World Bird News June 2008

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Stop seabird slaughter through EU Fisheries Policy


BirdLife International presented the European Parliament with alarming data about the extent of seabird bycatch globally and in Europe yesterday. At the same time, BirdLife welcomed the long awaited first steps of the European Commission to tackle the problem by developing a Community Plan of Action on seabirds with the intention of completing it next year.
“With 300,000 seabirds, including about 100,000 albatrosses, dying annually as bycatch in longline and trawl fisheries - which include many vessels operating under EU flags - the European Community (EC) has the responsibility to put in place effective measures to tackle this readily solvable problem” said Dr Euan Dunn, Head of the Marine Policy at the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), in a presentation at the Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament.
“Without urgent action on the ground, Critically Endangered Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus - numbering just over 2,000 breeding pairs and experiencing a steady decline in recent years - is threatened with extinction in the next few decades. Bycatch in longlines is thought to be the major threat for the species, most likely causing the death of hundreds of birds annually. The recent case of 54 Balearic and 18 Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus being caught on a single longline close to Medes Island, off the Catalan coast, illustrates the gravity of the problem”, Dr Dunn added.
BirdLife International’s message to the European Parliament is that it is easy to eliminate seabird bycatch by applying simple and inexpensive measures on deck. BirdLife also made the case that it is essential for the Community Plan of Action to be robust and underpinned by legislation, enforcement and further research. Measures to prevent seabirds being killed need to be built into fishing regulations just as routinely as, for example, mesh-size restrictions to conserve fish stocks.
Dr Dunn concluded: “The Commission is on the right track, but it remains to be seen if it will present a Plan next year that will really halt this needless slaughter of seabirds or just propose a toothless document. This is a golden opportunity for the Commission to demonstrate its commitment to environmentally-sensitive fisheries management and to halting biodiversity decline by 2010.”

Shocking decision of Kenya to convert precious wetlands

Wetlands International is shocked by the decision of the Kenyan government to convert large tracts of the Tana wetlands in Kenya into sugarcane-for-ethanol plantations. This dramatic development confirms the NGO’s recent outlook ‘Biofuels in Africa’, which shows that biofuel production in Africa will lead to loss of wetlands and rainforest.

Therefore, Wetlands International calls upon the Kenyan government to revise its decision to favour sugarcane for ethanol to wetlands conservation. This area is in need of protection, because it is crucial to many animal species like lions, hippos and waterbirds, as well as the livelihoods of local communities.

Crucial link for migratory birds
Furthermore, Tana wetlands form a crucial link for many migratory waterbirds on the route to their winter destinations in the South. These birds are coming from Europe, such as the Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris Ferruginea) and the little stint (Calidris Minuta).

Local livelihoods
Moreover, thousands of people depend on the Tana wetlands as fishermen or farmers. Herdsmen also require the area for cattle grazing during the dry season. These functions – critical to their livelihoods - will largely disappear if the wetland is converted into a large-scale sugarcane production area.
Trend biofuel production in Africa
Wetlands International presented its report ‘Biofuels in Africa’ at the Convention on Biological Diversity in Bonn, May 2008, With an outlook for 2020, this report reveals how especially pristine wetland areas will become victim of large scale biofuel plantations, such as sugarcane and palm oil.
Sugarcane production demands millions of litres of water for every hectare; ethanol production is only feasible and profitable when thousands of hectares can be established around a mill. Both conditions are met hardly anywhere, except in wetlands, especially floodplains.
The report also indicates that biofuel production offers few opportunities to local African smallholders. As a result, rural people are easily marginalised when large scale biofuel plantations are established.

Similar cases also occur in South Benin and in the Mawi Basin, Tanzania.

Action Plan for White-winged Flufftail must address migration question


A workshop to develop an International Single Species Action Plan for Endangered White-winged Flufftail Sarothrura ayresi has been held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The action planning workshop was commissioned by the secretariats of the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, with funding from the Italian Ministry for the Environment, was convened by the Africa Partnership Secretariat of BirdLife International and hosted by the Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society (EWNHS, BirdLife in Ethiopia).
Although the flufftail has been recorded at nine wetland sites in South Africa between November and March, the only evidence of breeding comes from three wetland sites in the central highlands of Ethiopia between July and September.
It is not known whether a single population migrates between Ethiopia and South Africa, or each country hosts its own sub-population. Studies by EWNHS have suggested that the birds which breed in Ethiopia remain well into the dry season, and may wander within the country, rather than migrating.
But the flufftail’s seasonal marshes in Ethiopia are threatened by excessive trampling and grazing by livestock, human disturbance, cutting of marsh vegetation, drainage, catchment erosion and water abstraction, among others.
During the workshop, existing National Species Action Plans for South Africa and Ethiopia, developed in 2003, were used as the basis for updating both the threats and the actions required to address them, on an international basis.

