The Kruger to Canyons region has a chance to find its niche in the biggest sector of the eco-tourism market by creating a birding route in the area. The first step in developing a route that will attract birders from around the globe was taken in Namakgale on February 27, when a project inception meeting was held for the Great Limpopo Birding Route feasibility study.
BirdLife South Africa, in conjunction with mining giant Rio Tinto, is hoping to help create a Kruger to Canyon birding route that can be linked up with a proposed route in Nyslvlei and the existing Soutpansberg-Limpopo and Capricorn-Letaba routes.
BirdLife and Rio Tinto have already worked together to help boost the Zululand Birding Route, which is widely regarded as one of KwaZulu-Natal’s most effective communitybased tourism projects. Worldwide, birders make up the single biggest group of eco-tourists and represent considerable potential income, especially as they often employ guides in an attempt to catch a glimpse of a special bird.
The average birder on the Zululand Birding Route spends about R700 per day, and the attractions of Limpopo’s bird life are not to be scorned. Last year the Soutpansberg Birding Route sold 80,000 bed nights in the region, and a network of birding routes around the province has potential to turn the area into a mecca for international birders.
Duncan Pritchard, who is spearheading the initiative for BirdLife, is hoping to get as many stakeholders involved as possible. Successful birding routes rely on four things – good birding sites, resources like a website, maps and checklists, birder-friendly accommodation and guides.
While birder-friendly accommodation is a must, one of the project’s goals is to help train previously disadvantaged individuals to become bird guides. Through these local bird guides, communities often get a better appreciation of the value of their resources and are more willing to help conserve birding spots as they are deriving benefit from them.
Pritchard says that ultimately they hope to have one central information centre, possibly in Phalaborwa or Polokwane, which can deal with queries and help arrange bookings for guides. As 70 percent of birders plan their outings on the internet, good communications are critical and a central office allows people to book guides whose only telecommunication resource is intermittent access to a cell phone. Phalaborwa Bird Club’s president Johan van Heerden says that this initiative looks like the best one to come their way over the years.
“We are very supportive of this project and will help to get it off the ground.” The first draft of the feasibility study is due in May, and so anyone wishing to get involved in the development of the route needs to get in contact with Pritchard as soon as possible.
Anyone who is keen to get involved on any level, from offering accommodation, guiding, providing input on the area’s best birding sites, being on the committee that will run the initiative in the long term, mentoring local guides or helping develop sustainable community initiatives can contact Duncan Pritchard on 083 2255 960 or via email on email@example.com.
According to Pritchard, the ultimate goal over the next year is to create a web of bird routes all down South Africa’s eastern coast, making an avitourism attraction that is unrivalled anywhere else in the world.