/ 1 November 2010

Conservation body warns over SA bird species

As alarm bells continue to ring over big declines in world biodiversity, conservationists on Monday warned a number of South African bird species are now moving towards extinction.

Among those flagged on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List earlier this year is the charismatic African penguin, which has declined in numbers by 60,5% over the past 28 years, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) said in a statement.

“[This is] primarily due to food shortages linked to commercial fishing and recent large-scale changes in fish distributions.”

EWT said other severely threatened bird species in South Africa include various types of cranes, the Taita falcon — down to no more than 25 adult individuals — and the southern ground hornbill.

“Of the 9 856 bird species on Earth, 1 226 are listed as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable. Forty of these occur in South Africa, and of these 20 are endemic.

“Although extinction is a natural phenomenon, species are now disappearing from our planet at an alarming rate, and studies have shown that this is mostly driven by human activities.

“In South Africa, a number of birds are listed on the IUCN Red List, with several heading for extinction should some of the threats continue and should the NGOs who are implementing conservation action halt their important work.”

The IUCN Red List, a ranking of the conservation status of species, runs from those categorised of least concern, through vulnerable to endangered to critically endangered, to extinct at the other end of the scale.

EWT said only about 250 wattled cranes (Bugeranus carunculatus) remained in South Africa.

“Recent surveys in Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia, countries long thought to be strongholds for the wattled crane, show that the global population is only half of what has been reported in recent years.

“Some of the greatest losses have occurred in South Africa, where a 38% decline between 1980 and 2000 left the national population critically endangered. Only about 250 individuals remain in South Africa, mostly concentrated in isolated pockets of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.”

‘Mainstreaming biodiversity is key’
Recent South African species Red List “uplistings” included the grey crowned crane (Balearica regulorum) and the black crowned crane (Balearica pavonina), both uplisted to vulnerable. The southern ground hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri) had been upgraded from vulnerable to endangered.

EWT called for a strengthening of the international Convention on Biological Diversity targets. South Africa is a party to the convention.

“While the 2010 target to ‘significantly reduce the rate of biodiversity loss’ has not been met, this must serve as a driver for even stronger targets and more urgent action to reduce net biodiversity loss.

“Mainstreaming biodiversity is key, and to this end biodiversity values must be incorporated into national accounting,” EWT said.

The United Nations has declared 2010 to be the International Year of Biodiversity. A string of reports, conferences and media releases have highlighted the alarming rate of biodiversity loss that is occurring around the globe. — Sapa