By Calistus Bosaletswe
Avitourism or avian tourism, which focuses on and highlights local birding opportunities, is faced with a major threat as migratory bird sites for flamingos in southern Africa are highly polluted areas.
The bird tourism which is viewed as one of the areas that Botswana can diversify the tourism sector and reduce overdependence on wildlife based tourism could suffer as a result.
Birdlife Botswana is of the view that there is a need to offer some of these small and unrecognised wetlands protection status in a bid to protect flamingos that migrate from Makgadikgadi Salt Pans to these areas.
Birdlife Botswana comments come after Dr Graham McCulloch’s research paper titled “Satellite tracking of flamingos in southern Africa: The importance of small wetlands for management and conservation.” The research revealed that flamingos migrate to most polluted wetlands in South Africa.
There are fears that the deteriorating water quality caused by pollution from sewage plants has a potential to cause deformities on flamingo offspring.
Birdlife Botswana, Director Motshereganyi Kootsositse has emphasised that though Botswana has important breeding sites there was a need for other countries to also declare migration staging posts and feeding sites in southern Africa protection status.
Kootsositse is of the view that avitourism plays an important part in the tourism sector in Botswana hence the need to protect this bird species which could go extinct if their habitat is not protected.
He indicated that if the flamingos are not protected this could have a negative impact on the tourism sector and communities who could benefit from bird tourism.
“Tourism is dependent on resources and if we lose the resources that we are going to lose tourists to areas that have resources, “added Kootsositse.
He further explained that already they have managed to set up community based organisations among villages along Makgadikgadi.
He noted that that these communities will benefit from bird tourism which is driven by the presence of flamingos in Makgadikgadi.
He said that if the flamingo sites are not offered protection status this could have a negative consequence which could threaten the bird species.
“It means the community ventures in bird tourism will collapse. So we are obliged as countries to protect the migratory species since most of the countries such as Namibia and South Africa where flamingos migrate to have signed African-Europian Waterfowl Agreement which forces countries to protect the migratory birds,” he added.
He indicated that Botswana is also obliged to protect the lesser flamingos and greater flamingos after the country signed the agreement at the end of last year.
In the research paper, McCulloch stated that the data from satellite tracking tags on great and lesser flamingos in Makgadikgadi salt pans revealed a wider dispersal migration of flamingos within small wetlands in three countries in southern Africa.
McCulloch who was part of a research team which carried out the first satellite tagging of flamingos in Makgadikgadi salt pans known as the important breeding sites in southern Africa for lesser flamingos Phoeniconaias minor and greater flamingos Phoenicopterusruberroseus argues that tagging of flamingos was important since their migration patterns were unknown.
McCulloch still finds the data from satellite tracking tags of flamingos crucial in the conservation of the bird species.
He emphasized the need to declare this wetlands which are often under threat from anthropogenic activities as protection sites to protect two high profile bird species in decline.
The lesser flamingo which is categorized on the IUCN Red List as Lower Risk: near threatened across its entire range and both species are listed in the African Eurasian Water bird Agreement (AEWA), as ‘populations in decline throughout southern Africa.’
The two bird species are considered Lower Risk: near threatened or Vulnerable throughout southern Africa owing primarily to the lack of breeding sites and the vulnerability of breeding to both natural and anthropogenic disturbance.