World Parrot Day, celebrated on 31 May 2023, puts the spotlight on the critically endangered Cape Parrot, colourful resident of South Africa’s Afromontane southern mistbelt forests. There are less than 2 000 Cape Parrots left in the wild as their habitat has been eroded by the consequences of extensive, uncontrolled logging in the past, on-going forest degradation, disease and the illegal capture of wild birds for sale.
Now communities, businesses and members of the public can get behind the Wild Bird Trust’s Cape Parrot Project to help protect and expand the natural forest habitats of this iconic bird in an effort to ensure its long term survival.
The current distribution of the Cape Parrot is restricted to a mosaic of Afromontane Southern Mistbelt forests from Hogsback in the Eastern Cape through to the southern KwaZulu-Natal. There is also a small and disjunct population in Limpopo province. Cape Parrots are dependent upon large indigenous trees, particularly Yellowwoods, for food and as nesting sites, where they use existing cavities to lay eggs.
The uncontrolled logging of these natural forests that started in the 19th century would have had a huge impact on the Cape Parrot population as mature hardwoods – especially yellowwoods - were targeted for felling. These natural forest patches are now protected for conservation purposes and logging is outlawed, but the forests are still under pressure from population growth and land use changes.
The Cape Parrot is also known as the Knysna papagaai, woudpapagaai (Afrikaans), isiKwenene (Zulu). isikhwenene (Xhosa) and hokwe (Tswana). It is only found in South Africa and has been listed as Birdlife’s Bird of the Year for 2023.
To ensure this species does not go extinct, the Cape Parrot Project is engaging with communities, organisations and the public to raise awareness of the threats the bird is facing and to educate people on how to maintain a healthy habitat for the parrot. The goal is a sustainable ecosystem for not just the parrots, but all the forest species and for surrounding communities.
The Cape Parrot Project team uses research and science to drive conservation action. A key strategy is to partner with local communities to get involved in habitat restoration. Alien vegetation is managed to assist natural forest regeneration, and planting of indigenous species is undertaken where appropriate.
Seeds are collected from a variety of local indigenous trees in the nearby forests and germinated in compost. Thousands of indigenous tree saplings are produced in community-run nurseries located close to the forests as well as the main nursery at the project base in Hogsback.
“Community members are encouraged to grow seedlings which the project then buys back. These seedlings are planted back into appropriate degraded forest habitat. Thus, the Cape Parrot Project strengthens local social-ecological resilience through creating livelihood opportunities in local communities that are dependent on a healthy ecosystem and their surrounding indigenous forest,” said Dr Francis Brooke, Research Manager for the Cape Parrot Project in Hogsback.
The project also engages with local schools encouraging children to become agents of positive environmental change, and to increase their appreciation for the indigenous forests and all the species that call these forests home.
By restoring the health of the natural forest patches, the project also contributes to mitigating the impacts of climate change and supporting local communities. Natural forests sequester significant amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provide a suite of ecological services like improving air and water quality and protecting biodiversity.
Dr Kirsten Wimberger, Director of the Cape Parrot Project, said: “The restoration of forests campaign - Myforest - will be launched on World Parrot Day, 31 May, where the public can get involved by helping to protect the Cape Parrot and demonstrate their commitment to conservation in South Africa”.
As a partner of the Cape Parrot Project, participating companies can build on their sustainability portfolio while also raising awareness about the project. The Cape Parrot Project has a growing and dedicated following on social media, including conservationists, bird enthusiasts, and individuals who care about environmental issues. By partnering with the Cape Parrot Project, companies can pride themselves on adopting a social responsibility program that is making a difference and do their bit for the planet.
For more info visit www.wildbirdtrust.com
Cape parrots ahoy!!
by Chris Chapman
Passing through the tiny town of Creighton in southern KZN early one morning, my colleague James Ballantyne suddenly shouted “Cape parrots” and pulled over onto the side of the road to get a better look.
I could see a flock of birds disappearing over a nearby hill, but couldn’t make out what they were.
“Definitely Cape parrots,” said James. “Let's follow them and see where they go.”
With that he jumped back in the car and off we went in the general direction that the flock appeared to be taking, which was the opposite direction of our field day location. I was not convinced that this wild goose chase would yield anything of interest, and I was not aware that we even had a proper parrot in South Africa.
Soon we came to a clump of large yellowwoods just outside the town and James pulled over again. Sure enough there they were, barely discernible against the glare of the sky, high up in the canopy. I managed to get a photo of one of these parrots, and only when I got back home and enlarged the photo could I make it out properly.
Now I am a fan of the Knysna papagaai and keep an eye out for them whenever I am around a natural forest – although I haven’t seen one since. But I will keep looking!