Monday, November 14, 2011

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Alive and well - Ross's Turaco in Botswana

In a previous blog (26/7/11), a challenge was issued to birders to look out for Ross's Turaco, which has only been recorded once in Botswana - in 1974. Well, some serious guides working for Okavango Wilderness Safaris have risen to the challenge, and followed up the sighting made by Victor Horatius in the Linyanti Concession recently.

Russel Crossey saw a single Ross's Turaco in the same vicinity shortly after Victor (possibly the same bird), and this prompted Dave Luck to keep a sharp look out for it when he was there during August. Whether it was Dave's skill or just luck that he saw one at Boscia Lagoon not far from the previous sightings is immaterial: this is now the third reputable guide reporting the species from the same place, and a proper submission has been made to the BirdLife Botswana Records Sub-committee.

Although the official verdict is not yet out, word has spread among the birding fraternity and the information has caused quite a stir. Rumours started that this is the first record for the Southern African Sub-region, that of Tim Liversedge in 1974 having been "thrown out" because it was subsequently proved to be a joke and not a genuine record. I contacted Tim Liversedge for his comment - he just laughed and said that it was after much deliberation that he 'collected' the bird he saw, and sent it to MPS Irwin at the Bulawayo Museum, because he knew that no-one would believe him - there can be no more concrete evidence than the specimen in a museum! However, he was thrilled that the bird had been seen again, not least because now no-one could accuse him of having shot the first and last one!

At the time of the first record, it was predicted that there would be other sightings and that this was not just an isolated bird. Tim believes that Ross's Turaco, being a forest bird, is likely to move down the riparian woodland of the Kwando River during wet times. However the long intervening period between sightings shows that it is unlikely that the species is resident or even a frequent visitor to Botswana. The current high flood levels in the Kwando-Linyanti system are quite comparable with those of the 1970s, so the wetter conditions may result in other individuals coming into the region. It should be looked out for in northern Botswana, the Caprivi Strip and western Zimbabwe.

So, well done to Vic Horatius, Russel Crossey and Dave Luck for re-confirming the presence of this species in the region. Many keen birders, like myself and Dave Luck, have seen Ross's Turaco in Uganda, and it is an awesome bird. It is however very difficult to photograph, so we are still encouraging photographers to keep an eye out for these magnificent birds, and to send their images to BirdLife Botswana.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Vultures curb spread of disease

With the recent news headlines in northern Botswana focused on a possible anthrax outbreak, I become nervous lest some misguided person try to implicate vultures in spreading the bacteria. This has happened in the past, so it is worth reading the views of anthrax expert, Peter Turnbull, below:

Nature's clean-up squad in action (Photo: J Bestelink)

"At the time of death in an animal dying of anthrax, the blood and body fluids are loaded with anthrax bacteria: there are more bacteria than red blood corpuscles in the blood. On exposure to the oxygen of the air, these start to form spores - the hardy forms of the anthrax agent which can survive for decades in the soil where blood and body fluids from such an animal have spilled. Vultures, in demolishing the dead animal before much of this sporulation can occur, contribute to reducing the environmental contamination left by the carcase. In theory, the faster the carcase is consumed, the less the chance of sporulation and residual contamination. And, at least to a point, more vultures = faster consumption. Faster consumption aldo reduces the chance of spread of the disease by flies.

The vultures do, of course, get the infected blood and gore on their beaks and feathers and they will go to nearby water to wash this off. However, unsporulated bacteria are fragile and die off quickly in water (they are also quickly killed within the vulture's digestive system). So, although the water may derive some anthrax spore contamination from bacteria that have started to sporulate, this will be low - bacteriological testing has proved how difficult it is to detect anthrax spores in such bodies of water. By the time the birds are airborne again, numbers of spores on their feet, beaks, feathers and in their guts is back to zero or very low.

Vultures are very clean, and bathe regularly (Photo: P Hancock)

Contrary to what you might expect, knowing the infamy of anthrax, it is not a highly infectious disease. That is to say, an animal generally needs to ingest or inhale a large dose of spores to become infected. So, small numbers of residual anthrax organisms on the feet, beaks, feathers or in the guts of vultures constitute essentially zero risk or threat to animals elsewhere. There is again scientific evidence for this.

