New Project Focused on Large Birds Launched in Kruger

Keep an eye out for large birds in the Kruger National Park (KNP) - this includes birds such as the kori bustard, large raptors, vultures, saddle-billed storks and the southern ground hornbill.

This is the message from Scott Ronaldson, the new co-ordinator for a Lowveld Large Bird Project, which is being run by the Birds of Prey Working Group of the EWT (Endangered Wildlife Trust). This extensive project will look at a number of aspects surrounding these large birds focussing on a detailed monitoring programme, including a ring or tag re-sighting programme.

This will involve looking for indinvidual birds that have been previously ringed or tagged to see how far they have moved since they were tagged. This will provide information about the distribution and movement patterns of these birds.

All of the data will feed into a national database, so that the EWT Birds of Prey Working Group can get an idea of how well these unique birds are coping with environmental changes across South Africa. Additional information will be collected by nest monitoring using unobtrusive spy cameras discreetly placed at active nests to see what prey the parents are bringing home for the chicks to eat.

Monitoring will also include so-called "fixed route monitoring" which involves looking for specific species and their nests using aerial fly-over techniques from the SANParks Bantam aircraft.

Species that are under the spotlight for this monitoring technique include the lappet-faced vulture and white backed vultures, both of which use tall trees as nesting sites. Information from this component of the project will be used to look at the possible impacts elephants may be having on the nest site availability and breeding success of tree nesting raptors and ground hornbills in the park

This Lowveld Large Bird Project has been registered with SANParks' scientific services based in Skukuza and the information collected will add considerable knowledge of the large bird population dynamics in the KNP. This important information will be used to create a clearer picture of the large birds of the lowveld and help to guide the conservation initiatives to protect these valuable species.

As the new EWT coordinator in the Lowveld, Scott's responsibilities will include organising and par¬ticipating in the Cape vulture census at Manoutsa and the taita falcon census on the escarpment. Within the boundaries of Kruger, ongoing surveys of the elusive Pels' fishing owl will be conducted along the Luvuvhu and Olifants rivers. "My responsibilities will also involve networking and liaising with managers, wardens, and the public to increase the general awareness of the important role raptors and large birds play in our Lowveld ecosystems," says Scott. 

"We welcome assistance from the public, game wardens and wildlife managers especially for sightings of the southern ground hornbill and raptor nest sites" says Scott. "We know of 39 southern ground hornbill nest sites in Kruger and lots more monitoring and follow-up work needs to be done in this area" explains Scott.

By Michele Hofmeyr

Kruger National Park - South African Safari