How to trick a penguin
Decoys have been used for many years by hunters to lure their prey into range. Now conservationists are turning to these life-like models of birds and other animals to attract seabirds to suitable breeding areas. BirdLife South Africa will be using decoy penguins as a tool to re-establish a penguin colony at De Hoop Nature Reserve on the southern Cape coast.
Most seabirds breed in colonies and don’t feel safe if there are no other birds around. Decoys fool them into thinking that other individuals are already breeding there; some even trick the birds into attempting to feed or form pair bonds with them!
One of the most successful decoy projects was implemented in Maine, USA, when numbers of Common and Arctic terns were decreasing. Wooden decoys and call playback speakers were placed at Eastern Egg Rock in 1978 and within a year tern sightings in the area had doubled. Within four years, Eastern Egg Rock hosted the largest Common Tern colony in Maine. There are also several successful projects involving albatrosses. In combination with the translocation of chicks, decoys have been used to encourage both Short-tailed and Laysan albatrosses to breed at more suitable sites.
We have learnt from these projects in our attempt to re-establish a previously short-lived colony of African Penguins at De Hoop Nature Reserve. We will construct a predator-proof fence to protect the penguins from mainland predators and initially use social attraction techniques – decoys and call playback – to entice the penguins to the site. CapeNature is our partner in these efforts and as soon as a management plan for the colony has been completed, work on the ground can start properly.
We have also teamed up with Cape Town artist Roelf Daling to create a number of life-like penguin decoys for the project. ‘I studied photos and live penguins to create a 3D computer model of a penguin. The 3D model is then “sliced” into layers and built out of cardboard, which I cover in clay,’ says Roelf. ‘I use the clay model to make a polyurethane mould, which can be used up to 400 times. I then apply layers of cement that has been reinforced with glass fibre to the mould.’ Once the cement has cured, Roelf paints the ‘penguins’ with an acid etch, which stains the white cement black, ensuring that the colour won’t fade or chip as paint would.
Roelf has completed the first mould of a penguin lying down and is working on one that is standing. He will produce 20 decoys in total, which will be scattered around the site. We look forward to seeing them out at De Hoop, showing their live counterparts where it is safe to breed.
Christina Hagen, Pamela Isdell Fellow of Penguin Conservation
Ingula Nature Reserve proclaimed
BirdLife South Africa, in partnership with Eskom and the Middelpunt Wetland Trust, has been running the Ingula Project since 2003, when Eskom proposed the development of a pumped storage scheme in the high-altitude wetlands at Ingula. As well as being at risk, these wetlands are home to a number of threatened bird species, including the Wattled Crane and, more importantly, the White-winged Flufftail – and that is why BirdLife South Africa got involved. Since 2003 more than 330 species have been seen on site, of which 21 are threatened. Learn more about the Ingula Nature Reserve in a forthcoming issue ofAfrican Birdlife magazine!
Carina Coetzer, Ingula Project Manager
Enhancing biodiversity stewardship
Habitat loss and degradation are among the most pressing threats facing global biodiversity. Increasing the network of protected sites and conservation areas is considered one of the most important mechanisms for conserving biodiversity and improving land management, while at the same time offering a range of potential socio-economic benefits. The declaration of Privately Protected Areas, implemented in South Africa through the biodiversity stewardship initiative, has emerged as a cost-effective tool for expanding this network. It helps state conservation agencies to meet their mandate regarding protected area expansion, while reducing the capacity burden placed on national governments. However, the financial and human capacity required to undertake this work has become increasingly limited in both public and private institutions, making it difficult to maintain the gains already achieved.
The review of the biodiversity stewardship sector was driven by the need to document the challenges currently facing it and determine the opportunities that may help to overcome these challenges. We were fortunate to receive a good spread of responses from across the sector.
A number of common ideas regarding the improvement of collaboration between government and NGOs came out of the review. These were grouped and developed into a logical work flow that can be used by provincial agencies and NGOs that would like to improve their interactions. Establishing provincial biodiversity stewardship reference groups is the first step to improving communication and structuring roles and responsibilities among different partners. A number of recommendations for enhancing the political support for the sector were discussed, as were tools to assist the extension officers and project managers who are at the core of implementing biodiversity stewardship.
There are a number of opportunities to improve the financial sustainability of biodiversity stewardship. These include establishing large-scale endowment funds and leveraging opportunities with other sectors, such as game ranching or hunting, corporate social investment schemes or mandatory government programmes such as B-BBEE.
Individual landowners and communities remain the most important partners in biodiversity stewardship. Projects to upskill landowners so that they can take the lead in maintaining the environmental integrity of their properties will help to ease the burden for government and NGO conservation agencies. A synopsis of the support mechanisms and benefits available to communities engaging in biodiversity stewardship is included in the report.
Certain recommendations contained in the report are already being explored, or actively implemented by organisations in the sector. There is thus an appetite and capacity to take these recommendations forward to the benefit of the biodiversity stewardship sector. The South African biodiversity stewardship community of practice is rising to the challenge of protecting critical resources, and delivering tangible benefits to society, under increasing environmental pressures and declining biodiversity. It is hoped that this report will further strengthen the conservation outcomes being achieved by this sector.
