On Sunday morning, 5 May 2019, the grid cell “Yzerfontein” had 15 BirdPix* records for 12 species. This called for an intervention! In the form of a morning’s expedition. (* BirdPix is a citizen science project building a photographic bird atlas of Africa, and the data will supplement that if the African Bird Atlas Project.)
Here are the thumbnails of these 15 records arranged as a collage! Most of them are from Dassen Island, which falls within this grid cell. So there was lots of scope to add species from the mainland!
To a 72-year old arriving in Yzerfontein in 2019, the most striking thing about the place is how much it has grown. The map on the left is the 1:50,000 map which we used when the Western Cape Wader Study Group did the surveys of wader populations along the coastline in the 1970s. The pencil lines mark the count sections used in the surveys. The village, then officially called Ysterfontein, is tiny. The longest length of the village is shorter than the length of the name on the map. The 2019 Google satellite image shows the massive expansion of the built-up area. It’s now a small town, with supermarkets. A shopping mall is on the way!
It’s not hard to understand the attraction. The view south towards Table Mountain is pretty stunning.
For some bird species, the development provides new opportunities. For example, …
… palm trees in the gardens provide breeding opportunities for Cape Weavers. With the natural coastal vegetation, there would be no weavers here. This colony is curated in PHOWN (PHOtos of Weaver Nests) at http://vmus.adu.org.za/?vm=PHOWN-28432.
… and in these new towns, the place to search for House Sparrows (http://vmus.adu.org.za/?vm=BirdPix-77385), is around the food outlets: restaurants, petrol stations, supermarkets … the prime place to look is along the back walls … the other side of the wall is where the rubbish gets hidden out of sight. The remainder of the standard menu of suburban species, such as Red-eyed Doves, Laughing Doves, Cape Bulbuls, Cape Sparrows, Common Fiscals and Cape Wagtails, are encountered frequently.
In a coastal town in the Western Cape, such as Yzerfontein, there is often a gathering place for Hartlaub’s Gulls (http://vmus.adu.org.za/?vm=BirdPix-77382). In Yzerfontein, the roof of NSRI Station 34 was the scene of action. It is worth searching through a flock like this for Grey-headed Gulls. A vaguely grey hood – there are at least two in the photo above – is not enough. Grey-headed Gulls have distinctly whitish eyes and the eyes of Hartlaub’s Gulls are dark brown, almost black. The careful scrutiny of the gulls revealed …
Yzerfontein, superficially, is a peaceful coastal town. But dressed in black, and openly displaying their red dagger-shaped weapons, here are the Yzerfontein hooligans. This is just part of the flock of frustrated bachelors and spinsters; there were about 30 in total. These are adolescent and young adult African Black Oystercatchers (http://vmus.adu.org.za/?vm=BirdPix-77391). Their sole objective in life is to disrupt the lives of established breeding pairs along the coastline. The establishment of these flocks is evidence of an “over-production” of oystercatchers in recent decades. This, in turn, is a consequence of the invasion of their range of the Mediterranean mussel Mytilus galloprovincialis which grows faster and higher up the intertidal than the indigenous mussel which it has replaced. It is not much fun being an adult oystercatcher on the coastline these days. Either you are frustrated because you don’t have a mate or a territory. Or you spend your life keeping an eye on your mate, and warding off attacks by the hooligans.
I was alert to opportunities to contribute to other sections of the Virtual Museum. A lizard basking in the sun, or a snake squashed on the road, is a ReptileMAP opportunity. The dragonflies in the stream that passes under the road can be OdonataMAPped. A family of dassies sunning themselves on the rocks can go into MammalMAP. Butterflies are usually a big challenge; but this Common Dotted Border was very co-operative. The photo is not all it could be, but it is good enough for a positive identification (curated at http://vmus.adu.org.za/?vm=LepiMAP-682293).
At the end of a morning full of fun and interest, the number of BirdPix records increased from 15 to 67, and the number of species from 12 to 39. I created quite a few duplicates by including records of the same species both for the agricultural sector of the grid cell, and for the built-up area. The collage of thumbnails for the grid cell 3318AC Yzerfontein has improved from the one at the top of this blog to the one below, at the end!
