Species in the Line of Fire – Virunga National Park Part II – Endangered Species.
This Fridays endangered species article focuses on avian species that could be under threat in the next decade should deforestation increase, habitat fragmenting and oil explorations increase within the Democratic Republic of Congo and Virunga National Park.
Today we focus on three species listed herein as;
- Ross’s Turaco. (Musophaga rossae)
- Red Throated Bea Eater. (Merops bulocki)
- Red Head Blue Bill. (Spermophaga ruficapilla)
Why single out just these three bird species though?
International Animal Rescue Foundation Africa has singled these three species out not because they are threatened but more the opposite, because they are “for now” listed as least concern – for – how long though is another story. Seismic surveys in the Virunga National Park could interfere with the breeding patterns, life cycle and behaviour thus forcing them out of their original habitat encroaching onto others.
So think of it like this, you live next door to a noisy neighbour that has affected your sleep, and behaviour, caused you unimaginable physical and psychological stress that you are literally forced out of your home into new pastures that may or may not be suitable for you and your children. Humans can up and move rather easy although it’s the most stressful event within a life time we manage ok. Birds and other mammals though cannot just up and move that easy. Habitat is shrinking and the human populations are growing, and growing with no end in sight.
Birds need to ensure that the correct trees, fruits (Eg) are within a new territory, that predators are minimal in size; they are not over exposed and can nest freely. If for instance a bird population has nowhere to move to and is forced to live within a (oil drilling zone block [exampled]) then how long do you think them populations will continue to live for? I am sure that you can answer that question yourself.
So let’s take a look at these three stunning birds today.
Lady Ross Turaco;
Musophaga rossae is commonly known as the Ross’s Turaco or Lady Ross Turaco identified in 1852 the current population trend is stable and there is no reason as yet to be overly concerned. Please note “as yet” as this could soon change to “concerned”.
Native to Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, The Democratic Republic Congo Republic of Gabon, Congo Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, United Republic of Uganda and Zambia. Lady Ross is also a vagrant visitor to the Africans country of Botswana too with little evidence of populations within Namibia.
For now population size of this most beautiful bird categorised in the order of cuculiformes is currently stable and present throughout much of its range. Turacos are frugivous, which means they mainly consume fruit, such as grapes, apples, bananas, melons, papaya, squash, pears, etc. At least five different types of fruit are consumed a day by Turacos of which is essential for their diet and living. However should big rig oil and gas companies begin ripping up forests within “parts of their range” of which many fruit trees are present within the Virunga then sadly the Turaco’s habitat is placed in danger thus forcing the Turaco to either up and move or die of malnutrition. Moving to Cameroon the Tauraco bannermani that is related to the Lady Ross Turaco is listed as (endangered) since 2012. Their population size is currently on the decline and the possibility of extinction occurring are very real within the next five years.
I have picked this species related to the Lady Ross as an example to show my concerns to you of which the main threat to the Bannerman’s Turaco (common name) is that of habitat fragmentation. The same threat that is now facing many species of bird and mammal life within the Virunga National Park should oil expansion be given the go ahead by the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Government.
Threats that could face the Lady Ross are listed hereto;
The greatest threat to this species is habitat loss: the Kilum-Ijim forest halved in area between 1963 and 1986. Following changes to a major long-term conservation project in 2004, it is reported that the threats of habitat loss and degradation at Kilum-Ijim have increased. Forest fires are responsible for the greatest proportion of habitat loss, for example c.500 ha of forest burnt around Lake Oku in March 2000. It is also under serious threat from forest clearance for agriculture, grazing, firewood and timber, with birds surviving in forest fragments in imminent danger of extinction, particularly due to their reluctance to cross open habitats. The species is hunted for its feathers, which are given as awards in local ceremonies.
Another species related to the Lady Ross is that of the Tauraco fischeri identified in 1878 its native to Tanzania, Kenya and Somalia. Current threats are or less the same as its distant cousin the Bannerman’s Turaco listed below; please note the words (forest clearance, habitat fragmentation, and pet trade). Many Turaco’s are still being traded as pets however the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species Wild Flora and Fauna (Cites) has limited some species importations and exportations to preserve their current wild populations.