The decline in the numbers of vultures around is probably already apparent to you where you live and you are probably well aware of the particularly catastrophic decline over the past two decades on the Indian sub-continent largely from inadvertent diclofenac poisoning, but also from other human-made causes also at play in Africa - habitat destruction, deliberate poisoning, capture for traditional medicines, drowning in reservoirs, powerline collisions and electrocution and so on. The apparent consequences of this population crash are not nice. Substantial increases in numbers of rats and of feral dogs have been attributed to the decline in vultures and with that, vastly increased numbers of cases of at least rabies and distemper. In addition to the health issues, there have been consequent costs to the economy estimated at billions of dollars. One British Medical Journal article has even suggested a link (albeit unproven) between absence of vultures and a rise in human anthrax cases.

In Africa, loss of our vulture populations can be expected to lead to similar disturbances in other scavenger popul;ations, again with possible concomitant increases in rabies, distemper and plague. Botulism from decaying carcasses is another strong possibility.

It also needs to be remembered that vultures rely on other vultures to detect carcasses; when vulture populations decline, their ability to find carcasses deteriorates at an accelerating rate.

So, as well as helping to reduce residual contamination at the site of an anthrax carcass and minimizing fly-borne transmission, thereby playing an important role in curtailing the spread of anthrax, the importance of vultures to the overall health of the ecosystem should not be underestimated.

Also not to be forgotten is that circling vultures have always been, and continue to be, the best signal to game managers and farmers that deaths have occurred within their boundaries, enabling prompt action as needed.

In summary, persecuting vultures as an approach to anthrax control is folly, and in the long run, can be expected to increase problems associated with both anthrax and other diseases."

Peter Turnbull, with thanks to Orr Spiegel, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Steve Bellan, University of California, Berkeley, and Kerri Wolter, VulPro South Africa, for most helpful comments.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

With water comes life . . .

It is a well-known fact that the 2011 Okavango flood is one of the highest on record - water has surged past Maun (especially when the bridge over the Xotego River broke!), down the Nhabe towards Lake Ngami, and down the Boteti for over 250 kilometres to Lake Xau. While this has had its downside (such as the escape of numerous crocodiles from flooded enclosures at the Sitatunga Crocodile farm!), the news for birds has been overwhelmingly good. BirdLife Botswana has long realised that Lake Xau is likely to become a birding hotspot as it fills, although this did not really materialise last year when the water barely reached the lake-bed. We have been monitoring the situation closely, and BirdLife members Pat Nurse and Ray and Val Lovett recently conducted a partial count of the now extensive lake.Marabou Storks are among the first birds to find new areas such as Lake Xau

Highlights of their count are as follows:
Little Grebe 6
Grey Heron 12
Goliath Heron 1
Great Egret 2
Yellow-billed Egret 9
Little Egret 20
Cattle Egret 20
Squacco Heron 3
Marabou Stork 15
Glossy Ibis 163
White-faced Duck 1
Red-billed Teal 65
Southern Pochard 19
Spur-winged Goose 2
Wood Sandpiper 2
Black Crake 1
Common Moorhen 2
African Jacana 1
Kittlitz's Plover 3
Crowned Lapwing 30
Blacksmith Lapwing 76
Wattled Lapwing 1
Common Greenshank 6
Black-winged Stilt 11
Collared Pratincole 18

The lake is still filling, and it is early days yet. The lake-bed is very uneven with ridges and channels so the water is spreading out into a system of fingers of water. Migrant waders are only just now returning, so it is going to be very interesting to keep an eye on this exciting new birding destination.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dinner with Phil Liggett

Phil is the internationally acclaimed commentator of the annual Tour de France cycle race. He has agreed to address us on his other two loves, namely birding and cycling. His first love is obviously his dear wife who will accompany him. He is an outstanding raconteur and we can guarantee an exceptional evening. Please join us at the GICC on Friday night 28th October at 19:30. Better still, please consider reserving a table for ten. Tickets cost P375.00 per person, which is almost a giveaway considering the menu on offer. Tickets can be obtained from our Gaborone office at Kgale Siding, or phone 3190540 and ask for Dikabelo. In all seriousness, we are open to receive bids from those who would like to have Phil and his wife sit at their table for the evening. Please help us advertise this dinner among all birders and the cycling fraternity. The diner will also be of interest to those who like to travel. Come and join us for an evening of fun. Contact Harold Hester on 3190541 for more information.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Tip of the iceberg

Today it became apparent to me that the poisoning of vultures that we are currently seeing is just the tip of the iceberg. I contacted the Wildlife Department Veterinarian in Maun to find out if there was any information on the type of poison used to kill the vultures recently in the Makgadikgadi area (see blog of 12 August below - One step away from a catastrophe) and he mentioned that even the results from the vulture samples from Sepako had not yet been processed. Sepako? Vultures poisoned at Sepako? This was news to me! Yes, some vultures had been poisoned at Sepako a few months ago. Phone Martin Marumo at the Wildlife Department in Gaborone, he knows about the incident.

