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Namibia Animal Rehabilitation Research & education Centre (NARREC)
By Liz Komen
Namibia is home to over 700 species of birds. They inspire dreams of flight, visits to our country, and sometimes they inspire real, vital change. In 1985, the late Dr. C J Brown, who was then the ornithologist for the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, embarked on a project looking at the population decrease of Tawny Eagles in the Khomas region.
The Tawny is a scavenger, and as such, these birds are often the first to arrive and eat at a carcass. One of the birds tracked in Brown’s study was found injured. Brown took him to the Namibia Animal Rehabilitation Research & Education Centre (NARREC), and today this Tawny Eagle is NARREC’s oldest permanent resident at 37 years old.
Founded in 1988 by Liz Komen, NARREC is a nationally utilized centre for the treatment, care and rehabilitation of wildlife. Over the years, NARREC has received a variety of small mammals and reptiles, but most animals it receives are birds.
NARREC’s goal is the successful release of wild animals back into their natural environment, but when this isn’t possible, the animals find a permanent home at NARREC. They become ambassadors for their species, and an inspiring part of an informative educational environment for visitors.
NARREC provides a guided environmental education programme to students from pre-primary through tertiary level, as well as for in-service trainees. NARREC’s outreach programme provides relevant information on local wildlife species. This information aims to support biodiversity in general and birds in particular. Posters and booklets have been developed to increase awareness on the links between natural and social environments that create risks for and threats to wildlife.
The Go Green Fund acknowledged the importance of this outreach and supported a successful campaign on Namibian bird species. The Go Green Fund provided funding for the second print run of two posters and two booklets, one on the “Large Birds of Prey – Namibia” and a second on the “Owls of Namibia”.
These resources have proven to be a great success in primary, secondary and tertiary education, as well as being highly regarded as attractive and useful information for the local public and international tourists. They remain in demand and can still be found in many tourist facilities and school libraries throughout the country.
The booklet “Predators on Livestock Farms in Namibia” is a resource for the farming and land-owning community that was developed by NARREC and printed in English and Afrikaans. It was also funded by the Go Green Fund.
“Predators on Livestock Farms in Namibia” examined questions of responsible predator management by providing an outline for each act of management together with the pros and cons. The booklet provided valuable information to Namibian farming communities and warranted a second print run.
Poisons and pesticides
At the same time, a second booklet, “Poisons & Pesticides – a guide to safe use,” was published by NARREC. For well over a decade NARREC, in cooperation with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, has campaigned for personal and environmental safety from persons using poisonous chemicals in a natural environment. To a large extent the campaign has focused on the issue of secondary and non-target poisonings. In Namibia and elsewhere, it is the insectivorous animals and the scavenging birds of prey that become non-target victims of poison use.
The third revision of the “Poisons & Pesticides – a guide to safe use” booklet is in press; and though there are new issues concerning poaching and killing vultures with poison on carcasses, a remarkable decrease in poisonings reported from livestock farms has been noted.
From its base in Brakwater north of Windhoek, NARREC has fed free-flying vultures for many years. In 2012, in cooperation with Meatco’s Okapuka feedlot which supplies NARREC with carcasses unfit for human consumption, the feeding has intensified into the “vulture restaurant” project.
This project serves a number of interrelated activities embarked upon by NARREC since its inception. Threatened and endangered avian scavenging species, such as Tawny Eagles and vultures, have a feeding place with uncontaminated food where they can eat, and marked or ringed birds can be recorded, as an essential step in the monitoring process of endangered species’ populations that are in decline.
NARREC has taken the idea to farmers explaining the setting up of vulture restaurants/ feeding sites with a pamphlet. This is an innovative way for farmers to assist and utilize our magnificent birdlife and reach out to visitors. Vulture restaurants or vulture feeding stations can provide diversification for income generation from tourism on a domestic livestock or game farm. But if just one farmer belonging to a conservancy or a farmer association starts such an income-generating project, then any farmer using poison to eliminate predators can damage the initiative.
For scavenging birds of prey, it only takes a single farmer to ignore or refuse local, national and global information concerning sustainable living and biodiversity, and a secondary victim, though usually many more than one, is created.
Namibia is fast becoming one of the most popular adventure travel destinations in the world. Our country’s wildlife, spectacular landscapes and interesting cultures attract visitors that often sport great binoculars and camera equipment. To capitalize on the growing number of “eyes” in the field, NARREC has taken environmental education to another dimension, namely citizen science. A crowd-map is a Google-map which has been created in such a way that any person can submit a record when they sight a tagged or ringed bird. The places where birds have been resighted can be seen on the crowd-map.
In order to encourage collaboration on the monitoring of endangered species, this open platform has been developed under Vultures Namibia. For more information and to become involved in this citizen science project, go to
www. vulturesresightings.crowdmap.com or find the link through www.narrec.net
NARREC – into the future
NARREC’s original role of encouraging health and welfare of animals, specifically of injured wildlife, and caring for its permanent residents is more than a full-time job; but given the need for raising awareness and protecting our biodiversity, NARREC’s outreach and advocacy continues to expand.
NARREC produced a pamphlet on vulture restaurants, as well as a list of pharmaceutical/veterinary medicines that are dangerous for scavenging birds if the treated animal dies. A new publication is in print, highlighting the need for recording, sampling and reporting poison events, so that there will be a better opportunity to concentrate on the actual chemicals currently being used, especially in poaching events for ivory, rhino horn, etc.
NARREC and its partners have extended the animal rehabilitation and release roles into citizen science, vulture monitoring, and assistance in dealing with the illegal pangolin trade. NARREC is also involved in the advocacy for a new Animal Welfare Act.
The strength of NARREC’s message lies in its necessity. The threats to our wildlife, our greatest natural resource, are increasing. Through its books, outreach and advocacy, NARREC encourages Namibians not only to learn, but also to take
- Birds are the most commonly seen wild animals
- Their population changes, seen as an increase or decrease in numbers or as a change in species composition, are very clear environmental indicators
- Development impacts all species, but the irresponsible marketing and use of some poisonous chemicals is accelerating the decrease of population numbers in many species at an unsustainable rate
- Predatory birds being at the end of food chains are most often victims of acute or accumulative poisonings
- NARREC initiated a rehabilitation and environmental education program and from its inception developed a holistic environment using alternative technologies for power, water and construction
- Over the years Nedbank’s Go Green Fund has provided resource material funding to increase positive perception and knowledge
of birds of prey and dangers posed by uninformed individuals