LacewingMAP – Progress report on the Atlas of African Neuroptera and Megaloptera, 2014 – 2019
Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, 0002 South Africa
Les G Underhill
Animal Demography Unit, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, 7701 South Africa; Biodiversity and Development Institute, 25 Old Farm Road, Rondebosch, 7700 South Africa
Animal Demography Unit, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, 7701 South Africa; FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, 7701 South Africa
This report describes progress with the atlas of lacewings, defined as the orders Neuroptera and Megaloptera, up to 31 March 2019. The database of the project contained 15,781 records, in two components – 12,898 specimen records and 2,883 photographic records – submitted to the LacewingMAP section of the Virtual Museum, over a period of 4.5 years (September 2014 to March 2019). The average rate of submission of photographic records for LacewingMAP for the four calendar years 2015 to 2018 was 566 per year, three times faster than the rate at which the specimen database grew during the second half of the 20th century. 234 citizen scientists contributed photographic records to LacewingMAP. It seems that almost all of these people have primary interests in other taxa, and that the records submitted to LacewingMAP were a ‘by-catch’. Photographs of at least two new species were submitted by citizen scientists during 2018.
What are the lacewings, and why are they interesting?
We live in a world which is lacewing-blind. Most people would not be able to identify a flying insect as a lacewing, let alone distinguish between species (Figures 1 and 2). But almost everyone has encountered an artefact created by the larvae of lacewings. They recognize the distinctive funnel-shaped pits in sandy areas (Figure 3), and they have been told that there is a beast called an antlion lying in wait below to consume any insect that slips down the side of the funnel. But, few people grasp that the antlion is to the lacewing what the caterpillar is to the butterfly. They are blind to the existence, and value, of lacewings, the adults of the creatures that live in the sand.
13 of the 16 recognised families of Neuroptera occur in southern Africa, and both families of Megaloptera. This report focuses mainly on the Neuroptera, popularly known as lacewings. The Afrotropics (i.e. Africa south of the Sahara Desert) has an especially rich and varied fauna of lacewings and approximately 500 species occur in southern Africa alone, defined as the region south of the Kunene and Zambezi Rivers (Mansell 2002). Furthermore, about half of these are endemic to this area.
Neuroptera are excellent indicators of environmental and habitat transformation, and include key species for signifying areas and faunas that require priority protection. They are vulnerable to habitat fragmentation and pesticide contamination (Mansell 2002, Winterton et al. 2010).
The larvae of the lacewings are all specialised predators with unique, highly evolved mouthparts. As predators, lacewing larvae have the potential to have a major impact upon populations of other insects and small Arthropoda, and especially aphids. They have therefore, long been considered an attractive option as biological control agents in greenhouses, orchards and fields (New 1975, Mansell 2002). The recommendation is to augment species native to an area by means of mass rearing, and not to introduce new lacewing species (New 1985).
Only one of the families, the Myrmeleontidae, includes species whose larval stage consists of antlions that construct funnel-shaped pits in sand (Figure 3). The larvae of the other families take on a diverse variety of forms; they range from aquatic to semi-aquatic, and there are species with larvae which live freely in sand, under rock ledges, small caves, holes in trees, and as free-living ambush predators on vegetation. Some are parasites in spider nests, and inquilines in ant nests. Nothing is known about the larvae of some species (Mansell 2002, Winterton et al. 2010).
The Neuroptera are model subjects for scientific research because they have a wide diversity of lifestyles. Adults of several families are key pollinators of indigenous flora; especially the family Nemopteridae (the thread-wing and the spoon-and ribbon-wing lacewings) (Mansell 2002).
What is the objective of LacewingMAP?
Given that the lacewings are important, the long-term objective of the LacewingMAP project is to develop an atlas of the distributions of the Neuroptera and Megaloptera in Africa, focusing initially on southern Africa, then the Afrotropics, and ultimately the African continent. The project is loosely modelled on the “butterfly atlas” and the “reptile atlas” (Mecenero et al. 2013, Bates et al.2014). For both those projects, the foundational data were the historical specimen record data, supplemented by photographic data uploaded to the “Virtual Museum” by citizen scientists. The Virtual Museum is described by Mecenero et al. (2013) and Bates et al. (2014). The lacewing atlas uses the same strategy. Specimen records were (and continue to be) assembled by us, photographic records are collected by citizen scientists, and the combined database is curated by the Virtual Museum.
This report reviews progress up to March 2019. The first image of a lacewing was uploaded to the LacewingMAP section of the Virtual Museum on 19 September 2014. This report is based on the specimen database, plus photographic records assembled over four and a half years, up to 31 March 2018.