Yes, I was on a trip in the area during April when I heard about the incident, but I didn't get an opportunity to investigate it, but why don't you try the Wildlife Office in Sepako?

Good afternoon, Pete Hancock from BirdLife Botswana here, does anybody know anything about some vultures poisoned near Sepako a few months ago?

To cut a long story short, I was fortunate to get hold of Wildlife Officer Kgongwana at Sepako who actually investigated the incident. Five White-backed Vultures were killed on 3/4/11 after feeding on a poisoned skin that had been put out for hyaenas and jackals, although none of these species was killed. Once again, vultures were the innocent victims of poison directed at so-called 'problem' animals.

The five vultures died right next to the poisoned skin, so the poison used muust have been pretty toxic. Near to the carcase was a plastic container with the label METHOMEX. This was new to me, so I read up on METHOMEX, which "is a carbamate insecticide administered as a foliar spray or as a soil treatment for a variety of crops". It is VERY TOXIC, and is even dangerous by contact or inhalation. "A small quantity may be fatal (to a person) if swallowed". It is toxic to fish, bees and wildlife including, as we now know, vultures.

W/O Kgongwana did a thorough job of the investigation and collected some samples from the dead vultures despite the overwhelming evidence from the empty METHOMEX container. A docket has been opened and this incident is under investigation . . .

And so the story goes - we are currently not getting any closer to curtailing the problem, even though it is apparent that it is a much bigger threat than we ever could have envisaged. At this rate, it looks as though we may still be gathering statistics while our magnificent vultures slip into oblivion.
A live White-backed Vulture drying its wings after bathing (Photo P Hancock)

Monday, September 5, 2011


Recently BirdLife Botswana member, Mike Soroczynski from Francistown contacted me to report significant numbers of hornbills being killed on the road between Dukwi and Kutamagore - he travels this stretch regularly on his way between Francistown and Mowana Copper Mine were he works. He writes "Its quite distressing to see the numbers killed. They seem to congregate at the roadside gravel verges only in the dry season - and coincidentally pror to the breeding season. I wonder what could be attracting them to such precarious areas? Seeds? Termites? Other insects? The gravel itself for egg production? Has anyone else reported such behaviour and fatalities?"
My wife, who is a long-distance cyclist, has reported the same high bird mortalities over a much wider area - she has cycled between Maun and Shakawe, Maun and Kasane, the Trans-Kalahari Highway and other routes and readily notices dead birds due to the (relatively) slow speed at which she cycles. In addition to hornbills, she has seen many Lilac-breasted Rollers, and various owls and nightjars, and a few years ago, large numbers of Barn Swallows following an early cold spell at the end of summer. She has also reported numerous snakes being killed, notably Puff Adders, and often Porcupines, Brown Hyaenas, Aardwolf and Bat-eared Foxes.

This Lappet-faced Vulture was killed during the breeding season, and probably had a chick on the nest which would also have died.

It is not known whether the effect of these mortalities on wildlife is sustainable, or whether it is depressing some populations. The latter is likely to be the case with globally threatened birds such as the Bateleur, and White-backed and Lappet-faced vultures, where numbers may already be low and/or declining due to a variety of threats. These birds sometimes scavenge along national roads and are susceptible to collisions with vehicles.
A beautiful chestnut-backed male Bateleur killed near Nata.

All sensible drivers in Botswana avoid driving at night due to the high probability of hitting a cow or donkey; we also need to take special care when driving during the day. Apart from the impact of roadkill on globally threatened birds and other animals, the impact of a 6kg vulture smashing through your windscreen will not do your vehicle much good either.It's in everybody'y interest to drive carefully . . .

Monday, August 22, 2011

Investigations continue

Investigations are continuing in the Makgadikgadi area to find the poisoner who killed three globally threatened White-backed Vultures on 9th August, 2011, and likely a Brown Hyaena too (as it dragged off the carcase to its den - see post below on 12/8/11).

Colleagues from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks are following up this and another poisoning incident which took place near Tonota in Central District earlier this month. Obert Gwapela, Park Manager for Makgadikgadi, is still trying to find the perpetrator(s) of the Makgadikgadi incident, and is working on several leads at present. Steven Sekhute, District Wildlife Co-ordinator based in Francistown, despatched one of his officers to the scene of the Tonota incident, but since then the officer has been in the field attending to several cases of human-wildlife conflict, so no information is available yet on how many vultures were killed there.

