southern African population - have used the island for nesting and feeding already. The South African government has designated the 400-hectare wetland a Natural Heritage Site and images of the species grace buildings and business logos all over nearby Kimberley. The suspension of the three scientists is thought to have followed a complaint from a member of the public about the role of two of them in the Kamfers Dam Save the Flamingo campaign.

Mr Anderson, who worked for the state authority for 18 years, will soon become Executive Director of BirdLife South Africa but Mr Koen and Mr Herrmann may be out of work if disciplinary action goes against them. Mark Anderson said: “I feel proud of the work I have done. Many of the birds were sick because of the pollution and I was responsible for them. The support we have received has been incredible and the whole world seems to be behind us. This is publicising the flamingos’ plight internationally like nothing else could.”

The first webcam on any lesser flamingo site is being installed on Kamfers Dam island, looking down on the breeding colony. Campaigners hope live pictures beamed across the world using full sound and infrared cameras at night will bolster support for the birds. Lesser flamingos are also threatened at Lake Natron in Tanzania where the government and Indian multi-national TATA want to export soda ash. Lake Natron, in the Rift Valley, hosts between 1.5 and 2.5 million lesser flamingos in summer, 75 per cent of the world population.

Paul Buckley, an Africa specialist at the RSPB, which is backing the flamingo campaign, said: “Pollution and development are the most serious threats facing lesser flamingos in Africa. Safeguarding these birds at Kamfers Dam and Lake Natron is vital if we are to halt their serious and alarming decline. “We applaud local conservationists who are working tirelessly and at great personal cost to endure these sites remain protected and undisturbed sanctuaries. If they do not, the future is bleak for this beautiful and emblematic species.”

Source: BirdLife International

20th August 2008: New Bird Species Discovered In Gabon

Smithsonian Institution have discovered a new species of bird in Gabon, Africa, that was, until now, unknown to the scientific community.

The newly found Olive-backed Forest Robin Stiphrornis pyrrholaemus was named by the scientists for its distinctive olive back and rump. Adult birds measure 4.5 inches in length and average 18 grams in weight. Males exhibit a fiery orange throat and breast, yellow belly, olive back and black feathers on the head. Females are similar, but less vibrant. Both sexes have a distinctive white dot on their face in front of each eye.

The bird was first observed by Smithsonian scientists in 2001 during a field expedition of the National Zoo's Monitoring and Assessment of Biodiversity Program in southwest Gabon. It was initially thought, however, to be an immature individual of an already-recognized species. Brian Schmidt, a research ornithologist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and a member of the MAB program's team, returned to Washington, D.C., from Gabon in 2003 with several specimens to enter into the museum's bird collection. When he compared them with other forest robins of the genus Stiphrornis in the collection, Schmidt immediately noticed differences in color and plumage, and realized the newly collected birds might be unique.

Source: Science Daily

20th August 2008: Government plan may save threatened Ndumo

South Africa's premier birdwatching destination is safe for the moment, despite a land invasion by local communities last month designed to open the Ndumo Game Reserve for agriculture. This week the KwaZulu-Natal cabinet accepted provincial agriculture and environmental affairs minister Mtholephi Mthimkulu's proposal for an integrated plan for the area. Mthimkulu said: "There is no need for de-proclamation at the moment."

The MEC said his plan would provide a more sustainable solution than de-proclaiming part of the reserve. The plan includes improving service delivery, better access to clinics and schools and increased interaction with communities.
Communities surrounding the reserve live in poverty and have little arable land. Early last month the Bhekabantu and eMbangweni communities cut the park's fence and occupied land, demanding that they be allowed to farm inside the park.

Riaan Aucamp, spokesperson for Environment Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk, said the minister was worried about the Ndumo situation, but that the KwaZulu-Natal cabinet would handle it. The crisis poses a threat to the new Lubombo Transfrontier Conservation Area, which will create a three-country mega reserve.

Source: Mail and Guardian Online

19th August 2008: Sharpe's Longclaw in trouble.

We have already spent two weeks in the field. In particular, we were three days in the Aberdare National Park, one of the few protected areas where Sharpe's Longclaw Macronyx sharpei was reported in the past. Despite much searching we have not found any signs of Longclaw in the National Park. Either the species is very rare or even totally absent from there. What we found is that all the alpine moorland habitats in the National Parks are severely encroached by  shrubs and  dense grasses that make the habitat unsuitable for the Longclaw.

