Organised by the South African National Parks Honorary Rangers of the West Rand Region and sponsored by Sasol, the annual Kruger National Park (KNP) Birding Weekends has turned into a nature conservation initiative worth R2.5 million per annum. These events attract over 700 birding enthusiasts and experts from across the country and internationally, over three consecutive weekends each year.
The conservation programme, mostly based on volunteerism, extends beyond the Kruger National Park and includes parks regionally. For the 2011 calendar year, the SANParks Honorary Rangers organisation contributed close to R38 million towards the national parks. Furthermore, the SANParks Honorary Rangers of the West Rand Region has also contributed to ornithology research and assisted Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and BirdLife South Africa with GPS co-ordinates of sightings of birds on the Red Data List.
Bird lists are collated yearly during the KNP Birding Weekends and birding experts chaperone each group to assist guests with the identification of cryptic species. The birding experts add immense value by sharing interesting information about bird biology, ecology and migration patterns.
Plans to count water birds
At the same time GPS co-ordinates of vulnerable species on the Red Data List, such as the Southern Ground Hornbill and Secretary Bird are recorded. This information is important to research scientists from the Environmental Wildlife Trust and the Avian Demography Units of the University of Cape Town. Future plans include the counts of water birds on the various pans and dams visited by guests.
According to Peter Zietsman, chairman of the West Rand Region the purpose of the weekends is to provide birders with the opportunity to identify as many birds as possible within a 50km radius of their chosen camp. "Guests have a selection of 21 flagship venues where the area is home to over 200 bird species. Typically each camp has a few unique species, not found throughout the KNP. For example, the African Barred Owl is more likely to be seen at Talamati, the Collared Praticole at Letaba, and the Crested Guineafowl at Pafuri."
For Sasol, its involvement in birding projects is about conservation and promoting birding as a past-time. "The birding weekends provide occupancy to the Kruger National Park during its low season and the funds raised are ploughed back into environmental projects. South Africa has one of the most diverse birding and wildlife populations in the world and should be enjoyed by all," says Richard Hughes, Sasol's sponsorship manager.
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