Tauraco fischeri threats are;
It is threatened primarily by trapping and the clearance of coastal forests. During the 1980s and early 1990s, hundreds of birds were exported from Tanzania for the cage bird trade, with many more perishing en route, and this had a serious impact on numbers in the Usambaras. Trade in live birds from Tanzania is still a significant threat, although a recently imposed quota system is helping to limit its impact. On Zanzibar, there is a high rate of habitat degradation, with only 16% of the habitat occupied by the species showing signs of low, rather than high, human impact. Its habitat on Zanzibar is threatened mainly by firewood collection, but also by charcoal production, timber extraction and extensive clearing of land for agriculture. Please note the words (charcoal production) which are a serious threat still to Virunga National Park species. Should oil drilling get the go ahead charcoal production is most certainly going to increase within parts of the Lady Ross’s range.
Red Throated Bea Eater;
Identified in 1817 Merops bulocki scientifically known as the Red Throated Bea Eater is currently listed as least concern of which its populations are currently stable. Again as explained above please note the words “currently stable” which could change over a decade or less to “threatened”.
Native to Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, The Democratic Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia; Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, South Sudan, Sudan, Togo Uganda and the (DRC) Democratic Republic of Congo. The Red Throated Bea Eater is also known to be a vagrant within Sierra Leone.
International Animal Rescue Foundation Africa are concerned that Bea Eaters could be placed in danger via deforestation, land clearance for agriculture, oil and gas drilling, charcoal trade and the tropical pet trade. The Bea Eaters diet is unique of which I have listed below. Again remember that Bea Eaters do mainly eat insects and insects need flora to survive. Should big rig oil companies then move in, rip up forest and land for roads and rigs then unfortunately we will see a reduction in food required for the survival of the Bea Eater thus placing the species in “danger”.
Bea Eater’s Diet;
The Bee-Eaters are almost exclusively aerial hunters of insect prey. Prey is caught either while in continuous flight or more commonly from an exposed perch where the Bee-Eater watches for prey. Smaller, rounder-winged Bee-Eater typically hunts from branches and twigs closer to the ground, whereas the larger species hunt from tree tops or telegraph wires.
One unusual technique often used by carmine Bee-Eater is to ride the back of bustards. Prey can be spotted from a distance; European Bee-Eaters are able to spot a bee 60 m away, and Blue-cheeked Bee-Eaters have been observed flying out 100 m to catch large wasps. Prey is approached directly or from behind. Prey that lands on the ground or on plants is usually not pursued. Small prey may be eaten on the wing, but larger prey is returned to the perch to be beaten against the perch to kill them and break them up. Insects with poisonous stings are first smacked on the branch, then, with the eyes closed, rubbed to discharge the venom. This behaviour is innate, as demonstrated by a juvenile bird in captivity, which performed the task when first presented with wild bees. This bird was stung on the first five tries, but by ten bees, it was as adept at handling bees as adult birds.
Bee-Eaters consume a wide range of insects; beyond a few distasteful butterflies they consume almost any insect from tiny Drosophila flies to large beetles and dragonflies. At some point Bee-Eaters have been recorded eating beetles, mayflies, stoneflies, cicadas, termites, crickets and grasshoppers, mantises, true flies and moths.
For many species the dominant prey item are stinging members of the order Hymenoptera, namely wasps and bees. In a survey of 20 studies the proportion of the diet made up by bees and wasps varied from 20% to 96%, with the average being 70%. Of these honeybees can comprise a large part of the diet – as much as 89% of the overall diet.
Pollinator Decline could place bird species in danger;
The term pollinator decline refers to the reduction in abundance of insect and other animal pollinators in many ecosystems worldwide during the end of the twentieth century. Pollinators participate in sexual reproduction of many plants, by ensuring cross-pollination, essential for some species, or a major factor in ensuring genetic diversity for others. Since plants are the primary food source for animals, the reduction of one of the primary pollination agents, or even their possible disappearance, has raised concern, and the conservation of pollinators has become part of biodiversity conservation efforts.
Over the past decade we have seen a slight decline of Africans Honey Beas and other pollinators of which birds such as the Red Throated Bea Eater require to eat and survive.
Honey Beas do make up quite a significant proportion of the Bea Eaters diet, last year I raised my concerns with regards to the vast decline of bees within America, Europe and Asia. Take Asia for instance in some areas Honey Beas have vanished of which has left fruit farmers to pollinate their crops by hand. Honey Bea decline within Asia, Europe and America is still ongoing and should it continue we would need African Honey Beas to help pollinate our crops. However the African Honey Bea has also seen some rather small and large declines within its range.
