Monday, 25 July 2011

SA's bird life under threat from environmental changes

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Southern Africa's estimated 935 species of bird account for a rich heritage of bird life in the country. Yet with global statistics indicating that 12.4% or 1226 of the world's total bird population is threatened with extinction, there is little doubt that South Africa's own birds are threatened by the changes to the global environment.
South Africa's natural habitats are under threat from unsustainable and irresponsible economic development as well as global environment changes, but little is known of the extent that these changes have impacted on our bird life. Birds are considered indicators because they are sensitive to the environmental changes that occur in their habitats, making it vital that we gather information about how they are adapting to current environmental situations.

Along with Sappi Limited, BirdLife South Africa is gearing up to raise awareness of our bird diversity by encouraging South Africans to take part in the Sappi/BirdLife SA Birding Big Day. From midnight of the 28th of November to midnight of the 29th of November, thousands of birding enthusiasts all over the country are expected to take note of the many birds that populate South Africa's diverse habitats.

Andre Oberholzer, Sappi's Group Head Corporate Affairs called on South Africans to mark the 29th of November down as the day to go out, along with friends and family, to see how many birds can be identified. "You will not only have fun, but you will have the satisfaction of helping record the presence of South Africa's amazing number of bird species," says Oberholzer.

The birding event has been run by BirdLife South Africa for over 20 years. Sappi's involvement as the title sponsor for 2008 has been warmly welcomed. Mark Anderson, Executive Director of BirdLife SA said, "[Sappi's] support for the Birding Big Day will help to underscore the importance of avian biodiversity for South Africa's development and allow us to grow this exciting event to its potential."

The event sees teams of three or more people across the country competing to see how many bird species they can spot during a twenty-four hour period, between midnight and midnight, within a 50 km radius of a central point. Teams can be composed of school groups or family groups, while there is a garden category which enables teams to spot birds in one garden. There is also a new South African Bird Atlas Project 2 category, which allows for the collection of scientific data about birds.

At present, the second Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP2) is underway in which volunteer birdwatchers, or citizen scientists, submit lists of birds seen in defined areas (that are called pentads). By helping determine the distribution of birds and changes in abundance over time, birdwatchers will assist scientists in getting a better picture of how environmental changes are affecting birds in South Africa.

By recording and then submitting their lists, participants of the Sappi/BirdLife SA Birding Big Day will be assisting BirdLife SA to record the presence of South Africa’s bird species.

Birding is one of the fastest growing hobbies in the world. In a world of electronic wizardry and instant communication, the Sappi/BirdLife SA Birding Big Day offers you the chance to assist in gathering information about our wildlife, but it is also a chance to unwind and get to know more about South Africa's incredible biodiversity.

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