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A View from the Programme Manager’s Perch
This is the 40th edition since the establishment of the Eagle’s Eye in 2004, and I am fortunate to have contributed my views from the programme manager’s perspective in each edition since its inception. The aim of the electronic newsletter of the programme is to share interesting experiences and lessons learnt from the field with readers and each other rather than sharing hard scientific data. I would like to thank every EWT-BoPP staff member, associate, volunteer and supporter who contributed material to this newsletter and trust that you will continue to do so into the future.
Due to an exciting opportunity that came my way, it will also be my last contribution in my capacity as programme manager of the Birds of Prey Programme. In late July 2016, BirdLife International offered me the contract to take on the challenge of coordinating the drafting of a Multi-species Action Plan for African-Eurasian Vultures (Vulture MsAP) for submission and ratification at the CMS Conference of the Parties in October 2017. This work will be my primary focus until the completion of the fixed contract by the end of October next year, but I will remain in the employment of the EWT and still dedicate some time towards vulture work in Africa as well as conducting and coordinating poisoning intervention training in the region. The process to appoint a new full-time manager for the Programme has already commenced and we hope to make an announcement in this regard soon.
The African component of the Vulture MsAP will be discussed and drafted during the second Pan-African Vulture Summit which will be held during the Pan-African Ornithological Congress in Dakar, Senegal from the 18th-21st of October 2016. At this stage we have received confirmation of more than 60 delegates that will be attending this important event that will chart the course for vulture conservation activities on the continent for the medium- to long term. In view of the current status of most of Africa’s vulture species, the effective implementation of the action plan is critical and will require the cooperation of all range states, especially at government level, but with substantial input from all relevant stakeholders.
The presentation of Poisoning Intervention Training in the region was indeed a primary focus of the EWT-BoPP over the last nine months and a total of 826 people have been trained during 33 training sessions covering 8 of our provinces and also extending to three other countries in southern Africa.
As a result of one of the training sessions at the Hans Hoheisen Wildlife Research Centre near Orpen in the Kruger National Park in February, the Kukula Traditional Healers Practitioners Association requested a meeting with the EWT to discuss the impact of muthi-use on vultures and other wildlife. This meeting took place on the 6th of July 2016 at the HHWRC and we spent almost 3 hours discussing the impact of poisons on wildlife, and vultures in particular, the potential threats to human health posed by the use of animals or animal parts acquired through poisoning as well as the legal implications of trading in such animals. This was one of the most constructive discussions I have been part of in a while. The group were keen to engage in conversation and we could frankly discuss certain actions and interventions where they can play a key role within communities to make people aware of the impact and dangers involved in some of the practises which are currently having a substantial impact on populations of vultures and other wildlife.
It is also likely that, following this discussion, we will be able to engage with similar bodies in the Lowveld and further a-field to discuss this important issue and to look for workable solutions and alternatives to the currently unsustainable practises that are taking place. There is simply no way for us to find a solution to this without engaging with this very important stakeholder group and, if the attitude of the KTHPA is any indication, they are keen to engage in this regard and to make a positive contribution. A positive step forward and a good day at the office overall! Thanks to the staff at Hans Hoheisen for making this possible, to SAWC for catering and to the two translators who assisted with the discussions.
Prior to the above meeting, I was also able to travel to Zambia and Mozambique in June to present training at two sites there. The first of these took place at the South Luangwa National Park during the week of the 14th-19th of June 2016 and was presented to 26 members of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, Conservation South Luangwa, the Zambia Carnivore Project and Birdwatch Zambia. The response to the training was very positive and will be followed by another session at South Luangwa and other identified sites in Zambia in 2017. The fact that the area is a poisoning hotspot was emphasized when rangers brought in a poisoned Grey Crowned Crane, which was found with at least 3 other birds that were already dead, on the first day of training. Despite the best efforts of the resident veterinarian, this crane also ultimately died.
On the last day of training, we were able to visit the most recent poisoning scene where 105 vultures of 4 species were killed after feeding on a poisoned elephant carcass. The animal was shot for its ivory and the carcass was then deliberately poisoned. The training received will contribute to a more rapid response to incidents of this nature in future and will reduce the impact of poisoning events on vultures and other wildlife in the area.