As the crucial role of bees as pollinators of the world’s food supply is increasingly becoming common knowledge, reports about the serious decline of Honey Bee populations in Europe and the USA have alarmed governments, the private sector and the general public. A similar decline in Africa and Asia has the potential to further threaten the world’s biodiversity, in addition to compromising the food security and livelihoods of millions of rural resource-poor farmers, as well as having negative impacts on the agricultural income of commercial farmers. The simple fact is here – should we lose the honey bee we’ll most certainly lose a vast majority of Avian and Mammal species too. Think about it, mammals and birds even humans require vegetables and fruits to live, these plants require the honey bee and other pollinating insects to produce cropage. No crop no food = major problems.
DID YOU KNOW – Beas are responsible for one in three bites of food that we and land mammals eat?
Apart from the honey they produce, bees are vitally important pollinators of fruit and vegetable crops. It is estimated that pollinators, especially bees, are responsible for about one in three bites of the food we eat.
For much of the last ten years, beekeepers, primarily in the United States and Europe, have been reporting annual hive losses of 30 percent or higher, which is substantially more than is considered normal or sustainable. Many bee species and other pollinating insects have experienced a sharp decline in numbers, raising major concerns about the impacts on food supplies and environmental health.
Listed as least concern the Merops bulocki (one step away from near threatened) the Red Throated Bea Eater’s populations are as explained currently stable. But what about other Bea Eaters?
For now the vast majority of Bea Eaters are currently listed as (least concern) however that could soon change as it has for the Merops mentalis, scientifically identified as Blue-moustached Bee-eater and located in 1889 the species is currently listed as (near threatened). Native to Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone its populations are currently decreasing rapidly.
Again major threats are mostly deforestation of which should SOCO Plc or other oil and gas companies decide on ripping forests up to build rigs, lay pipes, and construct roads inbound and outbound we will most certainly see the Red Throated Bea Eater reduced within its range in the Virunga National Park. Threats to the Red Throated Bea Eater’s cousin the Merops mentalis are listed herein below;
This species occurs in a region known for rapid and on-going deforestation. Large remnant tracts of forest in Liberia are under intense and increasing pressure from commercial logging and a consequent increase in settlement and small-holder agriculture. Elsewhere in the Upper Guinea region, forest survives in fragments that are under intense pressure for logging and conversion to agriculture. Forest in some reserves is being destroyed for teak plantations and cultivation, as well as through illegal logging. The species’ tolerance of some forest degradation and fragmentation implies that it is not undergoing a severe decline as yet. However take a few hundred kilometres of forest away for roads, add a 50,000 square meter oil and gas rigging company, plus vehicles and we soon see problems occurring “very rapidly”. Read more here on how oil platforms work http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/energy/oil-drilling4.htm
Red Head Blue Bill;
Located in 1888 the Red Head-Blue Bill species a stunningly beautiful avian bird is formally listed as (least concern). All three species listed above are categorised as least concern of which (near threatened) status is their categorisation.
Population size is currently stable of which is populated quite extensively throughout its range. Native too Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo The Democratic Republic of Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and the United Republic of Uganda.
Red Head Blue Bill is one of only a dozen or so that’s cousins is listed as “non-threatened”. Grants Blue Bill and the Western Blue Bill are currently for now listed as (least concern). The global population size has not been quantified, but it is believed to be large as the species is described as ‘frequent’ in at least parts of its range (Fry and Keith 2004). Global population trends have not been quantified, but the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e. declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations).
Read Head – Blue Bills diet consists mainly of incest’s making up 90% of its overall diet with earth worms, mealy bugs and beetles. Although listed as least concern we must not be fooled for one minute that this species is safe as it is not. Taking the Congo as again another prime example of habitat fragmentation the DRC and Congo is currently losing vast swathes of forestry legal and illegal. Many species of animal are on the decline as you can see pictured below in diagram one.
Congo – (CAR) Deforestation;
Central Africa’s deforestation rate since 1990 has been the lowest of any major forest region in the world. However there are still a number of threats to the health of the Congo rainforest and its residents.
The biggest drivers of deforestation in the Congo rainforest over the past 20 years have been small-scale subsistence agriculture, clearing for charcoal and fuel wood, urban expansion, and mining. Industrial logging has been the biggest driver of forest degradation. However it’s important not to understate the impact of logging in the region. Logging roads have opened up vast areas of the Congo to commercial hunting, leading to a poaching epidemic in some areas and a more than 60 percent drop in the region’s forest elephant population in less than a decade. Furthermore, logging roads have provided access to speculators and small-holders that clear land for agriculture.
