BirdLife Partners in Africa recently convened an inaugural meeting in Botswana in March 2008, to review progress in the 'Monitoring of Important Bird Areas (IBAs) and Protected Areas'.
The meeting marked the first step in a four-year programme, funded by the European Commission and managed by the RSPB (BirdLife Partner in the UK), which aims to allow governments, NGOs and local communities to work effectively together in assessing the status and protection of some of Africa's most precious birds areas.
The Gaborone meeting participants shared their experiences, achievements and knowledge gained during the project's first year. "These meetings will enhance conservation of birds and their habitats by taking stock of what has happened in the first year of project implementation and taking concrete measures that will involve different stakeholders in monitoring the IBAs that are protected areas in Africa' remarked Dr Julius Arinaitwe (BirdLife Africa Partnership Secretariat).
The IBA programme of BirdLife International is a worldwide project aimed at identifying, monitoring and protecting a network of critical sites for the world's birds. Botswana has identified a suite of IBAs, and designated more than 17 percent of its land area under protection. Speaking of her experiences so far, Majophoko (director of the department of wildlife and national parks, Botswana), emphasised that governments are: "increasingly realising that successful conservation projects cannot be undertaken without NGOs".
The meeting also served as a sobering reminder that biodiversity resources are currently threatened by habitat loss, rampant extraction of wood, pollution and invasive species. However, Mark Thill (European Commission) provided a positive message to the delegates, stating that: "it is pleasing to note that BirdLife International is addressing the issues around globally threatened [bird] species."
A key outcome from the gathering was that, in the first year alone, the project made substantial progress towards ensuring effective monitoring of IBAs and protected areas in Africa. Looking forward, the participants also discussed:
The assembly could not have come at a more opportune time for the host country, Botswana. BirdLife Botswana has just signed a contract with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to undertake a pilot exercise undertaking bird-watching trips in the Mannyelanong Hill IBA. The area is just one of two locations within the country used by vulnerable breeding Cape vulture Gyps coprotheres.
The new project is an exciting eco-tourism opportunity, which will help to promote and secure conservation plans for the species. In preparation, BirdLife Botswana has been training local community site support groups on aspects of providing bird tours.