What is the volume of records in the LacewingMAP database?
The total number of records in the LacewingMAP database on 31 March 2019 was 15,781 (Table 1). They are split into two components in this database, seamlessly merged as a single entity. The largest component consists of 12,898 records, mainly based on museum specimens, assembled by us, and recorded in a Palpares Relational Database (Mansell & Kenyon 2002). This is supplemented by 2,883 photographic records, submitted to the LacewingMAP section of the Virtual Museum (http://vmus.adu.org.za) by citizen scientists (Table 1). Each photographic record uploaded to the Virtual Museum contains either one, two or three images of the live animal; each record is evaluated by us, and we allocate it to family, genus or species.
Table 1. Numbers of LacewingMAP records for African countries on 31 March 2019. The second column gives the number of photographic records uploaded by citizen scientists; the third total gives the total number of records in the database for each country.
Cape Verde Islands
Central African Republic
Democratic Republic of Congo
Socotra Island (Yemen)
The majority of the 2,883 photographic records, uploaded to the Virtual Museum were submitted from South Africa (2,225, 77%) (Table 1). A total of 658 records were submitted from 20 other African countries; six countries had more than 40 records: Malawi (170), Botswana (100), Namibia (90), Swaziland (87), Zambia (87) and Mozambique (43) (Table 1).
In the overall database, 10,917 records are from South Africa (Table 1). Countries with totals more than 500 records are Namibia (1,020), Democratic Republic of Congo (708) and Zimbabwe (644) (Table 1). 50% of Malawi’s 342 records are photographic, as are 44% of Swaziland’s 197 records, and 30% of Mozambique’s 144 (Table 1).
Within the nine provinces of South Africa, the largest contributions of photographic records have come from Northern Cape (484, 21.7% of total of 2,222 for South Africa), Limpopo (456, 20.5%) and KwaZulu-Natal (420, 18.5%) (Table 2). Within the database as a whole, Limpopo has the most records (2,606, 24.6% of 10,594 records for South Africa) and the Northern Cape has 1,688 (15.9%) (Table 2). Three of the photographic records and 323 of the total records from South Africa did not have “province” assigned (Tables 1 and 2).
Table 2. Numbers of LacewingMAP records for the provinces of South Africa on 31 March 2019. The second column gives the number of photographic records uploaded by citizen scientists; the third total gives the total number of records in the database for each province.
The average rate of submission of photographic records for LacewingMAP for the four years 2015 to 2018 was 566 per year (Table 3). This rate can be compared with the annual collection rate for the specimen section of the database (Table 4). The photographic rate generated by citizen scientists is 64% above the “best” decade (the 1980s), 5.5 times more than the 20th century as a whole (102 per year), and three times more than the second half of the 20th century (176 per year) (Table 4).
Table 3. Annual totals (1 January to 31 December of each calendar year) of photographic submissions to the LacewingMAP section of the Virtual Museum. The row Pre-start refers to records of lacewings submitted to OdonataMAP. These were not deleted from the Virtual Museum database, and were re-allocated to LacewingMAP when the project started (see Figure 2). The total for 2019 is incomplete.
Year (Jan to Dec)
Number of submissions
Sep to Dec 2014
Jan to Mar 2019
Total (31 Mar 2019)
Table 4. Using the specimen database, the average number of records per year was calculated for each decade of the 20th century, and the 21st century to date.
Records per year
The monthly pattern of submissions shows a minimum in the winter months from May to August, and a peak in the summer months from December to April (Figure 4). This plot confirms the general pattern of seasonality of conspicuous occurrence of lacewings.
Each record is georeferenced as accurately as feasible. For mapping purposes each record is allocated to a quarter degree grid cell. This 15-minute grid system has been widely used by biodiversity atlas projects in southern Africa (e.g. Mecenero et al. 2013, Bates et al. 2014). The 15-minute (quarter degree) grid generates 2025 quarter degree grid cells in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. Of these, 835 grid cells (41.2%) have at least one species of lacewing recorded (Figure 5). 230 grid cells have a single species recorded in them. On the other hand, there are only two degree cells with no records at all, one in the Northern Cape and one in North West Province. At this stage, the patterns of species richness still reflect observer effort rather than the true distribution of species richness.
What species are in the LacewingMAP database?
