The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment today marks World Migratory Bird Day 2021, a day set aside annually to raise awareness and educate the public on the plight of migratory bird species.
This is an international day initiated in 2006 by the United Nations Environment Programme with the aim of raising awareness about the need for the conservation of migratory bird species, and their habitats, as well as the threats facing these species. The Day, which is marked in May and October annually, is also an effort to raise awareness about the need for international cooperation to conserve bird species that migrate between the northern and southern hemispheres at certain times of the year.
Hosted under the auspices of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), an international body of the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA), World Migratory Bird Day 2021 is being celebrated under the theme "Sing, Fly, Soar - Like a Bird!". This is the only international day in celebration of birds.
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, birds have continued to fly and soar between their breeding and non-breeding sites. For many people around the world, bird song has been a source of comfort and joy during the pandemic, with a new level of awareness and appreciation of birds developing, particularly amongst the millions of people working from home during the pandemic.
World Migratory Bird Day 2021 is also an important moment to reflect on the global relationship between humans and nature, and to highlight a collective desire to do more to protect the environment, including birds, as the world emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic.
As South Africa enters winter, most migratory birds have already departed for their summer habitats north of the equator for the summer, returning to southern shores in the spring. Most bird species migrate to areas where there is abundant food and nesting grounds annually. However, large numbers of birds are killed on their return flight from the Northern to the Southern Hemisphere due to anthropogenic behaviour, including netting birds for food, deforestation and pollution.
In South Africa, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment is collaborating with Ezemvelo KwaZulu Natal Wildlife and BirdLife South Africa in developing a community project at the Ntsikeni Nature Reserve, which is one of the few sites in Africa that is home to the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail bird (Sarothrura ayresi). The project was identified by the White-winged Flufftail International Working Group under AEWA at its 2019 meeting in South Africa as an important site for the conservation of the species.
The Ntsikeni Nature Reserve in southern KwaZulu-Natal is situated within the Southern Drakensberg Strategic Water Source Area protecting one of the largest high-altitude wetlands in South Africa, which is also a Ramsar site (a wetland of international importance).
The Ntsikeni Vlei and surrounding grasslands support high levels of biodiversity, including regionally threatened, rare and endemic species. Besides a number of buck and other species, it is also home to critically endangered Wattled Cranes (which are also listed in the AEWA list), endangered Southern Ground Hornbills and African Marsh Harriers, and Vulnerable Short-tailed and Yellow-breasted Pipit, Denham's Bustard, the Striped Flufftail and African Grass Owl. The reserve is also home to a roosting colony of endangered Cape Vultures and a pair of critically endangered Bearded Vultures.
The nature reserve, which has two lodges - one for school groups and conferences and the other providing exclusive eco-tourism accommodation - is owned by the local community and administered by the Ntsikeni Liaison Forum. It presently employs 15 local community members through Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.
The aim is to, through the collaborative community project, develop eco-tourism opportunities and avitourism, restore the habitat in the reserve and develop and enhance existing infrastructure. It is estimated that the projects will employ a minimum of 100 people.
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