Looking forward, the biggest threats to the Congo rainforest come from industrial logging and conversion for large-scale agriculture. Some environmentalists fear that the Congo could be on the verge of a massive increase in deforestation for palm oil, rubber, and sugar production.
NOTE; when contacting SOCO International Animal Rescue Foundation Africa made it quite clear that opening up roads in an area that has rampant poaching and tropical animal trade. Our exact words where;
“Opening up forest land to commercial oil and gas drilling will not only lead to opportunistic illegal logging but also vast scale poaching, leading to a poaching epidemic that could spiral out of control”.
We have yet to date since contacting the CEO and her husband Roger to receive a reply on how they would deal with such a problematic issue that could see Gorilla species wiped out and primates and more tropical birds abducted from their natural habitat and sold into the witchcraft, voodoo or the tropical pet trade.
All three species of bird above that are endemic to the Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda face many daunting man made problems listed below. Should these and a suspected oil and gas trade open up within the Virunga National Park (1925) then we will most certainly lose these species and many more too.
Logging in the Congo Basin has increased significantly as peace has returned to the region. In 2004, encouraged by the World Bank, Congo announced its plans to step up the commercial logging of its rainforest. The timber industry is a major employer in Congo countries and thousands of workers rely on logging companies for basic healthcare and other services. Illegal logging is a significant problem as underpaid bureaucrats look to supplement their incomes by opening restricted areas to cutting.
Since the end of the war in Congo DR, concessions have been granted and the pace of logging in Africa’s largest remaining rain forest is picking up
Most of the deforestation in the Congo is caused by local subsistence activities by poor farmers and villagers who rely on forest lands for agriculture and fuel wood collection. Slash-and-burn is commonly used for clearing forest.
Typically, poor farmers and colonists gains access to forest lands by following logging roads, although in the past few years civil strife has driven many Central Africans deep into the rainforest to escape the widespread violence.
Central Africa has been plagued with violence since the mid-90s. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have moved through the forests of the Congo, stripping vegetation and devastating wildlife populations. National parks like Virunga — home to the endangered mountain gorilla — were looted and park staffers slaughtered. Refugee camps bordering parks added to the pressure on parklands. For now the M23 rebels have agreed on a cease fire lasting well over a year now however this could change, and the last thing we want is to see an oil refinery abandoned and in the hands of crazed lunatics that could wipe the park clean of the planet.
The Congo Basin has some of the world richest mineral deposits. Mining operations are poorly monitored and financial returns are prioritized over social impacts and the long-term health effects — much less to the environmental impact.
The Bush meat Trade
Today visitors too many Central African cities can purchase the meat of virtually any forest animal. Demand for bush meat is driven by the desire for protein, not necessarily the animal source of the protein, the demand for which varies from market to market. In Gabon, McRae reports that annual per capita consumption of bush meat may reach eight pounds annually.
The availability of bush meat is made possible by the logging industry whose road construction opens rainforest to hunters and settlers. Hunters make a living by selling bush meat to passing loggers, traders, and local villagers. The majority of bush meat is brought to city markets by loggers. Since 2012 we have informed SOCO that this is a major problem within Africa should an oil refinery be constructed it would see more deforestation occur.
Above is details bird species endemic to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Virunga.
Regional bush meat hunting is expected to “increase as commercial logging” expands in the Congo Basin.
Within this article part II of the Virunga National Park Crisis I have not listed “endangered species” as a concern. Instead I have provided you with sound evidence that should an oil refinery be constructed, roads and transportation built plus more it will see all three species above, Ross’s Turaco (Musophaga rossae), Red Throated Bea Eater (Merops bulocki), and the Red Head Blue Bill, (Spermophaga ruficapilla) (as an example) plus many more species of bird and mammalian placed in dire danger.
Virunga National Park’s species of land mammal, aquatic and avian populations have been declining rapidly over the past decade. Mining, deforestation, illegal logging, and the bush meat trade have been responsible for some rather prolific animal declines, and now a possible oil refinery will most certainly be the nail in the coffin.
Thank you for reading;
For further information please email our Environmental Public Relations unit below;
Chief Environmental Officer
Dr Josa C. Depre
Chief Environmental Registrar
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