Southern ground hornbill African penguin Ludwigs bustard move closer to extinction


Janka Strauss

An update of the three South African flagship bird species that are moving closer to extinction.


The status of the African Penguin has changed from vulnerable to endangered, the Ludwig's bustard from least concern to endangered and the southern ground Hornbill from least concern to vulnerable. There's currently a need to save the African birds.

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".

Death At The Hands Of Human Activity

Affected by commercial fisheries and shifts in prey populations the African penguin is currently facing a battle to survive, while the Ludwig's Bustard most significant threat is mortalities caused by collisions with power lines, and Southern Ground Hornbill populations are threatened by habitat destruction.

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 Smit.

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 For the Ludwig's bustard, global population estimates are outdated (around 20 years old) and in urgent need of revision.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.

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 percent 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 percent over three generations", explained Dr Ross Wanless, the manager of BirdLife South Africa's Seabird Division.

Penguins Suffer under Harsh Weather Conditions

Extreme winds and cold, wet weather have taken their toll on the breeding colonies of African penguins on Addo Elephant National Park's islands in the Eastern Cape.

On June 15, Over 480 penguin chicks died on Bird Island in Algoa Bay. The chicks, aged between a few weeks old and about two months old and covered only with down feathers, succumbed to the cold, wet weather which has hit the Eastern Cape.

With incidences of harsh weather, it is common for approximately one third of a penguin population's chicks to be killed. However with only 700 breeding pairs of African penguins on Bird Island, the death of over half the populations' chicks presents an added threat to the dwindling numbers of penguins.

The African penguin has ?recently been reclassified as an endangered species due to its declining population across South Africa. There have also been penguin chick deaths on St. Croix Island nearby Port Elizabeth where the largest breeding colony of African penguins in South Africa about 3 000 breeding pairs resides.

Current Conservation Efforts

Four baby penguins have hatched at the Johannesburg Zoo and are now being raised by the staff. The zoo is now home to 31 African Penguins after the birth of of one chick in June, and another three in July.

Regarding efforts to save the Southern Ground Hornbill, the SGHP project is now currently running in its 10 year. The project monitors all 23 Ground Hornbill groups in the Klaserie, Timbavati and Umbabat nature reserves. In South Africa, there are currently a total amount of 1 500 Southern Ground Hornbill.

The Ludwig's Bustard is near endemic in southern Africa and thought to be in decline because of mortality caused by power lines.



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