Management actions might be urgently needed to restore the habitat, and we fear that very similar situations might occur even on Mt Kenya and Mt Elgon. What we might find is that no Sharpe's Longclaw (or very few) occur inside National Parks.
Outside of protected is areas also very bad. The current world food crisis is enhancing the pace of conversion of grassland to agriculture. At several sites we counted the birds in grasslands while they were being ploughed. We have plans to visit Mt Kenya NP and Eldoret area soon. Mt Elgon and Mau Narok zones will have to wait until tribal clashes will calm a little bit.

Dominic Kamau, one of my field assistants has elaborated a small project for school kid education in the primary schools of the Kinangop plateau. Teaching kids about the conservation importance of Kenya's grassland is a key conservation action in my opinion. We are now collaborating with 10000 Birds, a UK-based blog, to advertise Dominic's idea on the internet and raise funds for Dominic's project. Charlie Moores, the owner of the blog, has already produced an introduction posting on the blog.

Source: Personal communication from Luca Borghesio. This project is supported by an ABC conservation award.

9th August 2008: Congo Basin passes 1 million ha milestone in swing to sustainable forestry

WWF today announced that more than one million hectares of Congo Basin forests have achieved certification under the world’s leading sustainable forestry scheme. The world’s second largest block of rainforests, the Congo Basin is a haven for indigenous peoples and endangered species like elephants and gorillas. It is also important in sequestering carbon and safeguarding water supply and quality.

“With rampant illegal logging, vague logging concession boundaries and massive blocks of pristine forest destined for the chainsaw, this is a laudable step towards avoiding an ecological disaster,” says James P. Leape, Director General of WWF.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification has now been achieved for forestry operations on 1.2 million hectares, a significant step towards WWF’s Green Heart of Africa network initiative goal of having certification achieved for 50% of production forest in the Congo Basin. The certification involves logging companies SEFAC, Transformation Reef Cameroon (TRC) and WIJMA in Cameroon and CIB in the Republic of Congo.

“While the certified forests will have to be maintained according to acceptable international standards, there is urgent need for other timber business operations in the region to adopt responsible forest management practices in order to ensure the conservation of this unique forest ecosystem for the benefit of people in the region and the world,” added Mr. Leape.

To promote responsible forest management and trade in the Congo Basin, WWF-CARPO has set up the Central Africa Forest and Trade Network (CAFTN), a part of WWF’s Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN) – which works to provide support, advice and guidance to logging companies to help them better understand how good logging practices can contribute to conservation of biodiversity, improve the livelihood of local communities and lead to a market advantage.

“Illegal forest exploitation and forest crimes are largely due to poor governance and insufficient law enforcement,” said Laurent Somé, WWF Central Africa Regional Programme Office (CARPO)'s Representative.. “WWF also recognizes that responsible forest management plays an important role in the economic growth of tropical countries and reducing poverty in forest communities.

“WWF is convinced that the adoption of responsible forestry schemes by logging companies will contribute greatly to the conservation of the Congo Basin forests and towards improving the national economy and also improve the livelihoods of local communities,” Mr Some said. “For the success of responsible forestry in the Congo basin, there is a high need for government to set up enabling conditions that include enacting adequate legislation and enforcement, and promoting good governance while providing support to responsible forestry initiatives.”

By 2012, WWF expects that 7 million hectares of forest in the Congo Basin will be under credible certification while another 5 million hectares will be progressing towards credible certification.

Source: World Wildlife Fund

6th August 2008: 'Net losses' for South African seabirds

A study of trawl fishing in South Africa suggests that around 18,000 seabirds may be killed annually in this fishery, highlighting trawl fisheries as a major threat to seabirds, especially several species of albatross already facing a risk of extinction.

Published in the journal Animal Conservation, the study was based on scientists monitoring catches on 14 different vessels, operating in the Benguela Current, off South Africa; one of the main hotspots for seabirds in the Southern Hemisphere.

The vessels were trawling for hake, and the majority of bird deaths were a result of collisions with wires - known as warp lines - leading from the stern of the vessels.

“We believe the seabird deaths the scientists recorded might be just the tip of the iceberg”, said John Croxall, Chair of BirdLife’s Global Seabird Programme. “It suggests that around 18,000 seabirds may be killed annually in this fishery alone,” he added. “Most mortality relates to the dumping of fishing waste behind the boat. This attracts seabirds which can either hit the warp lines or become entangled in the nets,” commented Dr Croxall.

