From a document by BirdLife SA.
Three charismatic southern African birds heading for extinction
Johannesburg, 15 June 2010: Three of South Africa’s flagship bird species have moved closer to
extinction, according to the 2010 IUCN Red List. The African Penguin’s status has changed from
Vulnerable in the 2009 category to Endangered, the Ludwig’s Bustard from Least Concern to
Endangered and the Southern Ground Hornbill from Least Concern to Vulnerable.
According to Dr Hanneline Smit, BirdLife South Africa’s Conservation Division Manager, “the
decrease in numbers and range of these three birds is great cause for concern”. All three species are
the focus of research and conservation work, but clearly more is needed in order to rescue them
from further population declines.
Mark Anderson, BirdLife South Africa’s Executive Director, confirms that “the populations of all three
these species which almost exclusively occur in southern Africa are rapidly declining due to a variety
of human impacts”.
African Penguins are being severely affected by commercial fisheries and shifts in prey populations,
the Ludwig’s Bustard’s most significant threat is mortalities caused by collisions with power lines,
and Southern Ground Hornbill populations are threatened by habitat destruction.
“It is unfortunate that, during the UN International Year of Biodiversity, some of our most attractive
and charismatic bird species move closer to extinction”, added Smit.
African Penguins are currently the focus of extensive conservation action which is being conducted
by a number of organizations in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape, and a concerted effort will be
needed to lift this embattled penguin from its precipitous population decline. “BirdLife South Africa’s
conservation work on the African Penguin is being funded by the Charl van der Merwe Trust and
Diemersfontein Wine Estate”, said Anderson. “Along the coast of Namibia and South Africa (the only
current breeding sites for the species), only seven islands now support 80% of the global population
which decreased from 141 000 pairs in 1956-1957 to an estimated 25 262 pairs today, representing
a decline of 60.5% over three generations”, explained Dr Ross Wanless, the Manager of BirdLife
South Africa’s Seabird Division.
The bulk of the Ludwig’s Bustard population is found in southern Africa. “The major threat to this
species’ survival is collisions with power lines”, explained Anderson. Work done by Anderson during
the early-2000s showed that every kilometre of transmission power line in the eastern Karoo kills
one bustard per year. “The population cannot maintain these mortalities”, he added. For the
Ludwig’s Bustard, global population estimates are outdated (around 20 years old) and in urgent
need of revision.
Conservation measures proposed by BirdLife South Africa’s Bustard Working Group include
obtaining an updated population estimate, measure bustard collision rates with power lines across
the whole range of Karoo habitats, improve knowledge of how the species visually perceives power
lines and monitor annual movements of the species.
In South Africa major threats to the Southern Ground Hornbill include loss of nesting habitat, mainly
ascribed to land use or clearing for agriculture or by fire. It is being debated whether habitat
destruction by African elephants contribute to the loss of suitable breeding sites. Concerted research
effort has been ongoing at two sites in the Limpopo Province during the past ten years, and a reintroduction
programme is underway at Mabula.” It is essential to investigate the effectiveness of
artificial nesting sites and to prevent further habitat loss of the Southern Ground Hornbill”, said
With sufficient funds, focused conservation projects could see these species populations increasing,
allow their down listing in future Red Lists, and help BirdLife South Africa prevent other bird species
from following the same route.