Articles Posted in the Conservation, Lead category

Natural pest control is such a hoot

October 1, 2009
Posted in Conservation, Lead


Owls are associated with wisdom in some cultures, think of the wise old owl in the Winnie the Pooh stories. But, sadly, those stories are about as close as some kids are ever likely come to the birds.

Not everyone in South Africa would see this as a big loss, though. Owls are feared in many African cultures because they’re associated with back luck and death. Take this story from a Birdlife International news release this week, for instance. A family in Zimbabwe apparently  called their local Birdlife for help because they feared they’d been bewitched by an owl and were apparently afraid for their lives.

The owl turned out to be a white-faced Scops-owl (Otus leucotis), like the one pictured above, that had been hanging around the family’s home for about four months. “The father of the family was very scared and did not want to go anywhere near the tree where the owl was perched”, Rueben Njolomole, BirdLife Zimbabwe’s education officer said. “The owl did not want to leave the source of it’s food, and may have been a domesticated owl which had escaped because it was not scared of humans.”

Owls’ nocturnal calls may seem creepy to some, I suppose, but to others they’re lovely and the birds serve a useful purpose in suburbia. They can eat thousands of rodents each year, reducing the need for other, often poisonous, methods of control.

Birdlife Zimbabwe says it has decided to do something about the negative folklore surrounding owls in that country. Its staff are visiting local schools to educate children about the benefits the birds can bring and the organisation wants to produce a 30-minute documentary for national television to demystify  owls.

In South Africa, owls have much the same image problem. But I just came across a company called EcoSolutions that’s doing its bit to make people in Johannesburg and other urban centres more owl friendly. It has set up an urban owl box project in Gauteng, Northwest and the Western Cape provinces in a bid to give the neighbourhood spotted eagle owls and barn owls somewhere to breed.  The project also entails an education programme in schools.

“Many owls hunt within suburban gardens and although food is available, breeding sites are in short supply,” EcoSolutions says on its website.

So, if you want to do your bit to bring owls back to your leafy ‘burb – and encourage natural rodent control – you can contact EcoSolutions about installing an artificial owl breeding box in your garden – look at their website for more information.

Alternatively, if you’re good with tools, you could build your own owl box, the Endangered Wildlife Trust put together some information on how to do it here.

Picture credit: / CC BY 2.0

SA gets new biosphere reserve

May 30, 2009
Posted in Conservation

Unspoilt bush stretches to the horizon in the Vhembe area of South Africa's Limpopo province. Picture from

Unspoilt bush stretches to the horizon in the Vhembe area of South Africa's Limpopo province. Picture courtesy

The Vhembe region of Limpopo province became South Africa’s sixth biosphere reserve this week, when Unesco announced the addition of 22 new sites to its World Network of Biosphere Reserves.

These sites, part of Unesco’s Man and the Biosphere Programme, are used to experiment with and learn about conservation and sustainable development. In other words, they are “living laboratories” in finding ways to improve people’s relationship with their environment and to reconcile economic development with the conservation of biodiversity.

A golden rhinocerous found at an archeological dig in the Mapungubwe World Heritage Site

A golden rhinocerous found at an archaeological dig in the Mapungubwe World Heritage Site. Pic from

Vhembe is in north-eastern Limpopo, a region of bushveld dotted with iconic baobab trees and abundant animal and bird life. It also has a rich cultural history that dates back to the San and includes the ancient African kingdoms of Mapungubwe and Thulamela.

The new biosphere reserve includes the northern part of the Kruger National Park, the Makuleke Wetlands Ramsar Site, which lies mostly in the Kruger Park, the Soutpansberg and Blouberg biodiversity hotspots, the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape World Heritage Site – an area of mystery and legend which contains the remnants of an ancient African civilisation – and the Makgabeng Plateau, which has more than 1,000 rock art sites.

The main economic activities in the biosphere reserve are agriculture, including subtropical fruit and vegetable farming, cattle and game farming and hunting.

Biosphere reserves share their experience and ideas nationally, regionally and internationally within the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. There are 531 sites worldwide in 105 countries.

