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BIRDS AND PEOPLE BirdLife Botswana’s Bird Conservation Newsletter

June, 2013 No. 38

June, 2013 No. 38



IN THIS ISSUE: Feature: Quelea control


Thinking outside the box


Red data categories


Globally threatened vultures


Photo Gallery


Avian flu: the facts


Monitoring IBAs


Crowned Cranes uplisted


Alien invasion is on


Photo of the month


Biodiversity is under unprecedented pressure due to expanding human populations worldwide, and the same applies in Botswana and elsewhere in southern Africa. There are few real conservation success stories doing the rounds at present, and certainly none that have long-term prospects. Although this view is ultra-pessimistic, it has an undeniable realism. There is little doubt that growing human populations are changing the face of the world as we know it today, and certainly not for the better as far as our long-term survival and quality of life are concerned. Like the frog in the imperceptibly heating water, will we jump before we are cooked? Pete Hancock (Editor)

Front cover: Front cover: Pink-backed Pelican Red-billed Spurfowl (Pete Hancock) (Pete Hancock) This page: page: This Marabou Stork (Pete Hancock) Pied Kingfisher (Miles Kamakama)

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F E AT U R E — Q U E L E A C O N T R O L

Quelea control operations in Botswana have persistent negative effects on the environment

Results on soil contamination from a study on the environmental impacts of quelea control in Botswana have highlighted pollution issues. Both colonies and roosts of the southern African subspecies of the Redbilled Quelea Quelea q. lathamii are controlled by spraying with organophosphate (OP) pesticides such as fenthion or cyanophos, or by blowing them up. Effects of both methods were investigated by taking samples of soil at control sites before and at different times after the control events. Study sites included

five colonies that were sprayed from the ground, as well as 11 sites where upward of 1,000 ‘bombs’ had been exploded. Results of spraying. Immediately after sprays from vehiclemounted equipment, concentrations of fenthion ranged from 0 to 29.5 micrograms per gram of soil. The distribution of the contamination was markedly uneven, with some target areas being overdosed and others missed altogether, probably because the maintenance and operation of the equipment was sub-optimal resulting in poor control efficiencies.

Previous reports had suggested that fenthion residues remained in the soil for no more than a month but in this study the pesticide was detectable up to 188 days later. In some cases the fenthion re-appeared in samples after a series of negative results, suggesting that the chemical was leaching back up, probably after rain. The full extent of the damage to the soil flora and fauna is not known but the concentrations of fenthion detected were often well above levels permitted by the EU on foodstuffs. Although some nontarget mortalities occurred these were,

With a 12 day fledging period and large brood size, queleas can multiply rapidly (Photo: Pete Hancock)

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QUELEA CONTROL fortunately, minimal and much fewer than feared at the outset of the investigation. However, it was shown that even surviving birds, both targets and non-targets, were often adversely affected as their blood cholinesterase levels, which decrease in response to poisoning with OP pesticides, were significantly lowered after coming into contact with the sprays. Results of explosions. The explosions involved the detonation of plastic containers loaded with a 50:50 mixture of diesel and petrol, leading to contamination with petroleum products and plastic, both of which


remained at the site for extended periods after the firebombings, and were still detectable one year later. It may take 10 years before the plastic decomposes. At one stage the plastic remains were collected and burnt but the release of dioxins caused by this practice is more dangerous than leaving it in situ, so collection and safe disposal away from the site is now recommended. Postexplosion concentrations of total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPHs) and phthalates from the plastic ranged from 0.05 to 130.81 (mean 18.69) and from 0 to 1.62 (mean 0.55) micrograms per gram of soil, respectively, in

the craters caused by individual fire-bombs, but the levels decreased with increasing distances away from the craters. The TPH contamination is likely to interfere with plant ecology by delaying seed emergence and reducing the proportions of seeds which germinate. With the exception of one case when many Southern Masked Weavers Ploceus velatus were killed by an explosion, nontarget bird mortalities were low with small mammals bearing the brunt of the casualties. Mitigation. Training on spraying equipment maintenance and its use by members of the

Explosion for quelea control (Photo: Robert Cheke)

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Quelea control in Botswana is by means of spraying breeding colonies with pesticide and/ or blowing them up

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Impact on nontarget species has been minimal, and much fewer than feared

Botswana Plant Protection Division was conducted to ensure reductions in the contamination in the future. Training on target identification, on decision-making regarding control measures, means of conducting environmental impact assessments and on trapping quelea for food as an alternative to sprays or explosions was also conducted by the research team involved. The project was sponsored by the European Union through the SADC ICART CRARF scheme (project number 9 ACP SAD 1-13) and by the Crop Protection Programme of the UK Department for International Development.