The species killed during the study include South African breeding species such as Vulerable Cape Gannet Morus capensis, and species such as Vulnerable White-chinned Petrel Procellaria aequinoctialis, Endangered Black-browed Diomedea melanophris and Near Threatened Shy Albatross Thalassarche cauta, which visit the Benguela Current region from nesting islands dotted around the Southern Ocean. “The impact of this one local fishery has very widespread geographical repercussions”, warned Dr Croxall. “Potential mortality at this scale for the albatrosses is unsustainable”.

Potential solutions to reduce seabird mortality, such as improving waste management and using devices protecting warp cables from bird strikes, already exist. BirdLife International believes addressing the problems requires a combination of: implementing best-practice mitigation measures immediately, and making such measures a requirement for appropriate fisheries; and conducting research to improve mitigation measures.

Source: BirdLife International

6th August 2008: Birdfair finds Spoon-billed champion

WildSounds, the leading international wildlife book and sound guide supplier and African Bird Club corporate sponsor has become the latest Species Champion to support the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme, it was announced today by Martin Davies and Tim Appleton MBE, co-organisers of The British Birdwatching Fair.

Furthering their long term commitment to environmental causes, WildSounds has now stepped forward to ‘champion’ Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus. “We are privileged to become a BirdLife Species Champion and help bring attention to the plight of Spoon-billed Sandpiper”, said Duncan Macdonald, Managing Director of WildSounds.

Populations of this wader have crashed over the last decade, and recent surveys of its breeding grounds in the remote Russian province of Chukotka by RBCU (BirdLife in Russia) suggest that the situation is now absolutely critical. Dr Evgeny Syroechkovsky of RBCU and Dr Christoph Zöckler of ArcCona Consulting will be attending the Birdfair Opening Ceremony on August 15 to present their latest findings.

Macdonald continued, “Conservation is our social responsibility and we fully support BirdLife International in helping the Spoon-billed Sandpiper back from the edge of extinction.”

“WildSounds is becoming a Species Champion in the nick of time for Spoon-billed Sandpiper”, said Jim Lawrence, the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme Development Manager. “If we are to save this species, people and governments throughout the bird’s range should follow WildSounds’ lead and take action now.”

Many generous donors have already joined the growing community of BirdLife Species Champions but more are urgently needed, so Birdfair is drawing attention to the search by highlighting a ‘Super Six’ Critically Endangered Species in 2008 - Azores Bullfinch, Araripe Manakin, Tuamotu Kingfisher, Sociable Lapwing, Dwarf Olive Ibis and Spoon-billed Sandpiper. BirdLife International has plans in place to save them all and the work is ready to begin as soon as ‘Species Champions’ can be found to fund the essential conservation required.

Source: BirdLife International

6th August 2008: Bullfinch benefits from Guardian

For the past 5 years, SPEA (Birdlife in Portugal) and the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), together with other partners, including the Azores Regional Government, have been implementing a LIFE project to save the Critically Endangered Azores Bullfinch Pyrrhula murina - or Priolo as it is known locally - from extinction. This species is Europe’s rarest songbird, and the second most globally threatened bird species in the whole continent. It occurs only in small pockets scattered in a 6,000 hectare mountain range on São Miguel island in the Azores. The species’s natural habitat, which was already patchily distributed and degraded, is currently severely threatened through invasion by aggressive exotic plant species.

The LIFE project has been improving the Azores Bullfinch habitat since 2003, by clearing exotic plants and planting native trees that provide the food that the birds depend on. Project staff have also been monitoring the population, which seems to be responding well to this habitat management – the population appears to be increasing fast, at least in the transects monitored by the LIFE project team.

Last year, conservation scientists decided that there was a need for a complete snapshot of the Azores Bullfinch distribution, as well as a more robust measure of the species density, habitat use and numbers. The team in Portugal and in the UK then developed a unique field experiment - a simultaneous survey of all the Azores bullfinches in the complete world range.

The event, partly funded by a generous grant of US$17,000 (€11,000) from the Disney Conservation Fund, attracted much interest and 50 volunteers from the UK, Holland, Brazil, Spain, France, mainland Portugal and the Azores spent several days in June being trained on Azores Bullfinch songs, habitat classification and distance sampling.