Vhembe joins five other biosphere reserves in South Africa. The first, Kogelberg in the Western Cape, was declared in 1998, followed by the Cape West Coast reserve in 2000, the Waterberg reserve and the Kruger to Canyons reserve in 2001, and the Cape Winelands in 2007.

Steenbras river in the Kogelberg biosphere reserve, Western Cape. Pic by Coda ( Creative Commons

Steenbras river in the Kogelberg biosphere reserve. Pic by Coda ( Licenced under Creative Commons

This 100,000-hectare reserve extends from around Gordon’s Bay (about an hour from Cape Town up the east coast) to the Bot River (map) and extends inland to include the Elgin basin and the town of Grabouw. It is at the heart of the Cape floral kingdom and is home to about 1,800 plant species, 77 of which occur nowhere else on Earth. The biosphere includes about 25,000 hectares of marine environment. The main economic activities in the area include apple farming, commercial plantations of pines, and tourism.

A colony of gannets at Lambert's Bay in the Cape West Coast biosphere reserve. Pic

A colony of gannets at Lambert's Bay in the Cape West Coast biosphere reserve. Pic

The biosphere stretches northwards from the Cape Town suburb of Diep River up the west coast to the Berg River, covering 380,000 hectares of coastal lowland plains that are part of the Cape Floral Kingdom. Langebaan lagoon, a Ramsar site, and Dassen Island, a pelican breeding site and African penguin colony, are part of the reserve. Interestingly, it claims to be the only biosphere that has a nuclear power station, an oil refinery and a toxic dump site. The main economic activities are agriculture and fishing.

The Waterberg area is the origin of four of Limpopo province's main rivers and is home to 125 mammal and 300 bird species. Pic courtesy

The Waterberg biosphere reserve. Pic from

The Waterberg savannah biosphere reserve is an area of about 400,000 hectares in Limpopo province, about 2 hours north of Johannesburg. The area forms a wide basin in which the four main rivers of the province originate. It is home to 125 mammal, 300 bird and a number of endemic or Red Data butterfly, fish and reptile species. The area is said to be one of the most important San rock art areas in South Africa. Tourism is the major source of income. People also farm cattle and grow crops, but are many are switching to game farming for ecotourism.

Cape winelands. Pic by Deon Maritz ( under Creative Commons licence

Cape winelands. Pic by Deon Maritz ( Creative Commons Attribution 2.0


The Winelands biosphere reserve extends northwards from the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve and includes the historic towns of Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl, in the Cape’s internationally famous wine-growing region. It protects areas of the Cape Floral Kingdom. The main economic activities include agriculture, manufacturing, tourism and forestry.

Giraffe in Kruger National Park. Pic from

Giraffe in Kruger National Park. Pic from

This reserve covers nearly 2.5-million hectares and encompasses the Kruger National Park and the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve. Three of the Southern African biomes occur in the reserve: grasslands, Afro-montane forests, and savanna. Alongside the extensive tracts of conservation areas there are large, rural developing communities living on tribal land. Economic activities include mining for gold, phosphate and copper, forestry and fruits and vegetable farming.

Read more about biosphere reserves here.

Environmentalists lose appeal against flamingo dam development

April 17, 2009
Posted in Conservation


A baby flamingo at Kamfers Dam taken by the Flamcam webcam on the breeding island, courtesy Save the Flamingo Association

Environmentalists concerned about the future of the lesser flamingos at Kimberley’s Kamfers Dam – one of only four sites in the whole of Africa where these birds breed – received some bad news this week. Their appeal against a decision to allow a massive housing development to be built in close proximity to the dam has been overturned.

Mark Anderson, the ornithologist who was dismissed from his job at the Northern Cape department of tourism, environment and conservation because of his work trying to save the flamingos of Kamfers Dam, broke the news at a talk he gave in Johannesburg on Tuesday organised by Birdlife South Africa to raise funds for the flamingos.

He said the Save the Flamingo Association will now have to take their battle to court, but the Kimberley-based group will need to raise about R1-million to pay for this legal action.

There have been lesser flamingos on Kamfers Dam for decades, but it wasn’t until January 2008 that the flamingos started to breed successfully thanks to an artificial island built for the birds in a part of the dam where disturbances, such as from people and dogs, could be minimised.