The taxonomy upon which LacewingMAP is based contained 1,249 species in March 2019 (Table 5); this taxonomic spine, which is pivotal for the project, is updated from time to time, as necessary. This taxonomy is of Afrotropical species; 18 of these species are from the order Megaloptera (two families Corydalidae and Sialidae), and the remaining 1,231 species are Neuroptera, classified into 13 families (Table 5). By far, the largest family is the Myrmeleontidae, containing 461 species. 415 species of Neuroptera are currently known from South Africa (Mansell & Oswald 2018), and 834 from the remainder of the Afrotropical Region, i.e. species that do not occur in South Africa.
Table 5. The column headed ‘Sp. in tax.’ (Species in taxonomy) provides the number of species in each of the 15 families in the two orders (Megaloptera and Neuroptera). This is based on the taxonomy in use in LacewingMAP in March 2019. This taxonomic ‘spine’ is updated at intervals. The remaining columns provide the number of photographic records for each Family which were identified to Family (only), Genus (only) and Species level. For each family, the total number of photographic records is provided (Total), and also the number of species they represent (Sp. rec.).
Sp. in tax.
Of the 1,249 species in the taxonomy, the overall LacewingMAP database (specimens and photographs) contained records for 952 on 31 March 2019. 20 species had 148 or more records, of which 18 were members of the family Myrmeleontidae (Table 6). The two species with the most records were Myrmeleon obscurus (518) and Hagenomyia tristis (516) (Figures 1 and 2). The distribution maps for these two species within South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland (Figures 6 and 7) show distinctly different patterns: it seems probable that Myrmeleon obscurus occurs throughout South Africa (Figure 6), but that Hagenomyia tristis is confined to the eastern half of the country (Figure 7).
Table 6. The 20 species with the largest numbers of records in the LacewingMAP database (specimen and photographic records combined) on 31 March 2019. The first column provides the species codes used in the Virtual Museum database.
All 12,898 records in the specimen database are identified to species. Species level identification from photographs is not always possible because many lacewings, and especially the species of “green lacewings” of the family Chrysopidae, can only be identified by dissection.
By 31 March 2019, we had undertaken identifications of 2,853 of the 2,883 photographic records submitted by citizen scientists. This provides a large sample of records from which we can attempt to quantify the extent of the identification issues. 1,885 of the 2,853 records (66.1%) were identified to species level, 613 (21.5%) to genus level only, and 355 (12.4%) to family level only (Table 5). Of those identified to family level only, 217 records (61%) were Chrysopidae (green lacewings), 50 records (14%) were Myrmeleontidae (antlions) and 49 records (14%) were Mantispidae (mantidflies) (Table 5).
Of the 613 records identified to genus level only (Table 5), 348 belonged to five genera: 105 in the genus Chrysoperla in the family Chrysopidae, and 83, 79, 67, and 55 in the genera Centroclisis, Cueta, Myrmeleon and Creoleon, respectively, of the family Myrmeleontidae (antlions). In summary, the green lacewings, i.e. the family Chrysopidae and especially the genus Chrysoperla within this family, and four genera within the family Myrmeleontidae (antlions) present the largest identification challenges from photographs.
In the photographic database, of the 22 species with more than 20 records (Table 7), 15 are also in Table 6, the top 20 species overall. There is one species in Table 7 for which more than half of all records are photographic: Dichochrysa tacta (recently renamed Pseudomallada tactus) has 43 photographic records and 41 specimen records. The distribution map (Figure 8) demonstrates how the photographic records are helping to “fill in” the range suggested by the specimen records.
Table 7. The 22 species with with more than 20 photographic records in the LacewingMAP database on 31 March 2019. The first column provides the species codes used in the Virtual Museum database.
The genus Dichochrysa (now Pseudomallada) is part of the family Chrysopidae, the green lacewings, for which identifications are generally difficult. However, along with the genus Italochrysa, most photographic records for both genera were identified to species (88% and 86%, respectively) (LacewingMAP database).
Who are the main contributors of photographic records to the LacewingMAP database?