Almost 200 one-kilometre squares were checked and 287 point counts took place, with eight minutes spent at each point. A total of 78 Azores Bullfinches were counted, which should result in a final estimate of several hundred birds – an increase on the 200 individuals estimated five years ago. Encouragingly, there were a number of records from outside the core range for the species, suggesting it may occur more widely than previously thought.

SPEA has been appointed the Species Guardian for the Azores Bullfinch as part of the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme and Birdwatch magazine recently stepped forward as a Species Champion. This support will enable SPEA to build on this work into the future. "This is great news for Azores Bullfinch and shows how the work of the Species Guardian is really making a difference", said Jim Lawrence, the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme Development Manager.

Source: BirdLife International

24th July 2008: Congo wetland largest to achieve international recognition

An area of the Democratic Republic of Congo containing the largest body of fresh water in Africa has been added to the Ramsar Convention’s list of Wetlands of International Importance, making it the largest region ever to be designated as such. At more than six-and-a-half million hectares, the Ngiri-Tumba-Maingombe area is twice the size of Belgium and has one of the highest concentrations of biodiversity anywhere in the world. It is also a major carbon sink.

"WWF is delighted that Ramsar has recognized the importance of this extraordinary wetland and the efforts of the Democratic Republic of Congo to protect it," said James P. Leape, Director General of WWF International. "This is a significant step forward for the welfare of communities who depend on this wetland for their livelihoods and for the wildlife that lives there."

Recognition by the Convention, which was signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971, means that there is now a framework to conserve the wetland, which is under threat from illegal logging, fishing and poaching, and a decline in water levels that is most likely attributable to climate change. The Congo basin is also the site of the world's third largest Ramsar wetland, the 5,908,074 hectare Grand Affluents area of the Congo river and major tributaries declared earlier this year.

“The Ngiri-Tumba-Maindombe area contributes to the regulation of flooding and regional climate and ensures that the quality of the water remains good enough for millions of people who depend upon it,” said WWF project Manager Bila-Isia Ingwabini.

Source: World Wildlife Fund

17th July 2008: Tana gets temporary reprieve

The Tana River Delta in Kenya has received temporary reprieve after the High Court stopped a controversial $370 million sugar and biofuels project. Mumias Sugar Company intends to convert 20,000 hectares of the Tana Rive Delta to plant sugarcane. BirdLife International, NatureKenya (BirdLife in Kenya), the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and local conservationists within Kenya have vehemently opposed the proposal as it threatens biodiversity and the livelihoods of local communities. Tana delta is home to over 350 species of bird, and a large assemblage of globally threatened wildlife including nine plants, five fish, two amphibians, two primates and two reptiles.

“This is a very welcome move”, said Paul Matiku the Executive Director, Nature Kenya. “It is victory for the local communities that took the government to court. Nature Kenya and institutions under the umbrella of Kenya Wetlands Forum will now fight even harder to have the sugarcane project permanently stopped”, Matiku added.

In June this year Kenya’s National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) cleared the sugarcane project and issued an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) license. This move was criticised by environmental groups as biased because of its failure to balance arguments from both sides of the debate. “An independent economic study showed that the project was heavily overvalued because the costs of water, land and loss of community livelihoods were ignored” said Serah Munguti, the Communications and Advocacy Coordinator at Nature Kenya.  “Yet, NEMA ignored this information. At the same time the conditions in the EIA licence issued by NEMA were too weak”, she added.

Among other things, the new court order stops Mumias Sugar Company from making any further decisions regarding implementation of the sugar project. It also halts the Tana River County Council from taking any action in respect to the land which is the subject of the suit. Furthermore, it bars Kenya’s Commissioner of Lands from issuing a title deed for the land and the Water Resources Management Authority from issuing a water permit to the Tana Integrated Sugar Project.

BirdLife International welcomes the new development and fully backs Nature Kenya and other environmental groups in Kenya calling for a stoppage of the Tana Integrated Sugar Project. "We believe that the implementation of the project is not likely to lead to the improvement of the lives of the local people but will leave a trail of damage to the ecosystem and biodiversity", said Ken Mwathe from BirdLife's Africa Partnership Secretariat.

