The avitourism industry in South Africa has grown significantly in the past few years, with the Kruger to Canyons Birding Route being established for the enjoyment of local and international visitors. The route is spread out across three types of vegetative biomes, namely Montane grassland, Afro-montane Forest and Savanna.
The diversity of habitats has created a kaleidoscope of 510 bird species, of which 8 are endemic to the region. The routes can be explored alongside trained guides, who are members of the nearby communities and can assist you in finding the species you seek. By shaping the country's avitourism industry, South Africa is not only drawing tourism to its branches, but also providing sustainable opportunities for local communities to develop.
Offering advice on which routes to take during which time of the year, avitourism has become a largely interactive industry, making it easier for birders to experience a successful birding vacation. Birding tour operators and community bird guides can increase the chances of spotting rare species as numerous monitoring and research have taken place in the region.
Local birders have the great advantage of joining the various nationwide bird clubs and make their contribution to the conservation of these wonderful species.
A Promising Partnership
BirdLife South Africa, in conjunction with mining giant Rio Tinto, initiated the idea with the hope of creating 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 community based 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. In a single 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 (such as 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.
According to Pritchard, an essential goal was creating a web of bird routes all down South Africa's eastern coast, making an avitourism attraction that is unrivalled anywhere else in the world.
Kruger to Canyons Birding Route