By March 2019, 234 people had submitted records to LacewingMAP; 36 had submitted more than 20 records (Table 8). It is true to state that none of these 36 people have a primary interest in the lacewings (in the way that people have primary interests in a particular taxon, such as birds, butterflies, reptiles, dragonflies and damselflies, or even spiders or scorpions). 90 people had submitted a single record, and the median number of submissions per observer was three. The Virtual Museum had a total of 2,256 observers on 31 March 2019. Only eight of the 234 participants in LacewingMAP had submitted records only to this section of the Virtual Museum (seven had submitted one record, and one person had submitted 12, the only specialist LacewingMAPper). For 98.8% of the 2,256 Virtual Museum participants, submissions to LacewingMAP were less than 10% of their total numbers of records submitted. These observations suggest that photographic records are submitted to LacewingMAP opportunistically, as they are encountered. The lacewings are an extremely valuable by-catch.
Table 8. 36 citizen scientists had submitted 20 or more photographic records to LacewingMAP in the period September 2014 to March 2019.
Zenobia van Dyk
Dewald du Plessis
Len de Beer
Johnstone, Richard Alan
Hodgson, Andrew & Heather
Dawie de Swardt
What are some of the interesting photographic records in LacewingMAP?
LacewingMAP has contributed many interesting and valuable locality records. It has added a vast number of new locality records and has contributed to our overall knowledge of the distribution of Afrotropical lacewings. Thus it is difficult to single out individual records.
Two records, both from 2018, are outstanding. They highlight the value of the contribution being made by citizen scientists.
LacewingMAP record 15379 is a specimen from Lüderitz Peninsula, southwestern Namibia, on 24 July 2018 (Figure 9). It belongs to the the genus Palmipenna. It is doubtless an undescribed species, remarkable for its early appearance (July) and its close proximity to the sea. This record was a total surprise. It is the farthest north that this genus has ever been recorded, and the second record of this genus from Namibia. Previous records of this genus were almost exclusively from the Western Cape, South Africa.
LacewingMAP record 10583 is a specimen of a new antlion (Myrmeleontidae), either in the genus Fadrina or the genus Centroclisis (Figure 10). It cannot be placed with certainty; it has characteristics of both, and also remarkable for its small size. Provisionally, it is placed in Fadrina because of the double costal series in the forewings. This lacewing was found in the Cederberg area on 22 January 2018. This photographic record alerts us to the existence of a previously unknown taxon. It also emphasizes the exceptional lacewing diversity of the Cederberg.
What are the priorities for fieldwork for LacewingMAP?
The answer to this is simple. At this stage in the life-cycle of the LacewingMAP project every record, from anywhere in Africa, is valuable.
How do I participate in LacewingMAP?
In a nutshell, the protocol is simple. Take photographs of lacewings, and upload them to the LacewingMAP section of the Virtual Museum website. There is no need to identify the species in the photograph. This gets done by the expert panel for LacewingMAP.
The easiest way to take photographs of lacewings is to be aware that they are attracted to light at night, in exactly the same way that moths are, although usually in far smaller numbers. The entire spectrum of cameras are used to take photographs of lacewings; the most versatile for this type of photography are the new generation of “compact” cameras
Once you are registered, you log on to the website using your email address and password. A “Data upload” section now becomes visible. The critical information that needs to be uploaded into the database is date, place and a series of one to three photographs of a single species, usually different angles on the same individual. Guidance on the upload process is provided in this slide show: https://www.slideshare.net/Animal_Demography_Unit/how-to-submit-records-to-the-virtual-museums
We do our best to identify each record to species level. As described earlier, this is difficult to achieve for several of the lacewing families, and especially for the green lacewings. But this should not deter you from submitting photographs. As a beginner participant, the best strategy for a positive confirmed identification is to take lots of photos of a specimen, and to select the best one, two or three photographs for submission, preferably from different angles. It is helpful to try to get different parts of the specimen in sharp focus in the three pictures.
We thank all the contributors to the LacewingMAP project for their photographs, and all those who collected specimens over the years, upon which the original dataset is based. We gratefully acknowledge the South African Biodiversity Information Facility (SABIF), the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) and especially the JRS Biodiversity Foundation, Seattle, USA, for supporting the databasing of Afrotropical lacewings, which underpins this project. Museum specimen records were (and continue to be) assembled by MM. The expert panel for LacewingMAP is lead by MM, who evaluates all photographic submissions and attempts to assign records to species level.
Bates MF, Branch WR, Bauer AM, Burger M, Marais J, Alexander GJ, de Villiers MS (eds) 2014. Atlas and Red List of the reptiles of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. Suricata 1. Pretoria: South African National Biodiversity Institute.