Source: BirdLife International

10th July 2008: Groundbreaking work will help Africa’s biodiversity combat climate change

Pioneering research to help biodiversity survive the impacts of climate change across Africa has been announced at a workshop in Kigali, Rwanda and hosted by the Association pour la Conservation de la Nature au Rwanda (BirdLife in Rwanda) on behalf of the BirdLife Africa Partnership. The work brings together the BirdLife Africa Partnership, RSPB, Durham University (UK), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and is funded by the MacArthur Foundation.

The project has mapped the current and future distributions of all bird species on mainland Africa by using climate change models to determine the distance and direction of shifts for each species in the future. A particular emphasis of the work is understanding how well the Important Bird Areas (IBAs) network in Africa can sustain the continent’s bird with future climate change. Dr Julius Arinaitwe, BirdLife International’s Regional IBA Manager for Africa, said “There are very few plans to protect biodiversity from the effects of climate change anywhere in the world. BirdLife International is leading the drive to develop strategies to protect our unique wildlife for future generations.”

Dr Steve Willis, a lecturer at Durham University’s Environmental Change Research Group, and a leading expert on climate change modelling, said “We have modelled the possible future distributions of all Africa’s birds and the results are worrying – many species are projected to suffer a reduction in range size and a small proportion may go extinct completely." More detailed analysis is being carried out within the Albertine Rift region of Africa to identify actions that will increase the resilience of the IBA network to future climate change.

The workshop in Rwanda brings together governments, academic institutions, NGOs and local community from Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, all of which are included within the Albertine Rift mountains complex. Dr Willis commented: “In the Albertine Rift, our models project that species will move upwards altitudinally, and clearly the higher up a mountain you go, the less land area there is. We need to start acting now to prevent these unique species disappearing altogether.”

“The main challenge is to try to protect the birds where they are now and at the same time to help them to follow a shifting climate. We need to start planning their conservation in areas where they currently do not even occur. The problems are huge but we cannot simply sit back and watch our natural heritage disappear”, Dr Arinaitwe added.

Important Bird Areas are essential for the livelihoods of many people in Africa, and are the backbone of the tourism industry, a major source of revenue for African economies. Most of these areas are also key reservoirs for water and pollinators and so their protection is an important component of adaptation to climate change in other fields such as agriculture, demography, energy, and urbanisation.

Source: BirdLife International

8th July 2008: African 'wall of trees' gets underway

Three years after it was first proposed, preparations for an African 'wall of trees' to slow down the southwards spread of the Sahara desert are finally getting underway. The 'Great Green Wall' will involve several stretches of trees from Mauritania in the west to Djibouti in the east, to protect the semi-arid savannah region of the Sahel and its agricultural land from desertification.

A plan for the proposed US$3 million, two-year initial phase of the project involving a belt of trees 7,000 kilometres long and 15 kilometres wide, was formally adopted at the Community of Sahel Saharan States (Cen-Sad) summit on rural development and food security in Cotonou, Benin, last month (17-18 June).

North African nations have been promoting the idea of a Green Belt since 2005.

The project has been scaled down to reinforce and then expand on existing efforts, and will not be a continent-wide wall of trees, despite the name of the project.

The Green Wall will involve two planting projects on the east and west sides of Africa.

Source: Environmental News Network

7th July 2008: Quick benefits can’t justify cutting down forests

Conserving the Congo forest, and indeed all of our forests in Africa, as well as accelerating forestation efforts, is vital to our survival on a continent where the Sahara Desert is expanding to the North and the Kalahari Desert is expanding to the Southwest.

For this reason the Congo Basin Forest Fund (CBFF) was launched in London on June 17. The initial financing of the CBFF comes from a pair of $200 million grants from the governments of the United Kingdom and Norway.

Ten countries in the Central African region established the Congo Basin Forest Initiative to manage the forest more sustainably and conserve its rich biodiversity. The Congo Basin Forest is the world’s second largest forest ecosystem and is considered the planet’s second lung, after the Amazon. The forests of the Congo Basin provide food, shelter, and livelihood for over 50 million people.

Covering 200 million hectares and including approximately one-fifth of the world’s remaining closed-canopy tropical forest, they are also a very significant carbon store with a vital role in regulating the regional climate. The diversity they harbour is of global importance.

Spanning an area twice the size of France, the Congo Basin rainforest is home to more than 10,000 species of plants, 1,000 species of birds, and 400 species of mammals.

