Tag Archives: conservation

The guardians of Africa’s largest lake

shoebill.jpg(Louise Jasper 17 May 2017)

Locals are rallying together to protect Lake Victoria’s valuable wetlands and its inhabitants. The world’s largest tropical lake spans three countries and nourishes both the rich wildlife and the impoverished communities that live around it. But its resources have also attracted less desirable attention – such as traffickers targeting iconic birds such as the Shoebill.

As the sun rises over the Mabamba Bay Wetland on the northwestern shores of Lake Victoria, East Africa, a canoe slowly navigates a winding channel lined with papyrus and reeds. A light mist still clings to the water, and three tourists jump excitedly at every rustle, ripple and flutter of wings as they peer into the dense vegetation. Their guide Julius Musenda, a fisherman from the local village of Kasanje who knows the swamp like the back of his hand, keeps his sharp eyes peeled for the feathered prize they have all come to find.

Mabamba Bay is widely recognised as the best place to see the mysterious Shoebill Balaeniceps rex in Uganda, but a sighting is never guaranteed. Tension is mounting, they must soon return to land to catch their flight and time is growing short. There! He’s spotted one at last: an unmistakeable blue-grey bird with a massive bill and small white eyes, standing still as stone as it waits for its next meal to swim within range. As his clients gasp, focus their binoculars and snap away at their cameras, Julius smiles with relief. His clients will leave Uganda today happy and satisfied; a job well done.

Julius is a member of the Mabamba Bird Guides and Conservation Association, which is in turn part of the Mabamba Wetland Eco-Tourism Association (MWETA), along with two other Local Conservation Groups (LCGs). These community groups are run by volunteers who aim to conserve and sustainably manage the wetlands’ natural resources, and are part of a network of over 2,000 similar groups working at BirdLife Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) around the world.

The Shoebill and a range of other interesting wildlife such as the Blue Swallow Hirundo atrocaerulea, Papyrus Gonolek Laniarius mufumbiri and Sitatunga Antelope Tragelaphus spekii attract ever-increasing numbers of visitors to the swamp, providing vital income for the local people. So in 2013 and 2014 when wildlife traffickers began to target the Shoebill in Mabamba Bay for sale to zoos and private collectors, the community took swift and direct action to stamp out the trade.

The local people were able to act so quickly and confidently because they were well organised and aware of their rights and responsibilities as stewards of the wetland, which is an IBA protected under the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty that provides the framework for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands and their resources.. They also fostered close relationships with local law enforcement agencies and government bodies, and were able to rely on their support when the need arose.

Vitally, they had the motivation to protect their local patch from those who wished to exploit it for short-term gain. MWETA focused their conservation efforts through the creation of a sophisticated Community Action Plan, with assistance from Nature Uganda (BirdLife Partner in Uganda), which also helped them better understand the importance and value of their natural resources.

Mabamba Bay, like some other wetlands in the area, is not included in Uganda’s official protected area system. Its management therefore lies largely in the hands of local people and civil society organisations such as MWETA, who try to conserve it in the face of serious threats including poaching, pollution, invasive species and agricultural encroachment – problems also affecting the wider Lake Victoria Basin.

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Record-breaking 120,000 Ruffs counted in Belarus

(Victoria Tereshono 8 may 2017)

Birdwatchers were delighted by the thousands of Ruffs that gathered at the end of April in Turau Meadow, Belarus. While the area is usually an important stopover for the species, this time the impressive numbers broke records in the country.

Despite the cold weather, bird migration is in full swing. Millions of birds have started moving from their wintering grounds in Africa, stopping over in the cold tundra of Eurasia.

At this time of the year, Turau Meadow in Belarus becomes a paradise for nature lovers – as many as 150,000 Eurasian Wigeon Mareca Penelope and 20,000 Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa can gather in these plains, sometimes in a single day.

But this year, it’s the Ruff Calidris pugnax that gave birdwatchers the most joy, when thousands of these long-necked birds blanketed the skies.

While this site is currently the largest stopover site for the species during their spring migration across Europe, this year the numbers were a surprise to everyone.

A group of ornithologists, including researchers from APB (BirdLife Belarus), registered a record number of 120,000 Ruffs in a single day, which hadn’t been reported since the observations began in Turau Meadow back in 1997.

Turau Meadow is an open floodplain in the middle of Pripyat River and one of Europe’s most essential nesting and stopover areas for more than 50 migratory wading bird species such as Black-tailed Godwit, Great Snipe Gallinago media and Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus – the three of them classified as Near Threatened by BirdLife for the IUCN Red List. And these species don’t only stop there – this is where they nest.

For this reason, the floodplains were categorized as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area by BirdLife and, since 2008, it has been recognized as a locally significant wildlife sanctuary by the Belarussian authorities.

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Volunteer conservationists draw attention to Lake Bogoria

optimized-lake-bogoria-flamingos.jpg(Fred Barasa, Anthony Ochieng and Maaike Manten; 7 April 2017)

American industrialist, Henry Ford once said: “coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress and working together is success.” Volunteer conservationists around Lake Bogoria in Kenya might not have heard him say this, but their passion of working together to care for their local important bird and biodiversity areas fully represent Mr. Ford’s statement.

