15 September 2003
Africa’s globally threatened bird species – almost 10% of the continent’s 2 313 species – are on the brink of extinction, as new research shows that 43% of Africa’s most critically important places for birds and biodiversity conservation have no legal designation, leaving them open to a variety of threats.
A study by BirdLife International has found that of the 1 230 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in 58 African countries and their associated Islands, only 57% enjoy any form of official recognition or protection.
Only 33% of them are fully covered by a protected area, and only 13% are recognised under international law such as World Heritage or Ramsar conventions.
The IBA programme aims to identify and protect a network of critical sites for the world’s birds using standardised, internationally agreed criteria. These sites shelter bird species that are globally threatened, have restricted ranges or congregate in large numbers.
The research was detailed in Durban on Friday at the fifth World Parks Congress, where delegates are thrashing out a detailed plan to conserve protected areas.
The study shows that in total almost 10% of Africa’s 2 313 bird species are now recognised as globally threatened.
Michael Rands, director of BirdLife International, appealed to African governments to work with communities to protect their endangered and most treasured bird species.
“IBAs are increasingly recognised worldwide as an international currency for site protection. If governments, legislators and decision-makers across Africa act now to work with local communities and protect these internationally important places, the future of Africa’s birds and other biodiversity will be more secure”, Rands said.
The main threats affecting IBAs in 20 African countries are agricultural encroachment and habitat clearance (threatening 51% of sites), over-exploitation such as hunting and clearance for fuel wood (threatening 47% of sites), and commercial logging (threatening 20%).
John Hanks, director of Transfrontier Conservation in Southern Africa, said that civil wars in Africa had severely threatened wildlife on the continent, as displaced people had occupied conservation sites, decimating all animal and bird species around them.
“It’s not that countries don’t have capacity”, Hanks said. “Governments don’t see conservation as a priority, and we must make sure that we put conservation on the agendas of governments.”