Source and full text: The East African

3rd July 2008: Data management for successful biodiversity monitoring in Africa

A recent workshop in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, outlined how data management, analysis and presentation underpins effective conservation action and advocacy. This was the second workshop of an EC Funded project which is 'instituting effective monitoring of biodiversity in Protected Areas (IBAs) as a contribution to reducing the rate of biodiversity loss in Africa'. At practical level, people need to know how many sites are getting better and how many sites are getting worse’ said Dr Julius Arinaitwe of the BirdLife Africa Partnership Secretariat.

The workshop equipped project Partners in Africa with the requisite skills for handling data. It also drew attention to data-barriers faced in the conservation community and discussed ways to address these challenges. While some barriers are technical in nature, many are institutional, legal and cultural in origin. The workshop focused on the technical aspects of data collection, management, analysis and presentation. It covered tabular and GIS data, along with the more political aspects of data distribution both to partners in a project and to a wider audience.

Ian Fisher, the Head of International Information Management at BirdLife International / RSPB had wise words to share with members of the BirdLife Partnership. ‘If you don’t understand what is happening in the data, you could only be telling part of the story - be creative about how you use your data and the graphs associated with them, but be careful that you are correctly representing what is happening to your environments.

It is anticipated that the recipients of the Regional level training will produce national biodiversity training manuals on data management and transfer the knowledge gained at national level.

Source: BirdLife International

2nd July 2008: Press release from BirdLife South Africa regarding threats facing Kamfers Dam and its Lesser Flamingos

Development on the banks of Kamfers Dam outside the Northern Cape capital of Kimberley is threatening the only breeding population of Lesser Flamingos in South Africa. Kamfers Dam supports one of only four breeding populations in Africa. These birds bred during 2008, with an incredible 9000 chicks hatching on the dam’s artificial flamingo breeding island. It is anticipated that regular breeding will reverse the negative population trend of this globally “near threatened” species.

Kamfers Dam is currently the depository for raw sewerage that flows from the currently dysfunctional treatment plant, a result of poor management of the sewerage works by the Sol Plaatje Municipality. The increased constant eutrofication has lead to severe algal blooms and may be responsible for the current lesions and abnormalities being recorded on some of the Lesser

According to BirdLife International, the African population of the Lesser Flamingo is declining due to a number of threats amongst which development and water pollution are paramount. Proposed housing developments around Kamfers Dam will destroy approximately 350 hectares of the dam’s buffer zone. Despite the fact that this development is against Kimberley’s Spatial Development Framework, the Sol Plaatje Municipality is adamant to steam ahead with it thereby ignoring South Africa’s obligation and commitment to abide by and honour international conventions, such as the Convention on Migratory Species and the Convention on Biological Diversity. Political leadership is failing South Africa in allowing and promoting unsound development that directly impacts on globally threatened birds.
BirdLife South Africa calls on the Ministry of Environmental Affairs and Tourism to intervene and not to approve the proposed construction of housing developments in the Kamfers Dam buffer zone. We also call on the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry to issue directives to the Sol Plaatje Municipality to manage the sewerage treatment plant effectively and terminate the current pollution of Kamfers Dam. The municipality has an obligation to its ratepayers and the environment to ensure sound water management.

Should the pathological tests prove that the abnormalities observed in the Lesser Flamingos are due to deteriorating water quality, then many other waterbird species and even the entire aquatic system may be at risk. Concerned people are encouraged to visit the Save the Flamingo website (, where one can obtain more information about Kamfers Dam, its flamingos and the serious threats to this wetland. Importantly, concerned people are asked to sign the online petition and to donate funds towards this important cause.

26th June 2008: Action Plan for White-winged Flufftail must address migration question

A workshop to develop an International Single Species Action Plan for Endangered White-winged Flufftail Sarothrura ayresi has been held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The action planning workshop was commissioned by the secretariats of the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, with funding from the Italian Ministry for the Environment, was convened by the Africa Partnership Secretariat of BirdLife International and hosted by the Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society (EWNHS, BirdLife in Ethiopia).

Although the flufftail has been recorded at nine wetland sites in South Africa between November and March, the only evidence of breeding comes from three wetland sites in the central highlands of Ethiopia between July and September.

It is not known whether a single population migrates between Ethiopia and South Africa, or each country hosts its own sub-population. Studies by EWNHS have suggested that the birds which breed in Ethiopia remain well into the dry season, and may wander within the country, rather than migrating.

But the flufftail’s seasonal marshes in Ethiopia are threatened by excessive trampling and grazing by livestock, human disturbance, cutting of marsh vegetation, drainage, catchment erosion and water abstraction, among others.