A breeding island for greater flamingos in the Camargue, in the Rhone Delta, France, that had been built in the 1970s was something of an inspiration to Anderson. But he and his colleagues were the first to build an island for lesser flamingos. They were amazed at how quickly the flamingos accepted the island, within four days of the completion of the island in 2006, 17 flamingos were spotted on it.

The island was built from 26,500 tonnes of material, mainly calcrete from a local quarry, and is topped with a 200mm layer of clay from which the flamingos make their nest turrets. It’s S-shape provides two sheltered bays and four ponds, which have submersible pumps powered by solar panels, keep the material wet for the birds to build their nests. The island was built with the help of local company Ekapa Mining.

The first breeding attempt on the island in January 2007 was unsuccessful and between May and August 2007 there were no birds on the island at all. Anderson began to worry that he had built a R500,000 white elephant. But then in September, the birds began to arrive and up to 40,000 were counted on the island that month. In January 2008, the first six baby flamingos were seen and by March there were 9,000 of them.

A great milestone had been reached: it was the first time lesser flamingos had bred on an artificial island, but, more importantly, it was the first time lesser flamingos had bred successfully in South Africa. In Africa they breed at Etosha Pan in Namibia, Sua Pan in Botswana and Lake Natron in Tanzania. Lesser flamingos are listed in the Red Data Book because their numbers are declining. The fact that they “put their eggs in too few baskets”, so to speak, doesn’t help. This is an important reason why the Kamfers Dam breeding site should be conserved, says Anderson.

The development, which Anderson says will comprise 6,500 houses and is, at its closest point, 250m from the dam, isn’t the only thing threatening flamingos. Raw sewerage is leaking into the dam from the broken Homevale sewerage works causing the water quality to deteriorate. The Save the Flamingo campaign is trying to persuade the local authorities to take urgent action to prevent the dam from becoming a “polluted cesspool devoid of birdlife, and a hazard to the people of Kimberley”.

The Kamfers Dam flamingos could be a huge ecotourism attraction for Kimberley, says Anderson.

They have now bred successfully for two years in a row. This year there may be as many as 15,000 chicks by the end of the season, says Anderson. Lesser flamingos on Estosha Pan breed successfully on average every 10 years – a comparison that serves to highlight the importance of the new breeding site for Southern Africa’s lesser flamingo population.

A state-of-the-art webcam was installed on the island at a cost of R250,000 last year that allows Mark and the rest of the world to get a rare glimpse at what’s going on among the flamingos – their breeding sites are usually too remote to allow people to get up close and personal. The webcam is not working properly at present – it is thought to have been struck by lightning – and it may be a while before anyone can access the island to fix it. In the meantime, though, Mark’s wife Tania has made some videos using the webcam which you can see on the Save the Flamingo Facebook site. One I particularly like is of a day-old chick on a nest turret.

Mark Anderson accepted a job as the executive director of Birdlife SA shortly before he and two of his colleagues, Julius Koen and Eric Hermann, were suspended by the Northern Cape conservation department for their work trying to save the flamingos in August 2008.

Eric Hermann returned to work late last year, but according to Anderson, Julius Koen is still at home, without access to his pension accrued after working 34 years for the department.

Anderson himself was found guilty on all 17 charges against him at a disciplinary hearing he was unable to attend. But he says he is taking the matter to court.

To find out what you can do to help save the lesser flamingos of Kamfers Dam visit Save the Flamingo‘s website.

Whale warriors head back to shore

February 9, 2009
Posted in Conservation


After some high drama in the Southern Ocean, the Sea Shepherd anti-whaling vessel Steve Irwin and her crew yesterday withdrew from the Japanese whaling fleet and started the return trip to Australia after attempting to obstruct the fleet’s operations for more than a month and save the lives of many whales, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society reports on its website.

Confrontations between the Steve Irwin and the whaling fleet have resulted in numerous close calls and two collisions, says the Sea Shepherd society. The most recent on Friday drew international media attention, when Tokyo accused the crew of the protest ship of violence when it collided with a harpoon ship Yushin Maru 2 in an attempt to block the transfer of a dead whale up the slipway of the abattoir ship Nisshin Maru.

