For a bit of background, the red listing process is an assessment of changes in the population and distribution of species, to assign an appropriate IUCN Category which is reflective of how close or far individual species lie from probable extinction. Species which fall into the categories of Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered, are termed threatened species – and need protection from their threats to prevent the approach of extinction. This information on the quantitative extinction risk of species, and species-specific conservation needs, is published in Red Data Books.
BirdLife South Africa produced its first Red Data Book in 2000, followed by one in 2015. Subsequently, The State of South Africa’s Birds was published in 2018 and the Science and Innovation Team is now working on the next Red Data Book of birds in South Africa, Lesotho and Eswatini – with an aimed completion year of 2025. This will be an updated look at the state of this region’s bird biodiversity and will be a resource used to inform conservation actions by NGOs, governments, EIA practitioners, communities and individuals protecting biodiversity. The process and benefits of this endeavour are summarised in the infographic below.
For the first time, a contemporary book will also be published alongside the technical Red Data Book. Through the innovation of storytelling by ‘people on the ground’, this book will bring conservation to the birding community, and hopefully inspire greater collective participation in ensuring the survival of our precious and threatened birds.
For more information on red listing, visit https://www.iucnredlist.org/
However, for conservation planning to be successful, decisions must be based on accurate spatial data. Our spatial planning project aims to provide accurate spatial data to this sector, which can feed into various conservation planning tools such as Critical Biodiversity Areas maps and bioregional plans. It is also crucial that avian spatial data are included in these datasets. We are working hard to create products that comply with the standards set out in legislation and guideline documents. For example, by combining species distribution models and data from the Southern African Bird Atlas project, fine scale maps were created that fed into the National Screening Tool managed by the Department Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (https://screening.environment.gov.za/screeningtool/#/pages/welcome ). We are also supporting other initiatives such as the development of a Key Biodiversity Areas network and feeding data into the various provincial conservation plans.
The first step of any bird conservation initiative is to obtain accurate bird distribution data. The various bird related citizen science projects in South Africa, such as the Southern African Bird Atlas Project (https://sabap2.birdmap.africa/ ) and the Coordinated Waterbird Counts (https://cwac.birdmap.africa/ ) aims to provide accurate broad-scale distribution data for birds. These are invaluable resources for bird conservation in South Africa. In addition, the South African Bird Ringing project (https://safring.birdmap.africa/ ) contributes valuable bird distribution data, as well as biometric data.
In recent years birders have logged their sightings on mobile applications, such as BirdLasser (https://www.birdlasser.com/). This fine scale location data created new opportunities to use the data creatively, for example, to feed into fine scale habitat suitability and other distribution models. Data logged for the Threatened Species Cause on the app, where atlasers also record the number of birds seen, are of especially great value.
The Science and Innovation Team supports the above initiatives in several ways. First, we provide support to these projects, especially SABAP2. Ernst Retief serves on the project’s management team and his duties include marketing the project, setting policy guidelines, fund raising and assisting with various other management tasks. Secondly, the team assists with analysing the data. Although the raw data from the above projects are of great value as is, it must be analysed and adapted in other formats. Dr Alan Lee is analysing the data for the IUCN aligned Regional Red Listing Process while Ernst Retief adapts the data to comply with the standards and formats needed by the conservation planning sector. The results of this work have been published in several academic papers.
Research is the basis for sound decision making. The Science and Innovation Programme have a proud record of publishing research in peer reviewed journals as well as student supervision, collaborating with several academic institutions locally and abroad. We provide support to a range of different conservation programmes within BirdLife South Africa, for instance on Taita Falcon, Black Stork, White-winged Flufftail, Southern Bald Ibis, and Secretarybirds. Much of our research involves the use of citizen science databases, notably SABAP2 and affiliated African Bird Atlas Projects. We live in an exciting time of big data and machine learning (or artificial intelligence) and have embraced these in our quest to provide the information required for decision makers to best guide management and conservation efforts.
Currently, much of our data analysis focuses around the use of citizen science databases to inform the Regional Red
Listing process. However, we are also involved in some bespoke research and monitoring projects. For instance, we are conducting point counts to determine the impacts of fire events around Kimberley. We are also involved in a constant effort bird ringing monitoring scheme at Blue Hill Nature Reserve. We are also seeking funding to continue the grasslands birds research, especially Botha’s Lark.
A list of research publications can be found here: (https://www.birdlife.org.za/media-and-resources/birdlife-south-africas-scientific-publications)
The Near Threatened Lesser Flamingo inhabits the harsh environments of shallow, eutrophic, open and saline water bodies such as salt pans and coastal estuaries or lagoons. It occurs across sub- Saharan Africa and in India. In Africa it only breeds at four localities with any regularity – Lake Natron (Tanzania), Etosha Pan (Namibia), Sua Pan (Botswana) and Kamfers Dam in Kimberley.
The Science and Innovation team supports the conservation efforts at Kamfers Dam in various ways. For example, a Local Conservation Group (LCG) was created for this Important Bird and Biodiversity Area. This group aims to coordinate research and conservation initiatives at the site. The LCG members represent BirdLife South Africa and various private and academic institutions.
The Science and Innovation Programme drives the development of two primary products that promote Lesser Flamingo conservation: habitat mapping and abundance estimation. By using a combination of field data, water tests/analysis and satellite imagery the project has developed and aims to refine a habitat tool that can map the presence and state of suitable foraging habitat, namely water bodies with appropriate food sources (i.e. cyanobacteria). Furthermore, in order to address the current shortfall related to estimating the population status and trend, the project has been developing a method of deriving population estimates from various forms of imagery. This product is currently being refined and once complete, would provide a rapid, reliable, and scalable method of estimating the state and trend of this threatened species.
The Team additionally works closely with BirdLife South Africa’s Policy and Advocacy Programme to respond to the threats facing Lesser Flamingos at Kamfers Dam – ranging from proposed housing developments to poor management of water quantity and quality. In recognition of the fact that the conservation of Lesser Flamingos depends upon conservation and monitoring actions being implemented across this species’ entire range, BirdLife South Africa has also motivated for the re-establishment of a Lesser Flamingo International Working Group under the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement. BirdLife South Africa has been designated as the coordinator of this Group, which will provide an international platform for catalysing and coordinating monitoring and conservation actions by all principal range states. The research and conservation initiatives that have been undertaken at Kamfers Dam offer important lessons in this regard.
Lastly, the team supports marketing initiatives such as installing an AfriCam camera at the site. This camera provides live views of the site to a large audience worldwide. See https://www.africam.com/wildlife/stream/flamingos-live