It looks unlikely that there will be any arrests following the Tonota incident, but we are optimistic that the Makgadikgadi case will soon yield results. As mentioned in the previous blog, an arrest and conviction would go a long way to deterring would-be poisoners, so we will be watching the law take its course with a keen interest.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Safari companies protect key bird breeding sites

Two of the largest 'heronries' (or 'storkeries' or 'darteries' or 'cormoranteries', whichever you prefer!) in the Okavango Delta are in private concessions, and have been flourishing and attracting ever more breeding birds in recent years.
A pair of Marabou Storks, in nuptial finery, make a plan on their nest.

Lediba la Dinonyane (lagoon of the birds) is the largest and supports a great diversity of waterbird species. It is near Kanana Camp, run by Ker and Downey Safaris, and guides visiting the site always take care not to disturb the birds by approaching them too closely.
The same applies at the heronry at JereJere Lagoon, where there has been an influx of birds due to suitable conditions prevailing here. This heronry is near Xugana Lodge run by Desert and Delta Safaris, and this company is the custodian for this site.

The traditionally spectacular heronries in Moremi Game Reserve, at Xakanaxa and Gadikwe have been diminishing over the past few years, and most of the birds seem to have moved to Lediba la Dinonyane and JereJere. These two sites are well worth a visit as they offer the best of Botswana birding.

Friday, August 12, 2011

One step away from a catastrophe

Crescent Pan is a beautiful freshwater pan in the eastern Makgadikgadi, used by zebras and Wattled Cranes during summer, and by livestock and a variety of birds which come to drink and bathe during winter. On the 9th of August, guides from nearby Jack's Camp counted over 150 White-backed Vultures and 10 Lappet-faced Vultures drinking and loafing around the waterhole - an idyllic scene.

However, they soon noticed that something was amiss - there were three dead vultures among the throng. When they went closer to investigate, they found that the other vultures were all exceptionally lethargic and did not move away - they were sick and apparently dying too.

Fortunately the grapevine works fast, and the BirdLife office in Maun was able to notify Obert Gwapela, Park Manager for Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan, and he quickly despatched Dr Kebonang Kebonang (DWNP Vet) to the scene.

When the DWNP contingent arrived, many of the sick vultures had recovered and flew off. One of the dead vultures, on examination, was found to have the crop and throat neatly removed, as shown in the photograph below - the rest of the bird was intact.

The dead vulture with crop removed (Photo: John Barclay)

This is most peculiar: the first reaction on hearing of vultures dying at a waterhole is that they have been poisoned with an organophosphate poison since this makes them very thirsty and they go to water where they die - in order to test for the presence of this poison, the best sample to take is the crop with the poisoned meat in it, but here the crop had been removed? This was looking increasingly like another poisoning incident, and perpetrated by someone who knew how to remove some of the evidence!

This led the investigating team to strongly suspect foul play, and a search was initiated for a poisoned carcase in the area. The presence of about 40 Marabou Storks nearby led to a site where a few small remains of a cow carcase were found; unfortunately spoor and drag marks showed that a Brown Hyaena (another globally threatened animal) had dragged off the bulk of the carcase and it is highly likely that it, too, is now dead from the poison.

Miraculously, by late afternoon, most of the vultures had completely recovered - only three had ingested a fatal dose of the poison and died. This is a real wake-up call to the authorities and to all who are concerned about the poisoning of Botswana's wildlife: this could easily have been a major mortality of all 150 White-backed and 10 Lappet-faced vultures, as well as the 40 Marabou Storks and 15 to 20 Black-backed Jackals that were at the site. And this is the real danger of these poisoning incidents: a few cases involving large numbers of vultures, in the middle of the breeding season, could decimate these already globally threatened birds. Currently, the Makgadikgadi is the most important breeding area for Lappet-faced Vultures in Botswana (and probably in the whole of Africa) and if the 10 birds of this species present at the site had been killed, this would have seriously dented the regional population of these magnificent birds.

BirdLife Botswana would like to thank Super Sande from Jack's Camp for reporting the incident so quickly, and Nicky Bousfield and John Barclay from Uncharted Africa for relaying the information, and sending in photos of the incident. Our special thanks go to our colleagues in DWNP who treated the incident with the importance it deserves and who conducted a swift, professional investigation.