Friends of Nature Bogoria is a group of passionate volunteers working together around Lake Bogoria to generate and share information with members of their community about the importance of preserving the Lake Bogoria National Reserve. The area is an important bird and biodiversity area and a key biodiversity area found in the Eastern Afromontane hotspot. Lake Bogoria is popular for hosting the largest number of bird species – 96 species of birds – seen in one hour in Kenya. Its water supports a dense bloom of algae and serves as an important foraging ground for flocks of the Lesser Flamingos bird species. This important wetland is also popular with its hot springs and wide range of mammals that include leopards, greater kudus, klipspringers and caracals.

The lake is a great attraction for tourists who come to see its beautiful scenery and desirable biodiversity. Lake Bogoria also presents opportunities for geothermal energy production, which is clean and renewable energy that emits fewer emissions of carbon dioxide gas. However, geothermal energy can also have negative impacts on the natural environment. It may affect water quality, and can lead to habitat loss for both plants and animals.

In order to ensure that any future development at the Lake Bogoria reserve recognise the need to protect and maintain the natural environment, Nature Kenya (BirdLife Partner in Kenya), with funds from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund’s Regional Implementation Team, has engaged local volunteers around the lake to ensure that environmental safeguards are respected and any negative impact from energy extraction is avoided.

“The major challenge is the threat of geothermal energy exploration……

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Conserving the natural grasslands of South America

The Bobolink migrates long distances between North and South America © Brian E. Small/AGAMI(Miguel Parrilla; 30 March 2017)

As agriculture, forestry, roads and urbanization brought economic development to the vast grasslands of South America, the area of this important ecosystem was reduced by half. Luckily, ranchers and conservationists are joining forces to save these vital lands.

In the Southern Cone of the American continent, there is an area of natural grasslands unique in the world, home to a countless number of species. In the past, these grasslands occupied an area of 100 million hectares, ranging from Rio Grande do Sul, Argentina to southern Paraguay and Uruguay.

Today, the remaining 50 million hectares of natural grasslands are home to 540 recorded wild bird species, 12 of which are globally threatened, such as the Blue-eyed Ground-dove Columbina cyanopis (Critically Endangered), the Blue-bearded Helmetcrest Oxypogon cyanolaemus (Critically Endangered) or the Santa Marta Wren Troglodytes monticola (Critically Endangered). Among them are species of migratory birds that make long migrations annually, linking the North American prairies with the pampas of South America.

But natural pastures not only provide food and shelter for wildlife. When well managed and conserved, they provide a series of benefits to society. These benefits are known as “ecosystem services”, among which we highlight the following:

  • Capturing and storing carbon, reducing the presence of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere which are responsible for climate change;
  • Filtering water and slowly recharging freshwater aquifers, making water available for human consumption or for irrigation;
  • Maintaining populations of predators and pest controllers from agriculture, reducing the use of polluting chemicals;
  • Preserving an ancestral landscape, associated with the culture and traditions of the region;
  • Providing resistance to extreme climatic events like droughts and floods, giving greater stability to livestock production.

The Grasslands Alliance was established with BirdLife’s support in order to conserve these vital ecosystems. Proof of this was the organization of the Second Natural Grassland Tour at the end of 2016, carried out by the Grassland Alliance with the financial support of the US Forest Service. The important meeting put producers, experts and conservationists from different backgrounds in the same room–an opportunity to exchange ideas and best practices.

“The objective of the tour was to know in depth the activities carried out in the region to conserve grasslands and also to involve representatives from other countries in the Americas with a view to increasing cooperation. In fact, we’re hoping to create a hemispheric alliance that includes every South American country”, said Dr. Nicolás Marchand, Grasslands Alliance Regional Coordinator.

“The contributions of the four member countries of the Grassland Alliance (Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay) have shown the benefit of conserving grasslands to livestock farmers, but also to wildlife.

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Zimbabwe’s life-giving wetlands saved from cluster home fate

(Jude Fuhnwi; 31 March 2017)

Vital advocacy work from BirdLife’s Zimbabwean Partner has halted one of Harare’s neighbouring wetlands from becoming a building site – a big win both for the capital’s nature, and its people

Harare is a city on the rise. But as ever, growth comes at a cost. As Zimbabwe’s sprawling capital expands outwards, the wetlands that surround it are slowly but surely being lost to development, or tarnished with pollution. It’s a classic conflict – the need to build houses, versus the need to protect nature from unsustainable development. But in this case, things are more clear-cut. Harare’s wetlands are vital, live-giving ecosystems, and their distruction is a situation that should concern not only local conservation groups such as BirdLife Zimbabwe, but everyone who lives in or near the capital of this landlocked southern African country.

Wetlands are productive environments that provide countless ecosystem services to humanity and biodiversity. Many species of plants, birds and animals, including the humans who live in and around the city, depend on the exceptionally biodiverse, seasonally inundated and open grassland swamps for survival. But development is posing a major threat to the future of these vital habitats.