References CHEKE, R.A., ADRANYI, E., COX, J.R., FARMAN, D.I., MAGOMA, R.N., MBEREKI, C., MCWILLIAM, A.N., MTOBESYA, B.N. & VAN DER WALT, E. (2013) Soil contamination and persistence of pollutants following organophosphate sprays and explosions to control red-billed quelea (Quelea quelea). Pest Management Science 69: 386396.

the red-billed quelea Quelea quelea on cholinesterase and haemoglobin concentrations in the blood of target and non-target birds. Ecotoxicology 21:1761–1770. For further details contact Professor Robert A. Cheke, Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich at Medway, Central Avenue, Chatham Maritime, Kent ME4 4TB, UK.

CHEKE, R.A., MCWILLIAM, A.N., MBEREKI, C., VAN DER WALT, E., MTOBESYA, B.N., MAGOMA, R.N., YOUNG, S. & EBERLY, J.P. (2012) Effects of the organophosphate fenthion for control of

Practical training in quelea control (water only being sprayed here!) (Photo: Robert Cheke)

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THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX “There are many ways to skin a cat”! At the BirdLife Botswana Annual General Meeting held in Gaborone during the past quarter, an interesting and thought-provoking presentation on mitigating quelea damage to crops was made by Megan Stewart. Megan is a practising falconer from the United States and spoke about using falcons to systematically deter quelea flocks from crop-farming areas. She has been doing some work with her falcons in the Pandamatenga area, and the results are very encouraging. A controlled experiment was set up where three or four falcons were flown in shifts on a specific farm, and the amount of damage to the sorghum heads was compared with that on a neighbouring farm where there were no falcons (the experimental control). On the farm with the falcons, about 95% of the sorghum crop was intact, while in the control area, only 30 to 40% remained. The falcons are flown for only a few hours in the morning and afternoon, and it is estimated that a total of about 30 falcons would be needed to cover the whole Pandamatenga area. Apart from the obvious success of the method, it is environmentally friendly as it is a natural biological control technique. The quelea do not become quickly habituated to the falcons as they have an innate fear of raptors, and tend to vacate the area where the falcons are encountered. This is worthy of widespread replication elsewhere in Botswana. Inset photo: Lanner Falcon — I White)

R E D D ATA C AT E G O R I E S It is important for every-one to understand the Red Data categories, and for this reason, they are set out in the table on the right-hand side. The overarching term is ‘globally threatened’, and Endangered, Near Threatened etc. are categories corresponding to specific levels of threat. It is also important to note that these are global designations applying to the whole population worldwide.



Extinct EX

No individuals remaining

Extinct in the Wild EW

Some individuals in captivity

Critically Endangered CR

50% chance of extinction in five years

Endangered EN

20% chance of extinction in 20 years

Vulnerable VU

10% chance of extinction in 100 years

Near Threatened NT

Could become Vulnerable if threats not addressed

Least Concern LC

Nothing to worry about

Data Deficient DD

Status unknown due to lack of info

Not Evaluated NE

Self explanatory

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Falcons can be used successfully to minimize quelea damage to crops

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G L O B A L LY T H R E AT E N E D V U LT U R E S There are seven species of vulture found in Botswana, and all but one are globally threatened. They are as follows:

The Hooded and White-backed vultures are more threatened than other vulture species in Botswana

