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Monday, 22 October, 2001, 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK
Africa's birds face farming threat
Cape gannets   Keith Barnes/Tropical Bird Tours
Cape gannets: The world population nests at six colonies in Namibia and South Africa
Alex Kirby

The main threats to Africa's birds are habitat clearance and the encroachment of farmland, scientists say.

A survey of 58 countries across Africa has found that almost 10% of its bird species are globally threatened.

It found that many key bird areas are not protected under international law.

The scientists say protecting just 7% of Africa's land area would help to save many species.

The survey, entitled Important Bird Areas in Africa, is published by BirdLife International, a global alliance of conservation groups.

It took eight years to complete, and is the result of work by ornithologists, volunteers and government staff. They identifed a network of 1,228 important bird areas (IBAs).

BirdLife describes the survey as "the first-ever attempt to list all the sites internationally recognised as the most critically important places for bird and biodiversity conservation in the region".

Dr Muhtari Aminu-Kano of BirdLife said: "The main threats affecting IBAs in 20 countries are agricultural encroachment and habitat clearance, which threaten 51% of sites.

Substantial decline

"Over-exploitation such as hunting and clearance for fuelwood threatens 47%, and commercial logging 20%.

Wattled crane   Marco Lambertini/BirdLife
Wattled crane: At risk as habitat goes
"Twenty countries in the Guinea region and Congo basin, including Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria, hold most of Africa's lowland forest.

"So it is clear that management or protection must be urgently improved at many sites if the threatened species they hold are to be protected from extinction."

BirdLife says some bird species are in substantial decline across Africa, with 218 out of 2,313 species now recognised as globally threatened.

It says: "Across Africa land use continues to intensify, driven by many socio-economic forces, not least as a consequence of unsustainable development, often appalling poverty, civil conflict and international debt."

The survey found that 89% of Africa's IBAs have no protection under international laws such as the Ramsar wetlands convention.

No national protection

BirdLife says: "This is of grave concern, considering that 77 bird species of global conservation concern are each known from only one IBA, including the critically endangered Ibadan malimbe in Nigeria and the vulnerable Congo Bay owl in the Democratic Republic of Congo."

The survey also found that 44% of the IBAs have no legal recognition or official protection under national law.

The largest unprotected site is the Tibesti massif in Chad, in west Africa.

Alaotra grebe   Chris Rose/Rare Bird Club
The alaotra grebe lives on one lake in Madagascar
BirdLife is working to build up a community of local African conservationists through its site support group network. Many of them are volunteers.

It says protecting 7% of Africa is a realistic goal for conserving many species that range across the continent and sometimes beyond it.

Adrian Long of BirdLife told BBC News Online: "One UK species affected by what happens in Africa is the roseate tern.

Global standard

"It winters off the coast of west Africa, and breeds around the Irish Sea. Its UK numbers have been falling because of problems in Africa.

"This survey is a blueprint advising governments where to put their conservation efforts. We've done the comparisons between different areas, using objective criteria, and we've removed the uncertainties.

"So everybody wins. An IBA is an international currency, just as applicable in Burkina Faso as in the UK."

Northern bald ibis   Chris Gomersall/RSPB Images
The northern bald ibis is now increasing in Morocco

See also:

09 Oct 01 | Africa
Burundi detains feathered 'spy'
28 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
Concern grows for hungry Africa
08 May 01 | Sci/Tech
World wildlife warning
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