Cape Parrot Workshop
By William Horsfield
A Cape Parrot Workshop was held at Natal University on Wednesday 6th December. The workshop was organized by the team headed by Prof. Mike Perrin ( Dept Zoology ) that are involved researching the species. Prof. Perrin also heads the Africa branch of the World Parrot Trust. WPT is an internationally active organization based in the UK that is dedicated to the conservation of parrots around the World.
The objective of the workshop was to highlight the plight of the endemic Cape Parrot and to formulate a survival plan to save the species from extinction in the wild. This was the first attempt to coordinate such a meeting in SA and the general consensus was that the meeting was a success and that at last, something had been done to initiate a survival strategy for this severely threatened species.
A committee was nominated that broadly represented those present at the workshop. This committee will be actively involved in the decision making processes now under way as part of the survival plan and will work towards implementing them in such a way as to be most effective.
The Cape Parrot has been granted single species status and has been separated from the former two subspecies. The Cape Parrot is now known as Poicephalus robustus and the former two subspecies as the Grey Headed Parrot, with the nominate being Poicephalus fuscicollis fuscicollis and the subspecies as Poicephalus fuscicollis suahelicus.
It was agreed that the species should be upgraded to CITES appendix1 as soon as possible. This would immediately highlight the plight of the species internationally and restrict any movement of birds for the avicultural trade to those bred legally in captivity. It was felt that this benefit would outweigh the risk of increased demand by the avicultural trade which may lead to increases trapping.
It was motivated that heavier fines and penalties be imposed on those caught illegally holding Capes ( special permits issued by the local Nature Conservation body are required to keep indigenous parrots in captivity) or found trapping them in the wild. Tragically for the species, illegal black-market trapping for the avicultural trade is still taking place and is likely to continue as the species becomes rarer and therefore more sought after. It is hoped that the aviculturalists breeding the species legally will be able to reduce this threat by offering captive-bred pairs to other dedicated breeding facilities to increase the numbers in captivity.
The Kwazulu-Natal Nature Conservation Service (KZNNCS) representatives agreed to enforce stricter monitoring of those holding Capes in our province and it was hoped that the other provincial Nature Conservation organizations would follow suite. It was hoped that particularly the Eastern Cape and KZN could liaise more closely in this regard.
The devastating Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease Virus ( PBFDV) that has been isolated in both captive and wild populations of the Cape was discussed at length and interesting lectures were given on the disease itself and its detection through laboratory techniques.
It was agreed that a compulsory National Studbook be maintained for the captive held Capes. Nature Conservation permit requirements would stipulate that birds on the studbook would have to undergo PBFDV testing and be positively identified using microchip transponders and seamless leg bands.
Current distribution of the species is limited to the Eastern Cape and KZN with unknown numbers in the former Transkei. Taking figures from the annual national census results, it is thought that the total number of Capes in the wild in SA in thought to be less than 500 individuals.
Afro-montane Podocarpus (Yellowwood) forests in KZN being the primary breeding and feeding grounds, have been supplemented with artificial nesting logs to encourage breeding in areas where possible nest-site shortages occur.
During the discussion it was noted that the timber logging industry in the E-Cape is suspected of further depleting the Yellowwoods that are so essential for the species survival. Two mills that are fully operational in the area apparently have 90-year concessions to log dead hardwoods including Podocarpus. Research has indicated that the dead Yellowwood trees are the nesting site of choice of the Cape Parrot. It was a concern that these mills may possibly by harvesting live Podocarpus trees as well as dead trees due to the difficulty ( or lack thereof ) of them being strictly monitored by the relevant authorities.
It was hoped that forestry companies could be persuaded to plant sections of Podocarpus forests in or bordering their existing exotic plantations to encourage Capes ( this has apparently been done in certain areas for other conservation reasons ) and that those farming in areas where Capes are found would plant Pecan Nut trees to supplement the diet when natural foods are scarce. Capes are well known to relish Pecan’s and have historically been shot for damaging such nut orchards.
It was noted that funding for continued research and monitoring of the species as well as for an intensive publicity and educational campaign is desperately needed.
Eco-tourism was discussed as pertaining to the Capes with birding tours already being undertaken to take locals and tourists to see the birds in the wild. A short video was screened taken by American aviculturist Steve Garvin on his recent visit to SA, showing a small group of Capes foraging in the the Donnybrook area of KZN as well as those breeding in captivity at Amazona. This video was filmed in an informal type squatter settlement and concern over how these people came to understand the importance of being educated to protecting and not harming the birds was expressed and discussed. While they are oblivious to the birds at this stage ( and some thought it better that it stay that way ) others agreed that they would soon realize the birds had importance and that this could be dangerous in case they were tempted to trap and sell them.
With regards publicity it was hoped that the birding magazines will feature extensive articles on the Cape Parrot and that local TV programmes like Carte Blanch and 50/50 can be encouraged to do the same.The editor of the avicultural magazine Avizandum kindly offered exposure when articles, press postings or other pertinent information is available. It was also suggested that corporate or private businesses be approached for sponsorship of projects once these are initiated, as part of the recovery plan.
This is a summarized and hopefully not too garbled version of the proceedings. The official proceedings of the 1st Cape Parrot Workshop will be available from the Natal University and this list will be notified when they are available.
The contributor’s and their topics at the workshop were as follows:-
Colleen Downs ( University of Natal ) Habitat requirements and feeding ecology
Craig Symes ( University of Natal ) Breeding and recruitment in the wild
Colleen Downs and Steven Piper ( University of Natal ) Distribution and abundance
Mike Perrin ( University of Natal) L.Sooms ( University of Pretoria ) Paulette Bloomer ( UP ) Molecular systematic, species concept and significance for the Cape Parrot
William Horsfield ( Amazona Endangered Parrot Breeding Facility ) Captive Breeding
Mark Penning ( Umgeni River Bird Park ) PBFDV, symptoms, control and prognosis for the Cape Parrot
Denis York ( Molecular Diagnostic Services ) PBFDV, diagnosis and molecular screening.
Mike Tyldesley, David Johnson ( KZNNCS ) Trade, legislation and CITES status
Ralph Correia ( Rehoboth birds) Elaine Whitwam ( Highcroft Birdfarm ) An aviculturist’s perspective
Mike Perrin, Colleen Downs ( UN ) General discussion.
Video by Steve Garvin & William Horsfield
Cape Parrot Workshop
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