Three days of intensive work (including visits to two of the breeding sites) generated a realistic and achievable international species action plan, as well as a renewed sense of urgency and vigour for the activities needed to ensure the continued survival of this threatened species.
The action plan includes measures to increase the population by increasing the extent of suitable habitat. Key among these will be innovative actions to reduce habitat destruction, degradation and disturbance caused by intensive livestock grazing at the known core breeding areas in Ethiopia.
However, it was recognised that the securing of suitable habitat at breeding areas in Ethiopia needs to be done through sustainable use under community-based conservation programmes.
“The marshes occupied by this species in Ethiopia are an integral part of the livelihoods of resident communities – mainly providing pasture for dairy cattle. The White-winged Flufftail habitats cannot therefore be secured without full engagement of these communities,” said Ato Geremew Gebre Selassie of EWNHS.

Much important work involving local communities is already being done by Site Support Groups like the Berga Bird Lovers IBA Local Conservation Group. These initiatives need to be extended to other sites.
But before environmental management plans can be developed, many substantial gaps in our knowledge must be filled – not least, the mystery over the flufftail’s seasonal movements.
Also attending the workshop was a representative from Middelpunt Wetland Trust in South Africa, a trust created specifically for conservation of the White-winged Flufftail. Local and national government representatives from both Ethiopia and South Africa contributed to the effectiveness of the workshop.
Credits: EWNHS, BirdLife in Ethiopia

Kenyan Government grants the destruction of Tana’s birds, biodiversity and livelihoods


The government of Kenya, through the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), has approved a proposal to turn 20,000 hectares of the pristine Tana Delta into irrigated sugarcane plantations. Conservationists and villagers living in the Delta, which provides refuge for 350 species of bird, lions, elephants, rare sharks and reptiles including the Tana writhing skink, believe the decision is illegal and are determined to block the development. The groups are considering what action they might take.
Paul Matiku, Executive Director of Nature Kenya (BirdLife in Kenya) said: “This decision is a national disaster and will devastate the Delta. The Tana’s ecology will be destroyed yet the economic gains will be pitiful. It will seriously damage our priceless national assets and will put the livelihoods of the people living in the Delta in jeopardy”.
“The environmental assessment for the scheme was poor yet the government has defied even those very modest recommendations. We refuse to accept that this decision is final. The development must be stopped at all costs”
The proposal was approved by the Kenyan government’s National Environment Management Authority, which put 14 conditions on the sugarcane plan. The conditions are weak and ignore the environmental assessment, which showed that irrigation of crops would cause severe drainage of the Delta.
The decision also overlooks an ongoing dispute over compensation for farmers and fishermen who would lose their land and fishing rights. Paul Matiku said: “This is the only dry-season grazing area for hundreds of miles and its loss will leave many hundreds of farmers with no-where to take their cattle.”
A report commissioned by Nature Kenya and the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) in May found that the developer’s plans overestimated profits, ignored fees for water use and pollution from the sugarcane plant, and disregarded the loss of income from wildlife tourists.
The study said the Delta’s ecological benefits “defied valuation” and that the proposal would cause the “irreversible loss of ecosystem services” – benefits such as flood prevention, the storage of greenhouse gases and the provision of medicines and food.
The Mumias Sugar Company says the income from sugarcane cultivation will be US$2.45 million (EU€1.58 million) over 20 years but the report showed the revenue from fishing, farming, tourism and other lost livelihoods would be US$59 million (EU€38 million) over the same period.

Paul Buckley, an Africa specialist with the RSPB, said: “Until now, Kenya’s support for global agreements to protect wildlife has been excellent but this development could severely damage Kenya’s reputation for caring for its environment.”
Conservationists say that an integrated management plan for the entire Tana River basin should precede any development considerations. The lack of project design documents - required by Kenyan environmental law - has been a critical omission in the whole Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process.
“The current EIA was hurriedly produced and lacks vital information. NEMA should reject it and request for a new EIA study for the new project site”, stated Paul Matiku.
How can I help?

You can write a protest letter, or email, to NEMA at:

National Environment Management Authority
P O Box 67839
Popo Road

Unlicensed diclofenac still on sale in Tanzania


A recent visitor to the Shoprite Complex veterinary retail shop in Arusha, Tanzania, reports that diclofenac is still on sale there. Diclofenac, which causes kidney failure in vultures, has been responsible for the near-extinction of three Gyps vulture species in India, with a decline of 99.9 percent in the case of Critically Endangered White-rumped Vulture Gyps bengalensis.
The Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania (WCST, BirdLife in Tanzania) has determined that diclofenac is not licensed for veterinary use in Tanzania, contrary to information received last year. However, investigations by NatureKenya (BirdLife in Kenya) have found that there are no restrictions on the distribution and sale of veterinary diclofenac in Kenya. This is the probable source of diclofenac on sale in Arusha.
According to the assistant in the Arusha veterinary shop, up to 25 packets of Ouro Fino diclofenac 50 have been sold so far.
WCST and NatureKenya completed studies early in 2008 of the availability, distribution and use of diclofenac in Kenya and Tanzania, in an attempt to establish how much of a threat the drug poses to Africa’s vultures. Their reports are now available.
Dr Chris Magin, International Officer for the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), said "it is frightening that an unlicensed veterinary drug is openly on sale in Tanzania, particularly given the catastrophic effects that diclofenac can have on vulture populations".
Diclofenac is no longer covered by a patent, and many hundreds of companies around the world manufacture it in both branded and generic forms. Ouro Fino, the Brazilian manufacturer of this brand of diclofenac, has been contacted by BirdLife International but has so far not commented on the situation.