The protesters said that the whaling fleet had used long-range acoustical devices (LRADs) and high-powered water cannons against them, as well as throwing golf balls and chunks of metal. The Japanese claimed that the protesters had hurled bottles of acid at their ship. But the Sea Shepherd said that it was in fact rotten butter.

Japan officially stopped whaling under a 1986 global moratorium, but because of a loophole it is able to hunt whales for research purposes.

Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research describes the Sea Shepherd Society as a “self-righteous terrorist group” and has accused it of illegal harassment and terrorism against the ICR’s research.

Captain Paul Watson said in a statement announcing the end of this year’s Sea Shepherd campaign: “I have always said that we would do everything we can short of hurting people to end illegal whaling in the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary.”

“We have done everything we could with the resources available to us this year. We have shut down their illegal operations for over a month in total. We have cost them money and we have saved the lives of a good many whales. And although we are willing to take the risks required, even to our own lives, I am not prepared to do to the Japanese whalers what they do to the whales and the escalating violence by the whalers will result in some serious injuries and possibly fatalities if this confrontation continues to escalate.”

Japan’s whaling fleet is in Antarctic waters for an annual hunt aimed at catching about 900 whales, Reuters reports.

The Steve Irwin started off in hot pursuit on December 18, following the fleet for more than 3,000km until January 7. It then relocated the fleet on February 1 and since then the whalers had been able to kill only five of the ocean mammals, the Sea Shepherd Society said. “Normally during this period they would be taking 8 to 10 whales per day.”

Captain Watson said that he has been operating at a disadvantage against three harpoon boats that are superior in speed and manoeuvrability to the Steve Irwin. He says he intends to return next year with a ship that is as fast as they are.

“We will never stop intervening against their illegal whaling operations and we will never stop harassing them, blockading them and costing them money. I intend to be their on-going nightmare every year until they stop their horrific and unlawful slaughter of the great whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary,” he said.

Sea Shepherd says it has over 1,000 hours of video footage taken during this campaign which will be used in a series on Animal Planet called Whale Wars. “People can watch and judge for themselves,” the society says on its website.

For an interesting interview with Paul Watson see Mother Jones.

Webcam keeps an eye on flamingo chicks

December 30, 2008
Posted in Conservation


One of the first of this year’s lesser flamingo hatchlings on Kimberley’s Kamfers Dam. Photo courtesy Save the Flamingo Association

Kimberley’s Kamfers Dam now has a live streaming webcam trained on its lesser flamingos which allows researchers and the general public a rare close-up view of a flamingo breeding colony comprising thousands of birds.

The colony is now well into its second breeding season.

Last year about 9,000 chicks hatched on an S-shaped artificial island specially constructed for the birds in the middle of the dam, making it the only lesser flamingo breeding site in South Africa and one of only four on the whole continent.

This year the breeding season started much earlier than last year – the first egg was reportedly spotted at the end of October – and more chicks are expected, says the Save the Flamingo Association, an environmental non-profit organisation based in Kimberley.

The Save the Flamingo Association is trying to conserve the birds’ Kamfers Dam breeding site which is threatened by deteriorating water quality from effluent spilling from a broken sewerage works and from a proposed massive residential and commercial development on a property adjoining the wetland.

In November the Northern Cape department of tourism, environment and conservation gave the proposed Northgate development the go-ahead. The Save the Flamingo Association has lodged an appeal against this decision, it says in an entry on its Facebook site.

The water quality is the more immediate threat to both the birds and the local human residents. A recent newspaper report said that water quality tests show high levels of faecal coliform bacteria in Kamfers Dam, which poses a risk of waterborne gastroenteritis. The dam water also tested positive for Clostridium, which causes botulism in birds.

Kimberley’s ailing Homevale sewage treatment works is reported to be the source of the effluent in Kamfers Dam. But it is part of a much wider problem in the province. In September, the water affairs and forestry minister Lindiwe Hendricks said in parliament that all the sewage works in the Northern Cape were operating below acceptable standards.

The association says it urgently needs funds to (a) conduct water quality analyses, (b) undertake legal action, (c) maintain the flamingo breeding island, and (c) ensure that Kamfers Dam and the adjoining properties are conserved.

