– not extinct (yet)
Text and photographs Pompie Burger
Text and photographs Pompie Burger
O f the nine critically endangered birds, I had the wonderful opportunity to tick five of them in my short and illustrious career as a birder and bird photographer. Looking at the remaining four birds I think I will have to do some traveling and boating to increase my hit list. The Black-cheeked Lovebird (Agapornis nigrigenis) is probably the most likely bird to tick, because a short trip across the Zambian border, with the help of Katy Sharp of Tutwa Tours, there is a very good chance of increasing my list to six. Apparently these lovebirds used to occur in the Zambezi Region, but unfortunately this is not the case anymore. If you do see one of them in the Zambezi, well done! The main reason for their decline is funnily enough because of humans! Parrot trade has become a massive industry in our time and subsequently a serious problem. The sooner we (world leaders?) realise it and do something about it, the better.
The good news is that waterholes or troughs for cattle and growing millet may increase the numbers again and encourage the return of these lovely birds to the north.
As for my favourite bird, the Pell’s Fishing Owl (Scotopelia peli): with a total population in southern Africa of less than 500 pairs, Namibia is unlikely to have more than 45 pairs. Their favourite roosting tree is the mangosteen (Bob Marley tree), so your best bet trying to find one will be to listen to the music. An even better option is to try and find somebody who knows where they roost. The main reason for their decline is degradation of riparian woodland. If you have not seen one of these owls yet you are in good company. Again, a short crossborder trip to Drotsky’s Cabins will be a good start.
Any religion or philosophy which is not based on a respect for life is not a true religion.
– Albert Schweitzer –
The Blue Crane (Grus paradisea) is a bit of an enigma in Namibia. Only about 12 pairs still occur in the country, with the most constant population in Etosha. A certain spot is the Salvadora waterhole, but the Andoni gravel pit and the area west of Namutoni are also good options. Interestingly the largest congregations are found during the dry season, an indication that a large number of the birds move elsewhere to breed. Contrary to this theory the pair at Salvadora has again raised a chick this summer (2017) and has stayed over for the season. The largest other populations in southern Africa are in the south-eastern Cape. None of the Namibian sub-group has ever been recorded to move to those areas (this is probably purely political). The big threats to the Namibian population are genetic isolation, human encroachment and water availability.
The reason why Cape Vultures (Gyps coprotheres) still occur in Namibia is not because of all the Stormers supporters in the country. Apparently Cape Vultures used to be quite common, with a population which almost matched that of the Lappet-face Vultures. The big culprits in their decline are poisoning, traditional use and electrocution by power lines, as with all vultures. Currently the only breeding colony is found in and around the Waterberg area. Liz Komen from NARREC is doing her best to raise awareness among farming communities of their importance. Maria Dickman has also done a lot of work for the Cape Vultures, especially resettling them in the Otjiwarongo area.
The biggest misnomer in the ornithological community is probably the Grey Crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum). If ever you have seen one, you will agree that this beautiful bird deserves a much more impressive name than Grey Crowned Crane. This one was probably given by someone sitting in a grey office with a grey suit, and a grey wife and grey children at home. If I looked like one of these beauties, I would probably also have moved on to where people can appreciate my beauty and give me an appropriate name. The grasslands north of Etosha (it is not inside, it’s on top) have the only population known in Namibia. The last observation was between 2007 and 2014 with only four birds recorded. To be quite honest, my only sighting was outside Namibia at Kafue in Zambia.
If this sounds a bit arrogant please forgive me, but I am probably one of a rather selected few living specimens who have seen an Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) in Namibia. Obviously, I was at that moment not aware that I was on the verge of becoming famous, but luckily I took a picture and showed it to Chris Brown who advanced me from being an ordinary birder to becoming a world famous ornithologist. This was an immature bird which fits in with previous sightings. My location of glory was in Mahango Game Park and I have the T-shirt/picture to prove it (there are rumours that they will soon erect a statue of me alongside an Egyptian Vulture in the park). As is the case with all vultures, their decline is mainly a result of poisoning. Because they use stones to break other birds’ eggs to eat, it might be that their extinction is the result of a lack of stones in the north.
Unfortunately, apart from the Black-faced Lovebirds, this is the end of my contribution to seeing any of the critically endangered species. The other three species that I still have to find (see wish list) are the Eurasian Bittern (Botauris stellaris), Tristan Albatross (Deomedia dabbenena) and the Greater Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristata). As far as the Tristan Albatross is concerned, my chance of ever seeing one would be that somebody invited me to Tristan da Cunha or Gough Island where well over 1700 pairs still occur (again outside Namibian waters). The Greater Crested Grebe were reported at Mile 4 salt works near Swakopmund and Walvis Bay sewage works, so if they are still around it seems that nobody gives a damn about their dilemma. I think I might have seen one way back in the eighties at the sewage works, but then again you can never count on my unreliable memory and identification skills. The Eurasian Bittern is apparently easier found by its booming call than by seeing it. There are about 100 left in the swamp areas along the Zambezi.
Looking through the list and the places where I saw these endangered species, it is no surprise that they are indeed becoming extinct in Namibia. The sadness that remains is that all of this could have been prevented if it was not for human intervention. Hopefully this trend will not continue and the list of critically endangered birds does not become part of the extinct species list, or even worse, the list of birds increases. Looking at the efforts by our conservationists and government I still think (hope) that we can turn this trend around in time.
Special thanks for the information I got from Birds to Watch in Namibia by Simmons, Brown and Kemper
This article was first published in the Travel News Namibia Autumn 2017 issue.