Zimbabwean authorities recognize this issue and laws are in place to prevent it. The country’s Environmental Management Act development restricts works on wetlands. The law requires that developers obtain an Environmental Impact Assessment Certificate from the agency managing the environment before they are issued a permit to carry on with a project on any wetland in the country.

However, this law is not always respected. “Wetlands in Zimbabwe are protected on paper but are being destroyed, compromising water availability and the quality of fresh water for sustainable development” says Julia Pierini, BirdLife Zimbabwe Chief Executive. “Loss of wetlands in Harare equals loss of water for the city”.

It wasn’t always this way. For decades, the shallow marshes and open green spaces in Harare remained untouched. That began to change 15 years ago when the population of Greater Harare began to grow rapidly, mostly due to migration from rural areas into the cities.

Resulting pressures from development, unregulated agriculture and pollution have led to rapid loss of some important wetlands. This has seriously affected the biodiversity of the wetlands and the ecosystem services they provide, including the fundamental service of fresh water provision for the citizens of Greater Harare. Without wetlands, the city will have to spend more money to treat water for citizens, floods will be more devastating to nearby communities, animals shall be displaced or die and livelihoods disrupted.

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One quarter of Bangladesh is safe from recently exposed vulture-killing drug


(Author: Shaun Hurrell; Photo: Jonathan Eames; 3 April 2017)

After successfully banning two drugs poisonous to vultures, Bangladesh is leading the way in Asian vulture conservation, and moving towards banning a third.

You may not remember how to pronounce it, but you quite possibly have heard of “diclofenac”, the vulture-killing drug which caused the most dramatic bird decline in modern history, wiping out over 99% of Asia’s vultures in the 1990s. If not, then after hearing that, you will surely not forget it. Day to day, concerned owners of livestock use non-sterroidal anti-inflammatories like diclofenac to alleviate pain in their animals. Unfortunately, once these animals die and are consumed by vultures, these drugs cause excruciating pain, kidney failure, and death to the birds.

All four of Asia’s resident vulture species have been listed as Critically Endangered since the diclofenac problem was exposed in the early 2000s (see below). Through the SAVE Partnership (Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction), BirdLife and the RSPB (BirdLife UK)

have been working to ban diclofenac in Asian countries and tackling other endangered vulture conservation issues, including creating protected “Vulture Safe Zones”. However, a suite of other replacement non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs have been exposed that pose lethal risk to vultures, such as “ketoprofen”.

Diclofenac was successfully banned in Bangladesh in 2010, and a further drug “aceclofenac” has similarly been outlawed. “Banning aceclofenac was another important step,” says Chris Bowden, Programme Manager of SAVE, and RSPB.

“It combated what can only be described as a ‘cynical exploitation of a loophole’ by drug companies, as aceclofenac is quickly converted to deadly diclofenac in a treated animal. This has been demonstrated experimentally and published by our SAVE research team.”

However ketoprofen quickly became the main replacement in Bangladesh—but this too has been shown to cause similar kidney failure and lingering death in vultures.

Thankfully, the Bangladesh government has now also declared a ban of ketoprofen in two Vulture Safe Zones—crucial areas for these birds which span 25% of the country. This includes the Bangladesh Directorate General of Drug Administration (DGDA) has banned manufacturers of ketoprofen from selling, distributing, storing and exhibiting the drug in the Vulture Safe Zones. BirdLife applauds the Bangladesh government’s decision as this sets a great precedent for extending the ban to the entire country.

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Vultures need you

agami-vale-gier-griffon-vulture.jpg(Shaun Hurrell; 24 March 2017)

Let’s face it: vultures are special. Part of human culture, they are seen as disgusting by some, yet loved by others (including us and you). Asia’s vultures have suffered some of the fastest population declines ever recorded in a bird, and Africa’s recent severe declines mean that now most old-world vultures are on the edge of extinction. With a unique scavenging niche, this group of birds clean our landscapes and help to prevent the spread of disease—among the many reasons why we are doing all we can to save them. BirdLife’s vulture campaign has already shown how many people love and value vultures, and now there is a chance for some of you to input technical comments on the draft plan that sets out how best to conserve them.

Today we promote a public consultation on a new draft Multi-Species Action Plan to conserve African-Eurasian Vultures, launched by the Coordinating Unit of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) Raptors MOU, in collaboration with BirdLife International, Vulture Conservation Foundation and the IUCN Vulture Specialist Group. (The CMS Raptors MoU is the Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Birds of Prey in Africa and Eurasia—an international, legally non-binding agreement to protect migratory birds of prey.)

In total, 127 countries are lucky to have recorded vultures in their skies.

This plan, if adopted by the Parties to CMS in October this year, would mean these countries being requested to take decisive action over twelve years to save vultures. The Plan would also guide states that are not Parties to CMS, as well as many other actors. This includes actions to protect vultures across Africa, Asia and Europe from all of threats sadly faced by these birds: poisoning, persecution, collision with energy infrastructure, habitat loss, and many more.

Whilst we are doing all we can to ensure a future for these special birds it is, above all, Governments that have the resources to solve this problem at the huge scale required.

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