I recently picked up a nice little secondhand book called ‘The World’s Vanishing Birds’ by Cyril Littlewood with illustrations by Denys Ovenden; it was published in 1972 and essentially lists 60 of the most endangered birds on Earth (as they were then). It makes for an interesting read and the illustrations are pretty good quality, there are some very obscure birds and some very well known ones so I now know a few more birds than I was previously aware of. What I thought would be most interesting is to research the birds listed in this book to see how they have fared since it was published – some may have recovered, some may be unchanged and some might be extinct. So in this new 8-post series I will be doing just that; I will be taking a selection of the most interesting birds from the book and telling you how they are doing now – this post will focus on African birds.
The first bird in the book has a truly splendid name and splendid plumage to match; Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco (main pic) is a green and red bird endemic to southern Ethiopia with a fluffy crest and fan shaped tail. It’s distribution is very restricted and the species is currently threatened by habitat loss and hybridisation with the similar species White-cheeked Turaco. The book states that ‘It is also not known whether the species is declining in numbers or whether it has always been a rare and localised bird.’ It would seem that it never had much of a wider distribution than it does currently, yet it has definitely been declining with the population estimated at under 10,000 individuals – which is why it is currently listed as ‘Vulnerable’ by the IUCN.
Next is the gentle-looking Bernier’s Teal native to Madagascar, it has a reddish bill and legs and the body is a warm brown, so not particularly striking but not offensive either. The book claims that ‘The last reliable observation of the species was made by Jean Delacour during a long expedition in 1930 when a single pair was recorded.’ based on this seemingly dire situation you may be expecting me to say that it is now extinct – but not so. According to the IUCN there are now around 1,500 individuals in the entire world, this is a bit better than the two claimed by the book but it is still extremely low and as such is classified as endangered. Threats are predominantly loss of habitat (mangrove forest) and being shot by humans (still), there are now numerous captive breeding operations in place in zoos around the world – all very well but unless the problems in Madagascar can be halted then there will not be much point in re-introductions.
Another Madagascan species on the list is the Long-tailed Ground Roller, also known by the rather grand scientific name of Uratelornis chimaera – this is a curious looking bird with a long tail, strong pointed beak, long legs and attractive plumage of black, white, rich brown and a bold blue on the wings. This species can fly but is mostly terrestrial, living in a remote corner of Madagascar in the thorn forests; this habitat is not protected and is being progressively destroyed by man, on top of this it is hunted and targeted by egg-collectors. The book rather sagely points out that ‘Man’s destruction of habitat is the reason for the decline of this species. Once again, we see what a major role this plays in the extermination of the world’s wildlife.’ This Roller is classified as ‘vulnerable’ (its population is still just over 21,000) but if action is not taken to protect this secretive bird’s habitat and stop hunting then it is more than likely that it will go extinct eventually.
What stands out about these three species is that all of them are at threat from habitat destruction; they may all perhaps be a bit more common than my 1972 book claims, though this is perhaps simply due to better monitoring and surveying, but they are all still at risk. In the next post I will focus on the birds of the Seychelles which appear in ‘The World’s Vanishing Birds’.
P.S. It is this blog’s 1st anniversary tomorrow, standing at 112 posts and 102 followers – thanks to all my readers for your likes and kind comments, they are much appreciated – here’s to the next year!