Posted on Saturday, September 26th, 2009
Yesterday GBG was delighted to host a visit to our release site by Mark Anderson, BirdLife South Africa's Executive Director, who is over on the UK on an extended working holiday with his wife Tania Anderson (a noted botanist), and their daughter.
Mark Anderson, Executive Director BirdLife South Africa
Mark has been working on conservation issues in South Africa for many years, and his particular interests are flamingos (the remarkable story of Mark's work on the artificial Lesser Flamingo breeding site at Kamfer's Dam is inspirational), bustards (there are six species endemic to SA, several of which are now severely threatened by loss of habitat and collisions with power-lines), and raptors - especially vultures, which are threatened across Africa by muti, or 'traditional medicine', whose practitioners believe that eating vulture brains will enable them to predict lottery and sporting results!
With David (Waters, GBG Director) away surveying in Russia, our visitors were shown round by Al (Dawes, GBG Project Officer) who so dazzled Mark with his knowledge of all things 'Great Bustard' over the three hour visit that it was suggested a reciprocal visit be set up to South Africa, with Al speaking about our bustards and the re-introduction project to a selection of (the often well-funded) bird clubs across the country - and perhaps even finding time to do a little birding as well! Hopefully our airline contacts might be able to arrange some discounted tickets...
The real stars of the day (Al aside, of course) - and the main reason for Mark and Tania's visit - were our juvenile Great Bustards, which are currently being held in a 'soft-release' pen at the release site after their arrival from Russia as chicks back in mid-August (two chicks from the Great Bustard project in Germany are also in the pen).
These young birds, which now stand about a metre high, are feeding themselves and growing rapidly. Completely wild (even visiting experts like Mark are asked to remain at a distance and behind 'blinds' as the birds will disperse if disturbed) a few individuals have already occasionally tried the area immediately outside the pen, but usually still spend the night safe from foxes behind the pen fence. The hope is that they will soon be large and strong enough to explore the wider Salisbury Plain area (radio transmitters will allow us to follow them to a limited extent, but we will need the public to report sightings - an online form is currently being developed to enable this).
As well as our visitors receiving an in-depth overview of the re-introduction project, some extremely interesting ideas were discussed in the course of the morning, for example in relation to radio transmitters and options for post-graduate studies. The current threats to bustards in South Africa were also outlined, as well as other elements of Mark's work with BirdLife.
Mark and Tania left the GBG release site after a quick visit to our shop - hopefully Tania will be spreading the 'GBG word' in her new t-shirt when she gets back to Kimberley!
On a more serious note the GBG like to thank the Andersons for spending time with us, and we sincerely hope that this visit will just be the start of an international connection that will benefit both groups for many years to come.
For more information on Mark and Tania's work please visit their website Anderson Africa