Erasmus BFN, Kshatriya M, Mansell MW, Chown SL, Van Jaarsveld AS 2000. A modelling approach to antlion (Neuroptera: Myrmeleontidae) distribution patterns. African Entomology 8: 157-168.
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Mansell MW, Kenyon B 2002. The Palpares relational database: an integrated model for lacewing research. Acta Zoologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 48 (Suppl. 2): 185-195.
Mecenero S, Ball JD, Edge DA, Hamer ML, Henning GA, Krüger M, Pringle EL, Terblanche RF, Williams MC (eds) 2013. Conservation assessment of butterflies of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland: Red List and atlas. Johannesburg: Saftronics and Cape Town: Animal Demography Unit.
New TR 1975. The biology of Chrysopidae and Hemerobiidae (Neuroptera), with reference to their usage as biocontrol agents: a review. Ecological Entomology 127: 115-140.
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Paardeberg Inselberg is surrounded by vineyards and farms, but patches of fynbos, trees, farm dams, homestead gardens provide varied habitat and good diversity of birds. Ringing has been conducted at Bowwood farm and Fynbos Estate.
On 27 April 2019 Loutjie Steenberg, Taylyn Risi and I ringed on Sonop farm and caught 43 birds of 13 species. Three birds were recaptures from a previous ringing visit by Loutjie on 29 July 2018 – a Karoo Prinia, a Cape Weaver and a Southern Masked Weaver.
The Southern Masked Weaver shown was a recapture – it was moulting its head feathers into breeding plumage (the growing feathers with sheaths were black or yellow), rather early for a weaver in a rural area.
The species of the day was Neddicky, being the first time this species has been ringed anywhere on the Paardeberg.
This ringing session brings a total of 777 birds of 39 species ringed on the Paardeberg over 2018-19.
Bird conservation in Africa – the contributions of the Ibadan Bird Club
Adewale G Awoyemi
Forest Unit, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Ibadan, Nigeria; A. P. Leventis Ornithological Research Institute (APLORI), University of Jos Biological Conservatory, Jos, Nigeria
Forest Unit, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Ibadan, Nigeria
The Ibadan Bird Club has met 19 times at monthly intervals between February 2016 and August 2017, and 264 people (155 male and 109 female) have registered as members. During this period, the club has successfully built local capacity in bird conservation, and 111 bird species, distributed in 39 families, have been documented in an urban Important Bird Area, southwestern Nigeria. The findings of this citizen science initiative are essential for conservation purposes.
Conservation efforts produce remarkable results when stakeholders (landowners, indigenes, visitors, organizations and authorities) are involved in activities (Awoyemi et al. 2018). The stakeholders can contribute through citizen science, which is the collection of ecological data by members of the general public and non-specialists as part of scientific projects (Dickinson et al. 2012). This has been successful worldwide, especially in Australia (Tulloch et al. 2013), Europe (Silvertown, 2009) and North America (Dickinson et al. 2012), where enthusiasts, volunteers and nature lovers contribute data via bird and nature clubs. In some parts of Africa, citizen scientists now contribute data to bird atlas projects, which aim to map the distribution of birds in the continent (Hulbert, 2016; Ivande et al. 2017). The African Bird Club has taken this initiative by funding the establishment of bird clubs in Africa, notably the Ibadan Bird Club (IBC) (Demey, 2015).
The IBC was started on 5 March 2014 by the Nigerian Conservation Foundation in partnership with the Department of Wildlife and Ecotourism Management, University of Ibadan, and the Forest Project at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, Nigeria (Demey, 2015). The aim was to build local capacity and enhance the conservation of birds in the Ibadan area. On 13 February 2016, the club was re-launched, so that it could be coordinated by the IITA Forest Unit as an activity of the A. G. Leventis-funded Ornithological Monitoring Project 2015-2017 (Figs. 1-3). The contributions of the club to bird conservation from then until August 2017 are presented here.