Cape Vulture = VU Egyptian Vulture = EN Hooded Vulture = EN Lappet-faced Vulture = VU Palm-nut Vulture = LC White-backed Vulture = EN White-headed Vulture = VU It comes as a surprise to most people in Botswana to find that the Hooded and, especially, the Whitebacked vultures are at a higher level of threat (Endangered) than the Cape, Lappet-faced and Whiteheaded vultures (Vulnerable). This is because elsewhere throughout Africa these two species have been annihilated, with their populations having declined with alarming rapidity. One only has to read JeanMarc Thiollay’s paper on the declines of large birds in West Africa, or the research results of Virani and others in East Africa to appreciate what staggering declines have taken place in just

over 20 years. Botswana is undoubtedly a stronghold for vultures in Africa, particularly for the White-backed Vulture, and we therefore have a special responsibility to conserve and protect them. The writing is on the wall — there is no room for complacency on our part. Some of the threats to vultures in Botswana are already known, and others are emerging. It is time for concerted action to be taken by all who care about these magnificent birds. Further reading Thiollay, J-M. 2006. Severe decline of large birds in the Northern Sahel of West Africa: a long-term assessment. Bird Conservation International 16: 353-365. Virani, M, C Kendall, P Njoroge and S Thomsett. 2011. Major declines in the abundance of vultures and other scavenging raptors in and around the Masai Mara ecosystem, Kenya. Biological Conservation 144: 746-752.

The Hooded Vulture is taken for granted in Botswana, but may soon disappear (Photo: Pete Hancock)

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PHOTO GALLERY Our Pigeons and Doves are an under-rated Family of birds, possibly because most are common and widespread. There are eight species in Botswana, excluding the European Turtle Dove and Feral Pigeon which are not indigenous.

Speckled Pigeon (P Hancock)

Red-eyed Dove (D Drotsky)

Emerald-spotted Wood Dove (I White)

African Mourning Dove (J Broekhuis)

Pigeons (with few exceptions) generally differ from doves by being arboreal fruit-eaters rather than terrestrial seed-eaters, and by having long squared-off tails (rather than short rounded ones).

PHOTO GALLERY Only one photograph of the African Mourning Dove was found on the BirdLife Botswana flickr photostream. The Emeraldspotted Wood and Namaqua doves are also under-represented, although both are beautiful birds.

African Green Pigeon (I White)

Cape Turtle Dove (P Hancock)

Namaqua Dove (Khalifa

Laughing Dove (P Hancock)

When drinking, doves can suck up water and swallow it without tilting the head back. They are unique in feeding their chicks with a protein-rich secretion from the crop called ’pigeon’s milk’.

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I M P O RTA N T: The recent isolation of the H7N9 avian influenza virus from humans in China has provoked such an unscientific, unsubstantiated reaction among the public that it was deemed essential to provide readers of ‘Birds and People’ with some facts on the issue. This article is based on information provided by the Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds.

AV I A N F L U : T H E FA C T S On 31 March 2013, Chinese authorities reported the isolation of an avian influenza (H7N9) virus from human patients in the People’s Republic of China, the first occurrence of this virus subtype in humans. This virus appears to cause few to no clinical signs in infected domestic chickens, and is thus classified as a LPAI Virus (Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza Virus). To date this particular H7N9 virus has not been isolated in any wild bird species, although there has been one isolate taken from a pigeon classified as “wild.” Since pigeons live in close contact with humans they can be considered “urban” or peri-domestic fauna and do not necessarily reflect the state of true wildlife. Surveillance in wild birds is ongoing in various areas throughout the People’s Republic of China.

Potential Role of Wild Birds in the current outbreak. It is important to note that at this stage wild birds have not been identified to play any role in the spread of this virus. Since infection with this virus will probably not elicit clinical signs in migratory birds, it is more difficult than in previous outbreaks involving H5N1 HPAI to know whether or not the virus is present in their populations. This might change, and continued surveillance is required. Determining whether wild birds are carrying the virus requires large-scale surveillance activities that follow standard methodologies involving safe capture, handling and release of sampled birds. Currently it is impossible to tell what role, if any, wild birds will play in this current situation. Humans who are in

contact with live birds should ensure that normal bio-security protocols are followed to minimize exposure to the Avian Influenza viruses. Additionally, care should be taken to keep domestic poultry and wild birds separate to prevent transmission in both directions. Wild birds are unlikely to be a major concern for the spread of this virus in the coming weeks. While there is a real risk that migratory birds could spread the disease to new areas at some stage, at the moment other pathways for infection such as from live poultry markets or domestic poultry movements are of a higher priority for attention. Information provided by Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds.