The Save the Flamingo Association has set up an online donation system for anyone interested in contributing towards their work at Kamfers Dam.

Meanwhile, the lesser flamingos at another breeding colony, this time on Tanzania’s Lake Natron, have become the stars of a new Walt Disney film entitled The Crimson Wing – Mystery of the Flamingos.

The more than a million flamingos that gather on the shores of the huge soda lake, create an extraordinary natural spectacle, yet few people visit the area, says Birdlife International. According to filmmaker Matthew Aeberhard, “More people have walked on the moon than have been out on the mudflats where the flamingos have their breeding colonies”.

But, according to BirdLife International, a proposed soda ash plant at Lake Natron and the associated infrastructure may displace and scatter the lesser flamingos.

“They [Natron’s flamingos] could be very heavily impacted by minor developments,” Aeberhard said. “A company starts mining here and the water level may change, the salt balance may change”.

BirdLife International is leading a “Think Pink” campaign to conserve Lake Natron.

Guide to Cape Town’s nature reserves

December 18, 2008
Posted in Conservation

ct-nature-reservesIf you ask people why they love living in Cape Town they’ll often tell you that it’s because, no matter where you live in the city, you are never very far away from a nature reserve, a forest, a mountain, or a beach. It’s very condusive to an outdoorsy lifestyle. There are an incredible number of places where you can just park your car and walk for a few hours.

What’s more, Cape Town lies in the unique Cape Floristic Region, which was declared a Natural World Heritage Site in 2004. The region is the smallest and richest of the world’s six floral kingdoms and much of the plant life is found nowhere else. But more than 2,500 of its 9,000 plant species are threatened or endangered.

The City of Cape Town has set aside 24 areas where there are urban remnant habitats to try and conserve the natural heritage.

The city’s department of environmental resource management has produced a booklet – City of Cape Town Nature Reserves. A network of amazing urban biodiversity – with information about the 24 small reserves and natural areas spread throughout the city, which are easily accessible to residents or visitors.

The 63-page booklet, gives you an overview of the vegetation types. There is at least one page on each of the reserves with plenty of photographs, plus details of opening hours, entry fees, activities that you can do on each reserve and the types of species found there.

Contact details for the local friends groups associated with the nature reserves are included in the booklet. Residents of Cape Town are encouraged to become actively involved in conserving their natural and cultural heritage by joining these groups.

The booklet would make a great present for any nature lover who lives in the Cape or is planning to visit. It is apparently available from the Rietvlei, Rondevlei and Helderberg Nature Reserves at R5 per booklet. It is also available from the Botanical Society Bookshop at Kirstenbosch Gardens.

You can also download a free copy of the publication from the City of Cape Town’s website.

Source: BuaNews

Archbishop Tutu is saving the whales

November 28, 2008
Posted in Conservation

Picture: © IFAW, T. Samson

‘This [campaign against the killing of whales] warns us that we are slowly ourselves committing a kind of suicide. If it is not a physical suicide, it is a moral and ethical suicide. For our own sakes we need to recover our humaneness, and our humanity. It is time to say no, no, no! to the killing of whales’ – Archbishop Desmond Tutu

South Africa’s much-loved Archbishop Desmond Tutu, well-known internationally for speaking out against apartheid, is adding his voice to the anti-whaling campaign.

Yesterday, he launched the Sacred Ocean – Global Voices Against the Cruelty of Whaling initiative at the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town by unveiling a 3,4-metre high sculpture named Sacred Ocean by renowned cetacean artist and conservationist Noel Ashton.

The sculpture has been given pride of place in the foyer of Cape Town’s Two Oceans Aquarium.

The installation also features a touch-screen where visitors can register their opinions on whaling and send a “virtual postcard” of themselves and the sculpture to three friends. Tutu cast the first vote via the touch-screen yesterday.

Dr Patrick Garratt, managing director of the Two Oceans Aquarium, said: “The exhibit provides a unique platform for us to gauge public sentiment on the practice of whaling. For the first time ever, people from across the globe will be able to vote for or against whaling and communicate their opinion to the decision-makers.”

