The National Geographic-funded Cape Parrot Project was launched in 2009 to support CONSERVATION ACTION for Africa’s most endangered parrot and one of South Africa’s most endangered birds. Ongoing research over the last 15-20 years has established that Cape parrots were previously dependent on yellowwood trees for nesting and roosting sites, as well as 99% of their food requirements. The parrots even used to drink water from the “Old Man’s Beard” or treemoss that hung from the giant branches and aerial gardens of the ancient, emergent yellowwood trees that used to dominate the Afromontane forests of South Africa. Today, after 350 years of logging, there are few large hardwood trees remaining, and at some point after 1945 there were suddenly too few yellowwoods left for the parrots and they had to give up even looking for their favorite tree, switching their diet to the new, exotic fruit and nut trees that the people who chopped the yellowwoods down brought along with them. The parrots now feed on pecan nuts from the USA, plums from Japan, Jacaranda pods from South America, Syringa fruits from India, Eucalyptus flowers and Acacia seeds from Australia, and acorns from English oak trees. With this new age, global diet has come excess sugar and fat, as well as a variety of toxins that their bodies are not used to (e.g. cyanide derivatives, arsenic, tannins, myotoxins, aflotoxins and much else). All the remaining Cape parrots are in trouble with remnant, isolated populations riddled with disease, trying their hardest everyday to adapt to life outside of the natural habitat they had depended upon for thousands of years. We work full-time to help them find their feet again…
In November 2008, we established a Cape Parrot Forum to get people talking about Cape Parrots and instantly received over 30 emails with photographs of dead and dying Cape parrots with advanced symptoms of Pssitacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) infection. Panicked birders who had photographed these parrots feeding in a tree in their garden each year for as long as a decade and had never seen anything like this before were getting hold of us. There were carcasses in freezers, sad letters, and parrots drowned in pools. Something was deeply wrong… We then established the Cape Parrot Project group on Facebook and started fundraising and networking around mobilizing a reaction to this threat. The photographs were absolutely shocking (see below) and resulted in many people, who did not previously know about the Cape parrot, jumping onboard to help. From NGOs, to government officials, academics, private citizens, business people, and charities, everyone was amazed to find out we have such a beautiful, endemic parrot in South Africa and that there are less than 1,000 adults remaining in the wild. The National Geographic Conservation Trust was the first to fund our efforts in the Cape Parrot Project, thus allowing us to jump right into finding the necessary solutions. Very quickly we discovered a PBFD epidemic with infection rates of 50% in 2010 and 100% in 2011. The drought had been severe during the 2010/2011 Cape parrot breeding season and the result was a food resource bottleneck (i.e. very limited food supply) between January and March that precipitated an outbreak like we had never seen before. Malnutrition and starvation caused the 100% infection rate in 2011 that saw Cape parrots literally fall out of the sky. Between March and June 2011 twelve dying Cape parrots were brought to us by the public. Unable to fly, eight of them died overnight in the clinic, while four brave parrots survived to be rehabilitated for release 6 months later in King William’s Town (South Africa). It was an extremely emotional time for all of us, as we saw these four “dead birds flying” away to join the welcoming flock they had left 6 months before due to illness. We have subsequently re-sighted 3 of the 4 parrots, and have to assume that the missing individual is died, as he was the youngest and weakest upon release. We will continue our work rehabilitating dying Cape parrots in an effort to assist these individuals develop a natural immunity for PBFD. We have seen several sick Cape Parrots this year, but have found none that were unable to fly… Stay informed by joining the Cape Parrot Project group on Facebook.
We would like to thank our funders the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust, Abax Investments, the Critical Ecosystems Partnership (Conservation International), the Prins Bernhard Natuurfonds (Netherlands), National Research Foundation, and the National Geographic Society Conservation Trust. Many thanks to the many charitable donors that have supported the project. Please support Cape parrot conservation by donating to the Cape Parrot Project via the World Parrot Trust, our longest-standing project partner and fundraiser for the Endangered Cape parrot.
By the end of 2012, we would have planted over 12,000 indigenous in degraded Afromontane forest patches, on communal land, in villages, and areas that were previously indigenous forest. We audit all the trees we plant to determine planting success in order to learn from our mistakes, knowing that we need to plant in the region of 1 million indigenous trees to begin replacing what we removed from these once amazing forests. My March next year, we would erected our first 300 artificial nest boxes for Cape parrots. We have already erected over 200 in time for the upcoming breeding season – all nest box occupations by breeding pairs will be made public in the Cape Parrot Project group. In addition to partnering with local villages to plant thousands of trees and erect nest boxes, we have also launched a micro-nursery program that sees local community members growing all the indigenous seedlings for planting, establishing certain growers as potential small businesses after a year or two. We are constantly working with local communities and provincial government to effect positive change for the Afromontane forests of the Amathole Mountains. Now it is important to note that this is an inter-generational effort that will take us 100 years to establish large yellowwood trees again and another 250 years before these forests are restored to their former glory. How diod we think we were going to replace the 400-1,000 year old trees we were clear-felling in the 1800s? Just because we could do it, didn’t mean we had to do it…
“uPholi” Want a Forest? Rescuing Africa’s Most Endangered Parrot from Extinction: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2011/12/16/upholi-want-a-forest-rescuing-africas-most-endangered-parrot-from-extinction/
The iziKhwenene Project: Establishing Local Communities as Forest Custodians to Save the Cape Parrot – http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2012/05/04/the-izikhwenene-project-establishing-local-communities-as-forest-custodians-to-save-the-cape-parrot/
Some awesome YouTube videos, interviews and articles on the Cape parrot…
- A flock of Cape Parrots flying over the Cape Parrot Sanctuary at the University of Fort Hare (Alice Campus). Just listen to the morning chorus… http://youtu.be/Z5J_e5dH-aM
- Short video clip sharing the “Cape Parrot Experience” above the Fort Hare Cape Parrot Sanctuary in Alice with all of you. What we witness for 3-4 months each year is nothing short of breathtaking! http://youtu.be/JjQ7rn6ZCTI
- Afrikaans radio news broadcast on the Endangered Cape parrot and what is being done to save them… http://youtu.be/FuatEaGECy8
- First-ever footage of the Endangered Cape Parrot feeding in the high canopy of a yellowwood tree. In September 2009, we perched on the edge of a cliff using vocalization playbacks to call in Cape parrots. An old breeding pair that knew the ways of their ancestors stopped to feed three days in a row… http://youtu.be/b1ujh0WikOc & http://youtu.be/Hl0p5QoQVqI
- Brilliant radio interview on Cape Talk about the plight of the Endangered Cape Parrot. This interview introduced many South Africans to their very own national parrot… http://youtu.be/gak9F7mVWJE
- Dr Steve Boyes interviewed by SafariTalk on developments in the Cape Parrot Project: http://safaritalk.net/topic/7575-dr-steve-boyes-the-cape-parrot-project-wild-bird-trust/
- Informative article on South Africa’s only endemic parrot and the issues facing this ambassador of the Afromontane forest patches they depend upon: http://www.fitzpatrick.uct.ac.za/africa_birds/ABB16(4)66-67.pdf