Conservationists are calling on authorities to take a keener interest in the plight of bird life in South Africa. They say the strong emphasis on the poaching of rhino and elephant is having a detrimental effect on less known, but equally endangered species.
The Barberspan Bird Sanctuary is one of the largest waterfowl sanctuaries in Southern Africa. The 2000-hectare body of water is located between Delareyville and Sannieshof, in the North West Province. It is an important drought refuge for waterfowl, which arrive in numbers, to wait out the dry season.
The research team at Barberspan does a bird census four times a year as part of a larger process taking place all over the country and the world.
The team has been joined for the past 12 years by counterparts from the University of G’dansk in Poland. They investigate migratory patterns of the bird, assess how many migrant-birds or specific species there are and also determine if any one of species is under threat, or if numbers suddenly drops.
Bird Migration Research Station University of G’dansk, Poland, Magda Remisiewicz, says that they ring the birds.
“We do ring them, which is marking the bird with a special ring that has a number on; while we take all the details of the bird, the species. We also take measurements of the bird and the we release it. And then some day, later, somebody elsewhere in the globe catches that bird, and then it reports that bird number of the ring that we fit in, then we will learn where did the birds move.”
Manager of Barberspan Bird Sanctuary, Sampie Van Der Merwe, says that the information is then taken to the University of Cape Town.
“So, we take part of that information. It is then sent to University of Cape Town, and that is added to the big picture to see what is happening with migratory birds; and what is the cause maybe, if the population suddenly dips, or there’s some threat for migratory birds.”
Counting each individual bird can give valuable information for scientific research, such as when populations of birds change, those fluctuations may indicate shifts in pollution levels, climate change, habitat loss, migration timing, and more.
Independent researcher, Joel Avni, has called on authorities to provide support.
“We need to interest politicians and decision-makers in the plight of the smaller reserves. Recent concerns with rhinos and elephant poaching have come at the expense of small reserves like Barberspan, which clearly does not pay for its own keep.”
The partnership between the Barberspan Bird Sanctuary and the Bird Migration Research Station of the University of Gdansk has come in handy for the local rangers:
“We’re so happy for the opportunity to go study abroad. Those skills we acquired from Europe, we implement it to our colleagues, whereby we teach them what we were getting from Poland. Those skills are fruitful for us.”
“We do advanced training about bird identification, moulting of birds from different countries. I have a passion to know everything. I am not a lazy woman.”
The Barberspan Bird Sanctuary is a RAMSAR Convention-accredited wetland of international importance for migratory birds and waterfowl. 365 species have been recorded here so far including a number of rare migrants.