What can I do?

What can I do?

BirdLife’s Preventing Extinctions Programme aims to save all 190 Critically Endangered birds, by finding ‘Species Champions’ who will fund the work of identified ‘Species Guardians’ for each bird - organisations and people best placed to carry out the conservation work necessary to prevent an otherwise certain extinction. Become a Species Champion and donate today.

An eye for the Maine chance

Maine Audubon has completed the initial stage of its Important Bird Areas (IBA) program, identifying 22 areas in Maine as critical to state and global bird populations.
“A diverse mix of habitats makes Maine an important place for about 300 species of birds—many of them threatened or endangered”, said Susan Gallo, the Maine Audubon biologist who heads the project. “But threats like inappropriate development, chemical contamination and climate change put them at risk. By identifying the most crucial areas, the IBA program helps us focus our conservation efforts where we can have the greatest impact.”
The IBA program of BirdLife International is a worldwide initiative aimed at identifying and protecting a network of critical sites for the conservation of the world's birds. When complete, this global network is likely to comprise around 15,000 IBAs covering some 10 million km2 (c.7% of the world’s land surface) identified on the basis of about 40% of the world’s bird species. The effective conservation of these sites will contribute substantially to the protection of the world's biological diversity.
IBAs are locations that provide important habitat for one or more species of breeding, wintering or migrating birds. The areas meet thresholds for birds listed as threatened or endangered, for species of state or regional conservation concern, or for substantial population concentrations or unique species diversity.

“At this stage we focused on the most important spots on publicly and privately conserved land along the coast and major wetlands in southern and central Maine”, Gallo said. “We think this is a good starting point for engaging the public, working with landowners and encouraging responsible land management.”

“We see this as a locally driven, grassroots, bottom-up process,” said John Cecil, Audubon’s national IBA program director. “Local engagement is a cornerstone of the IBA program’s success in the United States.”
A national committee is reviewing several Maine IBAs that may qualify for globally important status. Certain sites meet global population thresholds for Piping Plover Charadrius melodus (Near Threatened), Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow Ammodramus caudacutus (Vulnerable), and Rusty Blackbird Euphagus carolinus (Vulnerable).

Credits: Maine Audubon

Fish tag flies from Oregon to New Zealand

Fish tag flies from Oregon to New Zealand


A small electronic tag that was implanted in a Steelhead Salmon Oncorhynchus mykiss at the USFWS Columbia River Hatchery (USA) has been discovered in New Zealand. Because Steelhead Salmon do not migrate across the equator, the best theories about the tag’s travels involves Sooty Shearwaters Pufinus griseus.


The tiny device was noticed by Maori hunter Dale Whaitiri on Mokonui Island, one of the Titi Islands (New Zealand). Shearwaters nest in burrows among tree roots on the island, and are known locally as Titi or Muttonbirds. The tag was recorded two years earlier as young steelhead smolts were passing the Bonneville Dam, on the Columbia River – 10,170 km from Mokonui!
Scientists think that the fish may have been eaten by a shearwater that was scavenging fishery wastes behind a processing vessel in the north pacific. Steelhead Salmon are not a commercial species, but they are sometimes accidentally taken as by-catch. Alternatively, the fish may have been predated as it passed below one of the large shearwater flocks that frequent the mouth of the Columbia River.Sooty Shearwaters breed on islands off New Zealand, Australia, Chile and the Falkland Islands. They undertake annual journeys of up to 60,000 km during their migration period. Birds fly from their breeding colonies to northern wintering sites in Japan, Alaska or California. This brings the shearwaters into contact with Steelhead Salmon.
Sooty Shearwaters are classified as Near Threatened because they have undergone a moderately rapid decline owing to the impact of fisheries, the harvesting of its young and possibly climate change. In New Zealand, the number of burrows in the largest colony declined by 37% between 1969-1971 and 1996-2000.
Harvesting of young birds currently accounts for the loss a quarter of a million birds annually, but is unlikely to account for the full scale of the decline. Longline fishing is responsible for a large numbers of Sooty Shearwater deaths, along with many other seabird species such as albatrosses.
Ben Lascelles, BirdLife’s Marine IBA Research Officer, said “The epic journeys undertaken by Sooty Shearwaters illustrates how conserving seabirds is an international challenge. Seabirds don’t respect country borders!”
The IBAs Programme of BirdLife International seeks to identify and conserve sites that are critical for the long-term viability of bird populations. The Global Seabird Programme and a number of BirdLife Partners are taking the lead on identifying marine IBAs. “Marine IBAs will make a vital contribution to current global initiatives to gain greater protection and sustainable management of the oceans”, commented Ben.

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World Bird News 2008 |  World Bird News June 2008

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