The saddle-billed stork is a prized sighting in the Kruger National Park (KNP). Visitors can now share their good fortune in support of science. The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and SANParks are gathering data on the population status of this species in the Lowveld.
With most of these birds resident in the KNP and surrounding game reserves, a joint research project between SANParks and the EWT has been formalised. Visitors can contribute by sending their sightings details, including the location (GPS coordinates if possible), to the EWT. Earlier this month, the research team scanned the Tshokwane, Lower Sabie, Skukuza, Stoltsnek, Pretoriuskop and Crocodile Bridge ranger sections.
"Wildlife census guru Dr Brian Reilly joined in the effort as we endeavoured a modified Mark-recapture technique based on the fact that the Saddle-billed storks can be uniquely identified by their bill markings. Five teams took part in this three-day vehicle census covering routes along all the major water courses and included all the known seasonal pans accessible by road," says Marcelle van Hoven of the EWT.
Though less than expected, the team saw two to three birds on each day. The survey also included recording other raptors and nests, storks and ground hornbills, specifically any evidence of nesting behaviour from the ground hornbills. The 2009 survey participants are André Botha, Scott Ronaldson, Brian Reilly, Jim and Jane Ludlow and Martin Summerley.
The census will be repeated during the dry season in 2010. "The contributions received so far from the public has been of enormous value, and we encourage visitors to Kruger to keep sending in their Saddle-bill Stork sighting details and photographs to firstname.lastname@example.org," says Marcelle.