Dr Kebonang examines one of the dead vultures (Photo: John Barclay)

Of course, the investigation is not over; samples from the dead vultures are being analysed at the Veterinary Laboratory, and the perpetrator(s) are being tracked down. We urgently need an arrest and prosecution to send a clear message to wildlife poisoners in Botswana that this practice is not acceptable.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Much fuss about nothing

In recent years, there has been much hue and cry about the spread of avian influenza by wild birds, fuelled in part by the related deaths of nearly 300 people. These deaths caused people to speculate that there could be a new pandemic in the human population, with the virus being spread rapidly by migratory birds which circumnavigate the globe annually. As always, rumours are fuelled by lack of factual information, and in Southern Africa in particular, there has been little information available on the Avian Influenza Virus and its prevalence in the region.

These fears have been shown to be unfounded by work done by Dr Graeme Cumming and colleagues working in Botswana, Mocambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe. They counted, captured and sampled birds at five sites in the four countries, one of which was Lake Ngami, and did not positively identify any highly pathogenic H5N1. They also found that the annual influx of Palaearctic migrants had no detectable influence on this situation i.e. the migrants did not bring the virus into Southern Africa as had been speculated.

Other avian influenza viruses were found at a low frequency in some waterbirds, especially dendrocygnid (whistling) ducks. The White-faced Duck (shown above) and the Fulvous Duck, both have an extensive range across Africa, and individuals from populations north of the equator may mix with Palaearctic duck species, such as the Garganey, that migrate annually to western Europe. However, these two species had no trace of the lethal H5N1 strain.

For more information, read the original paper (see reference below).

Reference: Cumming GS, Caron A, Abolnik C, Cattoli G, Bruinzeel LW, Burger CE, Cecchettin K, Chiweshe N, Mochotlhoane B, Mutumi GL and Ndlovu M. 2011. The Ecology of Influenza A Viruses in Wild Birds in Southern Africa. EcoHealth Journal.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Poisoning of wildlife

Poisoning of wildlife, including birds, is a problem throughout Africa, and it is interesting to know what other countries are doing about it. The information below comes from Paula Kahumbu, Executive Director of WildlifeDirect and winner of the National Geographic/Buffet Award for conservation leadership in Africa.

"WildlifeDirect (an NGO in Kenya) is stepping up a campaign to have carbofuran, the active ingredient in the deadly pesticide product Furadan, banned in Kenya and East Africa.

Martin Odino, who is a scientist and an author of the WildlifeDirect blog, Stop Wildlife Poisoning, has reported that despite FMC (the manufacturer of the pesticide) claims that Furadan is no longer in Kenya, it actually continues to be used to poison tens of thousands of wetland birds in Bunyala rice irrigation scheme in Kenya. The product is coming in from Uganda.

He has documented in photographs and film how the birds are killed by lacing a meal of rice with the poison and laying it out in the rice paddies. Ducks and other waterfowl eat it and die shortly thereafter. Insects, amphibians and fish in the water are killed. Predatory birds pick up the carcases and so the pesticide is affecting a whole chain of species. African Openbills are killed by lacing snails and using decoys to attract over-flying flocks. He claims that up to 50% of each flock that lands in these fields dies, and this amounts to some 6,000 bird deaths each month in Bunyala rice irrigation scheme alone. We suspect even higher mortalities in Mwea and Ahero irrigation schemes. The consequence of poisoning to raptors and migratory birds could be catastrophic.

But it's not just birds. The human cost is enormous; the people handling the deadly toxic chemical do so with bare hands. The product is put into the water which is consumed by the community, and the ducks, storks, doves, sandpipers and other species that are killed are sold in local markets as human food. The evidence is shocking and we will be releasing a short documentary on the same shortly.

For latest updates, check out

Farm workers handle a poisoned vulture without wearing protective clothing

Although FMC claims that Furadan is not available in Kenya, it is permitted for use in the production of flowers in Kenya. Our largest flower farms are at Lake Naivasha, a Ramsar site and an extremely Important Bird Area.

We have submitted reports, attended meetings with the pest control products board and government officials and we are part of the government task force, which is under the Ministry of Agriculture and is chaired by the CEO of the Pesticide Products Control Board. However, this Board has not met since September 2010, and few of the actions agree on have been implemented. We believe that the PPCB is not in a position to attend to the problem due to resource constraints and conflict of interest.

We would like you to share this through your networks, put it on your websites, blogs, facebook and e-mail it to everyone.

