A group of 40 red-billed oxpeckers has been flown into the Mountain Zebra National Park near Cradock in August. The birds spent one week in an aviary to 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 flown into the national park by the Mpongo Park near East London, which is also received 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.
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.
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.