Media Release: Red-billed oxpeckers fly into MZNP
A group of 40 red-billed oxpeckers will be flown into the Mountain Zebra National Park (MZNP) near Cradock this week.
The introduction of this brown-coloured bird with its characteristic red-bill and bright yellow-ringed eye will benefit both the wildlife in the Park and local stock farmers.
Oxpeckers fulfil an important role in the ecosystem, helping to keep wildlife free of parasites. The birds may benefit local stock farmers as they frequent nearby farms and feed on stock parasites. This will reduce the need to use pesticides on stock, thus saving on costs.
The birds will spend one week in an aviary while they acclimatise to the local conditions, before being gradually released into the national park where it is hoped they will settle in and breed.
The oxpeckers were originally caught in the Kruger National Park and will be flown into the national park by the Mpongo Park near East London, which is also receiving 20 of the birds. Mountain Zebra National Park’s Honorary Rangers initiated the oxpeckers project, while the Endangered Wildlife Trust and Stormberg Raptor Rehabilitation Project were instrumental in sourcing the oxpeckers and providing technical advice.
Whilst resident in the aviary, the birds will be fed on a mixture of lean mince and blood, enriched with vitamins, minerals and electrolytes, to replicate their natural diet of ticks gleaned from animals.
Apart from adult and larval ticks, oxpeckers feed on mites, insects such as blood-sucking flies, ear wax, wound tissue, skin flakes and nose fluids. Their presence in an ecosystem thus helps to improve the health of animals.
Red-billed oxpeckers were exterminated in the Eastern Cape in the early 1900s, largely due to the practice of dipping livestock with toxic chemicals. Oxpeckers feeding on dipped cattle would soon fall prey to the poisonous ticks they targeted.
With plenty of large herbivores in the Park such as zebra, kudu, eland and buffalo, the birds will have no shortage of food and the population should multiply.
South African National Parks urges farmers in the area to use oxpecker-friendly pesticides (identified by the oxpecker logo on the bottle) and to report any sightings of oxpeckers on their farms. All birds will be ringed for identification purposes.
Oxpeckers have successfully been introduced to other conservation areas in the past, including Addo Elephant National Park.
Members of the public who would like to assist with the oxpecker project in Mountain Zebra National Park can sponsor nesting boxes which will cater for the initial nesting requirements of the birds. Donors and farmers who want information on oxpeckers-friendly pesticides should contact Dave Smeda of the Mountain Zebra National Park Honorary Rangers on Tel: 083 3244404.
Sightings of red-billed oxpeckers can be reported to the Park on Tel: (048) 8812427 or (048) 8813434.