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“Wild birds are unlikely to be a major concern for the spread of this virus”

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• • •

Equip yourself with the facts about avian influenza and wild birds.

• •

• •

• •

To date, the avian influenza A/H7N9 strain recently found in humans, domesticated poultry and one possibly wild pigeon in the People’s Republic of China and the Province of Taiwan has never been isolated from other wild birds. At this stage wild birds have not been identified to play any role in the spread of this virus. There is no information available about the effects of this virus on wild birds, although they are unlikely to show clinical signs. Low pathogenic avian influenza viruses are normally found in low percentages in wild waterfowl and other birds throughout the year. Separation between domestic poultry and wild birds should be encouraged to prevent transmission in both directions. The keeping of semi-domesticated free ranging species of ducks in contact with wild birds and poultry is discouraged as this increases the risk of bridging and viral transmission across agro-ecological compartments. Rapid communication of outbreaks and results of surveillance testing are needed to support fact-based decision making. Currently, the main focus of surveillance efforts should be on domestic poultry. Surveillance of wild birds should use standardised methodologies involving safe capture, handling and release of sampled birds. Reporting of surveillance in wild birds should be enhanced and include proper identification of species. Disproportionately blaming wild birds for the spread of the virus, as happened during previous outbreaks of H5N1highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), risks diverting disease control activities and causing negative conservation consequences. The media, academics and disease control agencies are requested to act responsibly when discussing the role of wild birds and avian influenza A(H7N9).

Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds

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M O N I TO R I N G I B A S The Important Bird Area Programme is a well-tested and costeffective conservation approach for monitoring and managing sites where biodiversity is important. It is implemented by BirdLife Botswana in collaboration with the Department of Wildlife and National Parks and community groups living around these sites. The monitoring procedure is simple and brief, and can be done on a day tour at any of the IBAs. Information provided by various monitoring teams is consolidated, validated and interpreted, then publicised in the annual biodiversity status and trends report. This article describes the simple procedure to be followed, and should be read in conjunction with the tables opposite. Monitoring forms can be obtained from myself at the address provided at the end of the article. At the start of each form, the following details of the recorder are required: Name of recorder and contact details. Date and time of survey. Area surveyed. Reason for visit to the area.

The rest of the form is devoted to recording STATE, PRESSURE and RESPONSE at the IBA.

details, and where appropriate give a brief explanation for your choice.

STATE: Condition of the bird populations (Trigger species) and habitat.


A list of trigger species is given for each site, the recorder should give information on: Population estimates/ counts. Units : Pairs, chicks, juveniles. Nests or eggs seen. PRESSURE (THREATS TO THE IBA). To score threats at the site, the guidelines on the next page are provided with explanations for timing, scope and severity. The numbers are there to help you score, but are intended as guidelines only; you don’t need exact measurements to assign a score. RESPONSE (CONSERVATION ACTIONS TAKEN AT THE IBA). On the monitoring form (example on next page), you place a tick next to the text that applies for each of conservation designation, management planning and conservation Action. Please add any

Many approaches are available for site and habitat conservation. According to circumstances, interventions can be from a wide range of policy, legal, communications and community mechanisms. Urgent actions are needed for highly threatened sites where the risk of significant biodiversity loss is greatest. The recorder has to give details of actions and responsible stakeholders. CONCLUSION Monitoring biodiversity at IBAs is a simple but crucial exercise aimed at finding the status and trends of biodiversity. As with other biodiversity indicators, it is meant to raise awareness on environmental issues. BirdLife Botswana’s strategy thus reflects our aim to conserve nature, while retaining a practical emphasis on birds. Lesego Ratsie

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The explanation on this page is to be read in conjunction with the examples on the next page

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Scores for threats Scale





Past, unlikely to return Small area/ few individuals (<10%)

Likely in long term (beyond four years) Some of the area/ population (10-50%)

Likely in short term Happening now (within four years) Most of the area/ Whole area/ population (50-90%) population (>90%) Moderate deteriorRapid deterioraation (10-30%) tion (>30%)


Severity No or imperceptible deterioration (<1%)

Slow deterioration (1-10%)


Scoring threats Type of threat

Scores Timing


Details Severity

Over-exploitation, persecution and control of species Fishing and harvesting aquatic resources

The examples on this page are to be read together with the explanation on the preceding page




In the past, fishermen used to crowd the area, disturbing breeding water birds. Laws & regulations are in place, the community ensures compliance.