Sacred Ocean is a campaign by the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Jason Bell-Leask, the Southern African director for IFAW, said: “As we launch Sacred Ocean to celebrate and save whales, we do so knowing the whaling fleets have already set sail for the Southern Ocean Sanctuary to hunt and kill more than 1,000 whales – some of them endangered species – in a sham called ‘scientific whaling’.

“We believe that IFAW’s Sacred Ocean – Global Voices Against the Cruelty of Whaling will send a powerful message that ordinary, and not so ordinary people, are against the appalling and unnecessary cruelty of whaling.”

The Two Oceans Aquarium, is one of South Africa’s top tourist attractions and annually welcomes thousands of visitors from around the world. If you’re going to be visiting the V&A Waterfront, pop in to the aquarium and register your vote.

The campaign also has its own website.

Disappearing acts: amazing displays of camouflage

November 23, 2008
Posted in Conservation

The footage in this TED lecture by ocean exploration pioneer David Gallo of the way sea creatures can use colour and blend into their environment is truly astonishing.

Conservationists to appeal decision to build near flamingo dam

November 17, 2008
Posted in Conservation

Photo: Flock of lesser flamingo on Kamfers Dam, Kimberley. © Save the Flamingo campaign

The Save the Flamingo campaign and BirdLife South Africa have indicated that they will appeal the decision to allow a massive housing and commercial development to be built next to Kimberley’s Kamfers Dam, South Africa’s only lesser flamingo breeding site, Eleanor Momberg of the Sunday Independent reports.

The Northern Cape department of tourism, environment and conservation gave the Northgate development the go-ahead in a record of decision issued on November 7.

If the appeals are unsuccessful the Save the Flamingo campaign will consider taking legal action to stop the development, Momberg reports.

The Save the Flamingo campaign has been trying to raise money and collect signatures on a petition to urge the authorities to take action to save the flamingos. Not only from the proposed development, but more urgently, to do something about the deteriorating water quality in the dam as a result of the inability of the Homevale sewerage treatment works to process Kimberley’s sewerage. Raw effluent has reportedly been pouring into the dam and surrounding wetlands and affecting the health of the flamingos.

Meanwhile, on the matter of the three officials suspended by the department apparently for their involvement in trying to protect the flamingo breeding site: a department spokesman told Momberg that Eric Hermann of scientific services had been reinstated to his post. The disciplinary hearing of Julius Koen, the deputy director of conservation, has been scheduled for later this month. And world-renowned ornithologist Mark Anderson’s hearing is expected to be held in March 2009. Anderson took up the post of executive director of BirdLife SA in October.

Help to conserve an unspoilt part of Joburg

November 13, 2008
Posted in Conservation

A huge new conservancy area is being established in southern Johannesburg, centred on the Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve in Kibler Park, and you are invited to get involved.

The new Klipriviersberg Conservancy extends over 150 square kilometres. The area has considerable tourism, recreational, cultural, educational and developmental potential, but needs proper and careful environmental management and protection from untoward development. This is why landowners and residents in the area want to establish a conservancy.

The Conservancy lies between the N12 highway to the north, the R59 highway to the east, the R550 and R554 to the south and the N1 highway to the west. It covers urban, rural and pristine, unspoiled and environmentally untransformed areas of land.

The 680-hectare Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve, the largest proclaimed nature reserve in Johannesburg, lies at the centre of the area. A variety of game roams freely in the reserve.

“The ridges, rivers, ruins, residents, reserve and recreation of the conservancy need to be moulded into something we can all be a part of and take ownership in to protect and promote its mix of
cultural, historical and environmental wealth and beauty,” says the Gauteng Conservation Association.

The GCA is inviting anyone who is interested in the conservancy to attend the inaugural meeting and becoming part of the development and establishment of the Klipriviersberg Conservancy.

Date: Wednesday19 November 2008
Time: 18:30 to start at 19:00
Venue: Klipriviersberg Recreation Centre, Peggy Vera Drive, Kibler Park.

The Conservancy is located within the municipal areas of Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Midvaal. It will be registered with the Gauteng Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Environment (GDACE) and it will register as a member of the Gauteng Conservation Association.

  • For more information contact: Clem Kourie (clemkourie [at] gmail [dot] com 082 458 2816) or Andrew Barker (abarker [at] icon [dot] co [dot].za 083 274 4424)
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