Our campaign has two targets:

1. The immediate and total ban on use of carbofuran and other carbamate pesticides in any pesticide control product;

2. We are demanding that the government move the Pesticide Products Control Board out of the Ministry of Agriculture where the organisation faces a conflict of interest, and into the Ministry of Environment where it can effectively achieve its mission"To provide professional, efficient and effective regulatory service for manufacture, trade, safe use and disposal of pest control products while ensuring safety to humans, animals and the environment".

We ask that you support our initiative by circulating information, advise us on funding opportunities to continue the research, monitoring, reporting and education, as well as the advocacy to change the Kenyan laws."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A challenge to birders - Ross's Turaco in Botswana

Ross's Turaco is a strikingly beautiful bird found primarily in riverine and other forests in south-central Africa, with the southernmost tip of its range just touching the northern extremity of Botswana. When naturalist/film-maker Tim Liversedge saw the first one in Botswana near Ikoga on the Okavango Panhandle in 1974, he knew that no-one would believe him, so he 'collected' the bird - it is now a museum specimen so there can be no doubt about the authenticity of this record!

Since 1974, informed birders have been keeping an eye out for this brilliant blue turaco along the Okavango Panhandle and the riverine forests along the Linyanti River, as it is likely to occur sporadically in these areas. There have been some claimed sightings, but none has been accepted by BirdLife Botswana's Records sub-committee, which adjudicates these reports. Recently, one of the top guides in northern Botswana, Victor Horatius, sent in an excited and exciting e-mail saying that he'd seen one in the Linyanti Concession near King's Pool Camp, but unfortunately he could not get a photograph of it . . .

Thus Ross's Turaco remains elusive in Botswana. This bird is undoubtedly seen more than once in 40 years, and in this day and age of high resolution digital cameras, it will only take one clear photo to confirm that the species is alive and well in northern Botswana. This is our challenge to birders - keep your cameras at the ready when visiting the northern part of the country!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bird Identification training course

(Photo: P Hancock)
If you can identify the bird above, chances are you don't need a bird identification course! However, if you are struggling, consider enrolling for the part-time bird identification course being organised by the Ngamiland Branch of BirdLife Botswana. This course, to be presented by Richard Randall and Johan van Jaarsveld, will take place on one Saturday every month, starting on Saturday 9th July. The course will be held at the Botswana Wildlife Training Institute in one of the classrooms, and will commence at 8 o' clock in the morning and run for the whole day. There will be a nominal charge of P110.00 per person for the course, to cover course materials, teas and lunches; members of BirdLife Botswana will however pay only P50.00 per person.

The number of participants is limited to 30, so it's first come, first served. Contact Pete Hancock at 74654464 to reserve your space. And by the way, if you thought the raptor at the top is an immature African Fish-Eagle, you were quite right!

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Slaty Egret Action Plan workshop

The beginning of March saw stakeholders from the Slaty Egret range states in Southern Africa converging on Maun to participate in a workshop funded by the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) to develop an Action Plan for conserving the globally threatened Slaty Egret. The workshop formed a logical follow-on from the baseline survey of the species done by BirdLife Botswana as part of the Okavango Delta Management Plan a few years ago. BirdLife has formed a partnership with AEWA to develop action plans for species that are common to both organisations, and Serge Dereliev and Evelyn Moloko from the AEWA Secretariat managed to secure the necessary funding to make this a reality.

Workshop participants (Photo: E Moloko)

The workshop was organised by Stephanie Tyler and facilitated by Serge Dereliev, and used the ‘problem tree approach’ to identify potential and real causes of declines which could then be ranked to form the basis for remedial action. From the expert inputs from the participants, the final action plan will be compiled by Stephanie, and funding secured to address the major issues.

During the workshop, participants managed to spend some time in Moremi where about 14 Slaty Egrets in total were seen! An unexpected plus from the field outing was information from a local guide working for Letaka Safaris of a previously unknown Slaty Egret breeding site! If any readers of this blog – especially professional guides - have other similar information on Slaty Egrets, please contact Pete Hancock.

Participants in the field looking for Slaty Egrets (Photo: E Moloko)

Thanks are due to Stephanie for all the work she put into organising the workshop, to Serge for ably facilitating the process, and to all participants for contributing generously their knowledge of the species. Dr Lucas Rutina from DWNP travelled from Serowe to participate in the workshop, and we especially appreciate the Wildlife Department’s support as they are our major partner in conserving the species in Botswana.