Dale Wright, Regional Conservation Manager
Our annual staff meeting
BirdLife South Africa conserves birds at not only a national, but also a regional scale, and we are fast becoming leaders in conservation across Africa. Though our head office is in Johannesburg, our staff are spread throughout the country, working on conservation projects in different areas. Despite the wonders of modern communication technology, there is still a need for us to connect face to face in order to continue working together as a team.
It is with this in mind that the organisation holds an annual meeting when all the staff gather in one place for a week of intensive discussions and presentations and to recap what was achieved in the past year and strategise for the future. This year the meeting was held in Johannesburg, making use of the beautiful facilities at Isdell House and the hall of St Martin’s in-the-Veld Church, with two days at the Roodevallei conference centre.
Soft skills training was identified at the previous staff meeting as a priority and the brilliant Yvette Nowell from Rand Merchant Bank stepped up to fulfil this role. She is not only a good friend of BirdLife South Africa and a major funder, but also an accomplished facilitator and a genuine comedienne. Along with her colleagues, personal brand guru Helen Nicholson and musical maestro Ralf Schmitt, Yvette taught us valuable lessons in communication, personality management and teamwork – in between having us all in stitches.
Much of the week was filled with presentations by staff on their work and BirdLife South Africa’s strategy going forward. The talks were all of an impressively high standard and each was followed by a robust, honest and thought-provoking discussion. These discussions provided a valuable opportunity for staff to contribute constructively to each others’ projects, and multiple openings for cross-cutting collaboration were recognised. Every presenter came away with ideas to strengthen their work and make an even greater, positive impact for birds.
A number of staff undertook to lead discussions on broader subjects relating to BirdLife South Africa’s conservation strategy, branding and fundraising. These also proved to be constructive exercises in which all the staff had a say. Key recommendations and actions have been noted and will be taken forward in the near future wherever possible.
Guest presentations were delivered by Stephen Koseff, CEO of Investec; Mark Read, former CEO of WWF; and Jacques du Bruyn, MD of Flume digital marketing agency, which is partnering with BirdLife South Africa on an upcoming ad campaign. The staff also had the opportunity to interact with members of the board at a social evening at Isdell House. Other social activities included the annual staff meeting pub quiz and a birding walk at Roodevallei.
For me, as one of the newer members of the BirdLife South Africa team, it was incredible to hear how our staff are pioneering conservation action in South Africa and beyond. Among us are some of the global leaders on innovative tools such as Key Biodiversity Areas and biodiversity tax incentives. We are leading the expansion of red-listing through Africa and are integral partners in projects to prevent bird bycatch on the world’s high seas – all in addition to the sterling work undertaken here at home in South Africa to conserve our beloved birds. I left the meeting feeling rejuvenated and eager to continue contributing to the amazing achievements of this relatively small but mightily impactful organisation.
Andrew de Blocq, Coastal Seabird Conservation Project Officer
Marion Island Take-over
My first love as a conservation scientist was remote islands. It was on them that I first came across what to me are the most spectacular birds on the planet, the albatrosses. Joining efforts to conserve them has been one of the most rewarding career moves I have ever made. I cut my teeth on Mexican Pacific islands and then at Gough Island in 2003–2004. Nowadays I seldom get to see an albatross, let alone touch one, so the opportunity of a voyage to Marion Island was a dream come true.
The Prince Edward Islands, of which Marion is the larger, support 28 breeding species of seabirds, including 40% of the global population of the largest flying bird on earth, the Wandering Albatross. Four smaller, but no less spectacular albatross species also breed on the islands, as do a host of petrel and penguin species, including the stunning King Penguin. The islands are also home to three seal species, among them the impressive southern elephant seal. A resident population of orcas is unique in that these killer whales often come to within a few metres of shore, enabling scientists to conduct from Marion Island the only shore-based killer whale research programme on earth.
Peter Ryan, the director of the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, Keith Springer, a New Zealand mammal eradication expert, and I departed in early April on Agulhas II as part of the 2018 Marion Relief Voyage – or Take-over as it is more commonly referred to. The mouser team (to distinguish ourselves from the birders and sealers) would be conducting research into the biology of the house mouse and other operational aspects relating to the planned eradication of mice on Marion Island. On board with us were close on 100 people from research teams covering ecology, biology, geology and oceanography. There was also a team conducting cosmology research with a view to capturing radio waves emitted during the first hundred million years of our cosmic history, a phenomenon known as the Cosmic Dawn. We also carried all the supplies, primarily food and fuel, that the overwintering Marion 75 team would require for their 15-month stay. We were completely dependent on what we had with us – anything forgotten meant doing without or, in true South African style, ‘making a plan’.
It takes four to five days to reach Marion Island and we were lucky to have good weather all the way, although a taste of ‘Roaring 40s’ weather would have been fun too. We arrived on one of the most glorious days we were to experience during our stay, with the island showcasing itself in full sunlight. But as the crisp air hit and our breath turned white, we were reminded that we were in deep south latitudes.
