National parrot project saves forests

The iziKhwenene Project is a small project in the Eastern Cape with huge intentions to plant South Africa’s national tree to save the national parrot.

Cape Parrots – known as iziKhwenene in isiXhosa – are one of the most endangered bird species in South Africa, and the most endangered parrot species in Africa.

The project uses the parrots as an icon to help conserve the degraded mountain mist-belt forest in the Amathole Mountains where the birds nest and feed.

The project is planting thousands of the national tree, the yellowwood, every year in forest patches. Yellowwoods are slow growing and the cutting and burning of indigenous forests are having a devastating impact on the remaining Cape Parrot populations.

The project has set up a micro-nursery model that sees about 40 local community members employed to plant trees, collect seeds, construct nest boxes for parrots and help with appropriate bush clearing.

So far, the project has established 10 such micro-nurseries in eight partnered villages, at homes and at schools.

Each nursery houses 100 to 400 seedlings and if the grower is successful he or she expands the small enterprise.

The aim is to involve 25 local villages in growing yellowwoods. Project volunteers use SMSes to communicate with the network of local growers and to convene monthly meetings in all the villages.

Founder of the iziKhwenene Project Steve Boyes says: “We see the iziKhwenene Project as a multi generational project that needs to capture the imagination of local communities into the future. So, in a way, we are ‘greening the future’.”

This is a win-win situation – the local communities gain heritage rights to the mountains and forests while the Cape Parrot gets a second chance at survival.

Local schools and universities are benefiting from planting trees on their campuses as part of a “Green Campus Initiative”.

The Wild Bird Trust was set up to guarantee that all funds donated or granted to the project go to community-based conservation action.

“We are mindful of succession, capacity-building and partnerships with local government and other stakeholders,” says Boyes.

“We are in the local villages every week, educating local communities about the importance of conserving their natural heritage.

“The restoration of our grand national forests has begun.”

The project has planted more than 25 800 indigenous trees, erected 258 wooden nesting boxes for the Cape Parrots and has established a sanctuary for rehabilitating sick and injured Cape Parrots.

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