During the workshop, existing National Species Action Plans for South Africa and Ethiopia, developed in 2003, were used as the basis for updating both the threats and the actions required to address them, on an international basis.

Three days of intensive work (including visits to two of the breeding sites) generated a realistic and achievable international species action plan, as well as a renewed sense of urgency and vigour for the activities needed to ensure the continued survival of this threatened species. The action plan includes measures to increase the population by increasing the extent of suitable habitat. Key among these will be innovative actions to reduce habitat destruction, degradation and disturbance caused by intensive livestock grazing at the known core breeding areas in Ethiopia.

However, it was recognised that the securing of suitable habitat at breeding areas in Ethiopia needs to be done through sustainable use under community-based conservation programmes. “The marshes occupied by this species in Ethiopia are an integral part of the livelihoods of resident communities – mainly providing pasture for dairy cattle. The White-winged Flufftail habitats cannot therefore be secured without full engagement of these communities,” said Ato Geremew Gebre Selassie of EWNHS.

Much important work involving local communities is already being done by Site Support Groups like the Berga Bird Lovers IBA Local Conservation Group. These initiatives need to be extended to other sites. But before environmental management plans can be developed, many substantial gaps in our knowledge must be filled - not least, the mystery over the flufftail’s seasonal movements.

Also attending the workshop was a representative from Middelpunt Wetland Trust in South Africa, a trust created specifically for conservation of the White-winged Flufftail. Local and national government representatives from both Ethiopia and South Africa contributed to the effectiveness of the workshop.

Source: BirdLife International

24th June 2008: The plight of the African Penguin is now pretty serious

A group of us met at Gansbaai for a workshop recently. Among the things we did was an oil spill simulation exercise --- the first ever --- so if there is an oil spill impacting penguins this winter we are better prepared.

Another thing done at the workshop was to produce the "Gansbaai Declaration", reproduced below.

Please support the penguin conservation effort in whatever way you can, e.g. at SANCCOB, or the Dyer Island Conservation Trust's initiative to provide artificial penguin nests

Gansbaai Declaration Introduction

Gansbaai Declaration

24th June 2008: Kenyan Government grants the destruction of Tana’s birds, biodiversity and livelihoods

The government of Kenya, through the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), has approved a proposal to turn 20,000 hectares of the pristine Tana Delta into irrigated sugarcane plantations. Conservationists and villagers living in the Delta, which provides refuge for 350 species of bird, lions, elephants, rare sharks and reptiles including the Tana writhing skink, believe the decision is illegal and are determined to block the development. The groups are considering what action they might take.

Paul Matiku, Executive Director of Nature Kenya (BirdLife in Kenya) said: “This decision is a national disaster and will devastate the Delta. The Tana’s ecology will be destroyed yet the economic gains will be pitiful. It will seriously damage our priceless national assets and will put the livelihoods of the people living in the Delta in jeopardy”. “The environmental assessment for the scheme was poor yet the government has defied even those very modest recommendations. We refuse to accept that this decision is final. The development must be stopped at all costs”


The proposal was approved by the Kenyan government’s National Environment Management Authority, which put 14 conditions on the sugarcane plan. The conditions are weak and ignore the environmental assessment, which showed that irrigation of crops would cause severe drainage of the Delta. The decision also overlooks an ongoing dispute over compensation for farmers and fishermen who would lose their land and fishing rights. Paul Matiku said: “This is the only dry-season grazing area for hundreds of miles and its loss will leave many hundreds of farmers with no-where to take their cattle.”

A report commissioned by Nature Kenya and the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) in May found that the developer’s plans overestimated profits, ignored fees for water use and pollution from the sugarcane plant, and disregarded the loss of income from wildlife tourists. The study said the Delta’s ecological benefits “defied valuation” and that the proposal would cause the “irreversible loss of ecosystem services” – benefits such as flood prevention, the storage of greenhouse gases and the provision of medicines and food.


The Mumias Sugar Company says the income from sugarcane cultivation will be US$2.45 million (EU€1.58 million) over 20 years but the report showed the revenue from fishing, farming, tourism and other lost livelihoods would be US$59 million (EU€38 million) over the same period. Paul Buckley, an Africa specialist with the RSPB, said: “Until now, Kenya’s support for global agreements to protect wildlife has been excellent but this development could severely damage Kenya’s reputation for caring for its environment.”