On Marion the weather rules all and working with it – or rather, in it – is the only way to get anything done. When 40-knot winds gusting to over 70 knots combine with everything else the elements can throw at you, your only choice is to press on and make the most of it. During the voyage, painstaking planning had gone into coordinating the ‘round island’ schedules and the allocation of the field huts. With eight teams scrambling for the use of the nine huts scattered around the island, it ended up looking like a game of musical chairs, so we couldn’t allow the weather conditions on the day to affect our plans.
When we headed out on our allotted round island slot in wonderful weather, we thought we’d hit the jackpot – until we crested Black Hagglet Ridge. Daniela was almost swept off her feet by gale-force winds that soon brought pummelling rain followed by stinging hail. By hour five into our walk we were shouldering step by step into the wind, our gumboots feeling clumsy and my backpack – containing only the bare essentials – getting more waterlogged and weighty with every step. The sight of our hut came as a heavenly relief. After I had replaced my wet clothes with the only change of dry inners I had for the next few days and wrapped my numb hands around a steaming mug of hot chocolate, laughter and happiness set in. By candlelight, we shared stories of personal endurance. Later in the evening a radio check-in with base confirmed that all the teams were accounted for. Then silence set in, broken only by the wailing cries emanating from petrel burrows.
Marion Island is a truly amazing place of unique and extraordinary barren beauty lit up in shades of green, with iron-red koppies, black scoria lava flows and impressive rock formations capped by snow-clad mountains. To have witnessed the graceful courtship dance of Wandering Albatrosses or a Grey-headed Albatross gently grooming its chick is a privilege I share with very few.
I return only more convinced that the work being spearheaded by BirdLife South Africa, the University of Cape Town and the Department of Environmental Affairs is one of the most important projects yet to be carried out on Marion. Ridding the island of invasive house mice and thereby making a huge stride towards restoring its unique ecology is the only hope the millions of seabirds have for survival on this speck of South African soil in the middle of the Southern Ocean.
Andrea Angel, Albatross Task Force Leader
A ride on the wild side for birds
BirdLife South Africa, in partnership with ZEISS and Maseke Mountain Biking, invites you to join us for a once-in-a-lifetime bushveld experience with renowned cycle race commentator Phil Liggett.
A mountain bike wilderness trail is a one-of-a-kind safari experience for adventurers and nature lovers who are looking for an experience like no other. Spend three days cycling through the Big 5 country of beautiful Maseke Game Reserve in the company of Phil Liggett, who will recount anecdotes from the Tour de France. Rides will be led by professional armed guides, who will share their knowledge of the spectacular area, wildlife and birds as you ride each day. All proceeds raised through this event will go to protecting important bird habitat.
Date: Friday 9 to Monday 12 November 2018 (3 nights)
Place: Ndzuti Safari Camp, Maseke Game Reserve (Hoedspruit)
Cost: R15 000 per person sharing: includes of accommodation, food, drinks & guided activities; excludes travel to the Maseke Game Reserve
For more information about the event or to book, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be sure to reference the BirdLife South Africa event.
Romy Antrobus-Wuth, Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas Programme
Register now for BBD 2018!
Birding Big Day is all about enjoying the wonderful bird diversity we have in South Africa while raising funds for conservation. Whether you’re an old hand or a first-timer, don’t delay in registering your team for the 2018 event – registration is now open! And don’t forget to diarise the Big Day: Saturday, 24 November.
For more information, go to http://birdlife.org.za/events/birding-big-day
To access the BirdLasser online map, go to https://www.birdlasser.com/events/bbd2018
We will post regular updates on the Facebook events page at https://web.facebook.com/events/212406386013322/
Ernst Retief, Regional Conservation Manager
Biodiversity Stewardship in Eastern Free State
The Eastern Free State is a magical place of rolling hills, never-ending grassland, beautiful wetlands and high rainfall. This makes it highly desirable real estate and the grasslands are under severe threat of development. With about 23 threatened grassland bird species and only one national park, it may appear futile to try to protect these species, as well as all the other threatened wildlife here. But there are ways to achieve this goal and one of the most promising is biodiversity stewardship, whereby farmers agree to manage their land sustainably with the aim of getting it proclaimed a Protected Environment. Thus not only will optimal habitat for threatened biodiversity be assured, but grazing potential for livestock will be increased.
The Wilge biodiversity stewardship area is situated between Harrismith, Van Reenen and Verkykerskop, with the escarpment forming one border. Conversations with the relevant landowners have been ongoing for more than a year and those who are interested will be involved in Phase 1 of the project, starting in July. As the area is not far from the Sneeuberge Protected Environment, once the project is completed it will contribute immeasurably to the formal protection of the valuable grasslands of the Eastern Free State.
Carina Coetzer, Ingula Project Manager
Christmas in July
Next month we’ll be celebrating the southern hemisphere festive season at Isdell House (17 Hume Road, Dunkeld West, Gauteng) on Saturday, 28 July from 10h00 until 14h00, so come and join us for our annual Christmas in July. Shop For the Birds! will be open and selling second-hand books, and there will be soup and rolls, wors rolls and tea and coffee to keep the chill at bay.