People from neighbouring settlements dump domestic waste into the area.



The area has been greatly affected by high temperatures. Water in the lake is half full. Birds have migrated to other waterbodies.

Pollution Garbage and solid waste

Climate change and severe weather Temperature extremes


Response (conservation action) Tick

Action Types

Conservation Designation Whole area of IBA (>90%) covered by appropriate conservation designation Most of IBA 50–90%) covered Some of IBA covered (10–49%) Little/none of IBA covered (<10%) Management Planning A comprehensive and appropriate management plan exists that aims to maintain or improve the populations of qualifying species (‘trigger’ species) A management plan exists but it is out of date or not comprehensive No management plan exists but planning process underway No management planning has taken place Conservation Action The conservation measures needed for the site are being comprehensively and effectively implemented Substantive conservation measures are being implemented but these are not comprehensive and are limited by resources and capacity Some limited conservation initiatives are in place (e.g. action by Local Conservation Groups) Very little or no conservation action is taking place Birds and People No. 38

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The Grey Crowned Crane has recently been uplisted from Vulnerable to Endangered on the IUCN Red Data List. This is in recognition of its declining numbers and threatened status (Photo courteousy W Tarboton).


The first Mallard Anas platyrhynchos in Botswana was recorded by Lappies Labuschagne at Phakalane Sewage Ponds during June this year. This bird is an unwelcome alien in southern Africa, as it is increasing in numbers and interbreeds with our indigenous ducks. Attempts are being made to control its numbers in South Africa, and it is important that steps are taken to prevent this species from becoming a pest in Botswana. If we had done something about the Common Myna 20 years ago, we wouldn’t be faced with such an intractable problem today — let’s not wait for the Mallard to get out of hand! (Mallard photo: R Lloyd Birds and People No. 38

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Membership Form Membership is due in January of each year, as the subscription runs from January to December. Rates • Standard - P120.00 • Corporate - P2000 • Professional – Rangers, Guides and SSG members - P60.00 • Life - P2000 • • • •

Students studying in Botswana – P15 Schools/Clubs – P50 plus P5 per club member with a minimum of 10 members per club SADC Region – P350 Overseas (and outside SADC) – P450

The following details are required: I/We/Dr/Mr/Mrs/Ms:____________ _______________ wish to become members of BirdLife Botswana Address:__________________________________________ _____________________________________________________ Home/Cell Phone:_________________________________________ Work phone:______________________________________________ Email (please PRINT):_______________________________________

I acknowledge that my family dependents, invitees and I take part in the BirdLife Botswana organised events entirely at our own risk. I, in my personal capacity and as representative of my spouse, children, dependents, and invitees hereby keep BirdLife Botswana, its committee, members and agents indemnified and hold them harmless against all loss, injury, or damage to person or property from any cause (including negligence) arising as a result of our participation in events organised by BirdLife Botswana.



Please make your cheque payable to 'BirdLife Botswana' or Electronic Funds Transfer to First National Bank Botswana, Kgale View 284567, Account # 57110052562, Swift FIRNBWGX Please return, fax or mail this form with your subscription and payment details: Gaborone



The Secretary

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BirdLife Botswana

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Game City

Birds and People No. 38


If you’ve ever wondered about the red crest of the Red-crested Korhaan, here is a unique view, taken from behind a displaying male, by Daphne Wilmot. What an extravaganza!


Contact us

BirdLife Botswana PO Box 26691 Game City Gaborone

BirdLife Botswana PO Box 1529 Maun

Tel: 3190540 6865618 Fax: 3190540 Physical address: Unit C1 Old HOORC site Kgale Siding off Disaneng road Plot 1069 KO (the old TEBA complex near St Joseph’s College) Visit our website BIRDLIFE BOTSWANA MISSION BirdLife Botswana aims to conserve birds and important bird habitats, by creating awareness, carrying out research and promoting beneficial relationships between birds and people.

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