The week after returning from Zambia, saw Rebotile Rachuene and I travelling by road to present training at the Gorongosa National Park in the Sofala province in central Mozambique. Training here was presented to a much smaller group that consisted of key management staff responsible for conservation and law enforcement in the park as well as three members of the Gorongosa Lion Project. Thanks to Paola Bouley and Dr Rui Branco for making the necessary arrangements to facilitate the training and for their hospitality in general.
The trip was also a good opportunity to make the necessary preparations for a raptor and vulture survey that Dr Ralph Buij and I were able to conduct at Gorongosa in mid-August. Access to routes inside the park was kindly permitted by the Gorongosa management authority and we were based at the research camp for the duration of our 10-day stay. We travelled a total of 1532 km using a rented 4x4 vehicle and recorded 559 observations of 32 species of vultures, raptors and owls during 89 hours of surveys. All data was collected using the African Raptor Observations app and have been up-loaded to this database. Observations within Gorongosa National Park indicate that the area contains substantial populations of scavenging raptors such as African White-backed- and Hooded Vultures as well as Bateleurs, but the most outstanding feature of the surveys were the numerous records of White-headed Vultures of both sexes and various ages recorded during the survey.
The last two weeks of July 2016 was also focused on poisoning intervention training, this time by means of a 4500km road-trip at 5 venues in Namibia. Training started with two sessions in Windhoek, then moved to Namutoni in the Etosha National Park, then the Bwabwata National Park followed by a great session involving 44 conservation biology and animal health students and lecturers at the Katima Mulilo campus of the University of Namibia. A total of 132 people attended the 5 sessions and it was good to see the interest and enthusiasm amongst current and aspiring conservationists to work towards reducing the impact of poisoning on both wildlife and people in this part of Africa. I would like to thank Liz Komen for all the hard work and arrangements as well as travelling with to all the venues to assist with the training. It is mostly due to Liz’s tireless efforts that the need to address the impact of poisoning on Namibia’s wildlife, is starting to gain greater prominence and support from key sectors in government, agriculture and the private sector.
The 3rd of September saw the celebration of the 8th International Vulture Awareness Day, an event that has become firmly established on the global conservation calendar with more than 35 countries being registered on the website www.vultureday.org/2016 and at least another 10 countries confirming participation without formally registering here. It was also wonderful to see that most southern African countries hosted more than one event on the day. I was able to participate in two events associated with IVAD, namely presenting a two-day raptor course in Hermanus in the Western Cape hosted by BirdLife Overberg on the 3rd and 4th of September and presenting a talk at the vulture fundraising evening of BirdLife Northern Gauteng on the 6th of September.
With summer rapidly approaching, it is also time to start looking out for the arrival of both the Intra-African- as well as Palearctic migratory raptors in the region. During our trip to Gorongosa in mid-August, both Yellow-billed Kites and Wahlberg’s Eagles were already present in fair numbers and I am sure most of the intra-African migrants would have arrived back at the breeding sites by now. However, the current extremely dry conditions over most of the summer rainfall areas may have an effect on whether these raptors decide to breed this year. All the more reason to monitor the known nests of these species in your area this season.
During the second week of July, I was invited to represent the CMS Raptors MoU at the first meeting of the Task Force on the Illegal Killing of Migratory Birds in the Mediterranean which was held in Cairo, Egypt. The aim of the meeting was to draft a strategy to reduce the impact of illegal killing and taking of these birds in the region which is estimated to range between a staggering 11-36 million birds that are killed annually. Migratory raptors are by no means excluded from this killing, so please spare a thought for many of these birds who run a gauntlet of death on the southward migration to Africa across the Mediterranean and the Middle East. It was encouraging to see so many countries represented and that there are areas where appropriate interventions have already started to make a difference, but a lot more needs to be done to put an end to this practice.
With this, my contributions from the programme manager’s perch have reached its conclusion. However, I will still be in regular contact with many of you over the next few months and after the completion of the contract with BirdLife International and CMS. I also hope to see many of you at the EWT-BoPP annual conference in April 2017. More details in this regard will be provided to you as soon as these have been confirmed.
Manager: Birds of Prey Programme
Endangered Wildlife Trust