SA hosting Aewa White-winged Fluff-tail species-specific meet in Dullstroom, Mpumalanga.
The Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) is chairing the 3rd meeting of the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) Single Species Working Group at the Verlorenkloof Estate outside Dullstroom in the Mpumalanga Province from 5 to 7 November 2019.
The meeting focuses on the protection of the critically endangered white-winged fluff-tail and other associated habitat matters. The protection of specific species is a combined effort of protecting habitats and managing detrimental activities to priority ecosystems.
The event is attended by representatives from the AEWA Secretariat, Ethiopia, the DEFF, Birdlife South Africa, researchers from the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa and various representatives from academic institutions, private landowners and the private sector.
AEWA published an International Single Species Action Plan (ISSAP) for the conservation of the White-winged Fluff-tail (Sarothrura ayresi). This is one of nine fluff-tail species found in Africa (in December 2008 ) This species, possibly the rarest of the fluff-tail species, is only known to occur in the highland marshes near Addis Ababa in Ethiopia and almost 4 000 km to the high altitude wetlands in the eastern parts of South Africa. These are specific areas in the Mpumalanga, Free State and Kwa-Zulu Natal Provinces.
The White-winged Fluff-tail is listed on the Appendix 1 of the Convention of Migratory Species (CMS) and the AEWA, representing the highest level that necessitates protection. The listing on Appendix 1 means that the species is in danger of extinction throughout all, or a significant portion, of its range. Range states, such as South Africa are therefore obliged or encouraged to do as much as possible to protect the species and their habitats.
Research indicates that there are less than 250 adult White-winged Fluff-tails in the wild and that the South African population is estimated at approximately 50 birds. The species is believed to be undergoing a continuous decline.
The preferred high altitude wetland habitat in South Africa which is mostly limited to Mpumalanga, Free State and KwaZulu-Natal Provinces, is threatened among others by habitat degradation and destruction, including pollution from industrial and mining effluents, domestic and commercial sewage, agricultural runoff and litter. The three Ethiopian wetlands where the birds are known to occur and breed are recorded to be threatened by overgrazing and grass-cutting.
Only 17% of all suitable habitats for White-winged Fluff-tails in South Africa are protected. Among these are the following Nature Reserves (NR) and Stewardship sites in the form of Protected Environment (PE) namely, Ingula NR, Ntsikeni, Verloren Vallei and Seekoeivlei Nature Reserves which are also Ramsar sites, Sneeuwberg, Lakenvlei Protected Areas including Middelpunt Wetland in the Dullstroom area.
South Africa will be showcasing relevant research conducted by our partners in the National Zoological Gardens of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and Birdlife South Africa on among others the genetic research and monitoring tools using camera traps, which has led to the first recordings of the breeding in South Africa
The meeting will also review and develop new plans going forward and resolving some of the challenges in conservation beneficial to the White-winged Fluff-tail and other species facing similar challenges. South Africa has a moral, legal and constitutional obligation to ensure conservation, while promoting ecological sustainable development.
In September the Minister of DEEF released the National Biodiversity Assessment 2018. It which underscored the importance of maintaining healthy ecosystems, important habitats for many of our threatened species. According to this Assessment, wetlands, a critical habitat for the White-Winged Fluff-tail remains one of our most threatened and least protected ecosystems. This is even more significant if one considers the important role of wetlands as ecological infrastructure for water security, food security, tourism and recreation as well as natural disasters. These are havens for many endemic species. Protecting species such as this one is as much an effort to protect wetlands as it is securing key benefits including conservation of the White Whined Fluff-tail. The role of avi-tourism(bird watching tourism) is significant as part of the tourism drive of the country.