Conservationists say that an integrated management plan for the entire Tana River basin should precede any development considerations. The lack of project design documents - required by Kenyan environmental law - has been a critical omission in the whole Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process. “The current EIA was hurriedly produced and lacks vital information. NEMA should reject it and request for a new EIA study for the new project site”, stated Paul Matiku.

Source: BirdLife International

24th June 2008: Unlicensed diclofenac still on sale in Tanzania

A recent visitor to the Shoprite Complex veterinary retail shop in Arusha, Tanzania, reports that diclofenac is still on sale there. Diclofenac, which causes kidney failure in vultures, has been responsible for the near-extinction of three Gyps vulture species in India, with a decline of 99.9 percent in the case of Critically Endangered White-rumped Vulture Gyps bengalensis.

The Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania (WCST, BirdLife in Tanzania) has determined that diclofenac is not licensed for veterinary use in Tanzania, contrary to information received last year. However, investigations by NatureKenya (BirdLife in Kenya) have found that there are no restrictions on the distribution and sale of veterinary diclofenac in Kenya. This is the probable source of diclofenac on sale in Arusha.

According to the assistant in the Arusha veterinary shop, up to 25 packets of Ouro Fino diclofenac 50 have been sold so far. WCST and NatureKenya completed studies early in 2008 of the availability, distribution and use of diclofenac in Kenya and Tanzania, in an attempt to establish how much of a threat the drug poses to Africa’s vultures. Their reports are now available.

Dr Chris Magin, International Officer for the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), said "it is frightening that an unlicensed veterinary drug is openly on sale in Tanzania, particularly given the catastrophic effects that diclofenac can have on vulture populations". Diclofenac is no longer covered by a patent, and many hundreds of companies around the world manufacture it in both branded and generic forms. Ouro Fino, the Brazilian manufacturer of this brand of diclofenac, has been contacted by BirdLife International but has so far not commented on the situation.

Source: BirdLife International

14th June 2008: Indian ocean seabirds get thrown a lifeline

The 12th meeting of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) this week (June 7-11 ) in Muscat, Oman has struck a major step forward for seabird conservation by adopting a measure to reduce the bycatch of vulnerable albatross and petrel species. All longline vessels fishing for tuna and swordfish in the southern Indian Ocean (south of 30°S) will be required to use a combination of at least two measures to reduce seabird bycatch.

Measures include requiring boats to set their hooks at night when birds are less active, using a bird streamer (tori) line to keep birds away from the hooks, adding weight to lines to make them sink more quickly out of reach of the albatrosses, and dyeing bait blue to make it less visible. The fisheries are given flexibility to choose which two measures from this list are most suitable to their fishery. The meeting agreed technical specifications for use of these measures.

The seabird proposal was led by Australia and the EC, and got support from Japan and Korea. BirdLife and the Agreement for the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) were present at the meeting as observers and were able to provide input and expert advice.

“This measure is a highly positive step for the conservation of these very vulnerable species. The measure isn’t perfect, and will need improvement as more data become available. In addition, to be effective, systems will need to be set up to monitor and enforce the measure. However, these future needs were recognised by parties, and the measure is a great achievement”, said Dr Cleo Small, BirdLife Global Seabird Programme, who has been working with IOTC on this issue since 2005.

Birds that will benefit include Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans, the Critically Endangered Amsterdam Albatross Diomedea amsterdamensis (only 17 pairs remaining), Shy Albatross Thalassarche cauta from Australia, and also Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophrys from South Georgia (a UK Overseas Territory),  which visit the rich feeding grounds off coast of South Africa in the non-breeding season.

The IOTC meeting noted the very important role that was played by the BirdLife International albatross and petrel tracking database, which has assembled data from remote satellite-tracking and other methods around the world to highlight the areas in which seabirds are at risk of being killed by fisheries.

Seabird bycatch data from South Africa have been instrumental in highlighting the problem occurring in the Indian Ocean tuna and swordfish fisheries, and BirdLife International’s Albatross Task Force is playing a key role in this.

Of the world’s five tuna commissions, four now have requirements for use of mitigation measures. The fifth (tuna commission in East Pacific), will consider a seabird measure at its meeting later this month (23-27 June) in Panama City.

Source: BirdLife International


Note that older news stories from this page have been moved to the conservation pages of the relevant countries.

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