The activities of the IBC since its re-launch have been carried out within the IITA campus, Ibadan (7° 29’ N, 3° 54’ E; Fig. 4). The approx. 1000 ha campus is located in the transition zone between savannah and rainforest, and experiences two distinct seasons: wet (April-September) and dry (October-March) (Neuenschwander et al. 2015). The campus has different kinds of habitats (forests, wetlands, farmlands and gardens) and supports over 270 species of birds, which are either Afro-tropical residents or migratory (Ezealor, 2001; Adeyanju et al. 2014). The approx. 360 ha forest reserve within the campus is dominated by native trees such as , , and (Manu et al. 2005). It also holds 67 bird species that are restricted to the Guinea-Congo Forest Biome, qualifying it as an Important Bird Area (IBA) (Ezealor, 2001). It is our understanding that this is the only IBA in Nigeria located in a major conurbation, justifying the need for capacity building at the local level. The campus also contains a large reservoir, several lakes and a number of fishponds which constitute important habitats for waterbirds while crops such as banana, cassava, cowpea, maize, plantain, rice and yam are cultivated in the research farm.
The IBC has no badging but there is a unique structure that produces results. Typically an invitation, which contains a striking photo taken by a member, is sent at least 3 days before the new meeting date, which is fixed on the last Saturday of every month at 16h00 – 18h00. All levels of age, interest and experience are encouraged, and membership is free. Member attendance is noted and feedback is given in the form of short reports sent after each meeting while the members interact online via the club’s Facebook Group Page. Since the main focus of the club is capacity building, the coordinators (authors) normally stop at regular intervals to explain some aspects of avian ecology and the relevance of environmental education and citizen science to biodiversity conservation. The junior members of the club (IBC Juniors) are given high priority, and engaged in activities such as quizzes, debates, drawing contests, mist-netting and presentations in scientific workshops, in addition to birdwatching. In order to consolidate the knowledge gained during the meetings, club members are invited to workshops organised by the IITA Forest Unit Ornithological Monitoring Project on topics such as IBAs, Spring Alive and the World Migratory Bird Day.
Data were collected from February 2016 to August 2017 during meetings of the IBC. During this time, 19 meetings were held but data from 18 meetings (equally distributed between dry and wet seasons) were used in analysing our biological data as rain did not allow for a complete survey in June 2017 and the record was excluded. Therefore a total of 36 hours was spent during the meetings (survey). On arrival at the meeting venue, new members were normally introduced to the basics of birdwatching and use of equipment. Visits were then made to the three main habitats in the study area (farmland, forest and wetland), with each habitat receiving an equal number of visits (N=6). Line transects, measuring approx. 1.5 km were used to record all birds seen or heard during each walk (Bibby et al. 2000), though no fixed radius was set. There was no obvious change in vegetation during the data collection, therefore we did not measure vegetation variables but described the visited habitats as above. Consequently, we predicted that changes in bird encounter rate would be influenced mainly by habitat and season.
We calculated encounter rate as the number of species recorded per 2-hour survey (Guilherme, 2014), which was our response variable. We then graphically explored our dataset, and tested its normality using Shapiro-Wilk normality test: W = 0.654, p < 0.001. As this was not normally distributed even after transformation, we used Poisson Logistic Regression to test the difference in encounter rate between habitats and seasons in R statistical Software (R Development Core Team, 2013).
Furthermore, the species’ local abundance was estimated using this formula: (Ti/Tn) x 100; where Ti = number of transects along which a species was recorded, and Tn = the total number of transects surveyed (Asefu, 2015). We then classified species as common (observed on >75% of transects), frequent (observed on 50-74% of transects), uncommon (observed on 25-49% of transects) or rare (observed on <25% of transects) following Asefu (2015). We also assigned species to one of 3 major habitats (Redman et al. 2009; Borrow & Demey 2010): (1) aquatic species (wetlands, lakes and marshes); (2) forest species (closed forest); and (3) open habitat species (farmlands with scattered trees and grassland).
Our sociological data reveal that 264 people have registered as members of the IBC since its re-launch. Among these were 155 male (59%), 109 female (41%) and 27 juniors under the age of 12 years (10%). The club has been consistent in its activities, and an average of 31 members attends the monthly meetings.
Biologically, 111 bird species belonging to 39 families were recorded during the survey; their relative frequency, status, biomes and habitat requirements are listed in Appendix 1. Among these were 21 species restricted to the Guinea-Congo Forests Biome, 1 species restricted to the Sudan-Guinea Savannah Biome, 7 Palaearctic migrants and 16 Intra-African migrants, while the rest were resident (Appendix 1). This diversity of birds may be attributed to the different kinds of habitats found within the study area, which allows birds to exploit them differently. For instance, all the 21 species restricted to the Guinea-Congo Forests Biome were recorded within the forest reserve, the yellow-billed shrike (restricted to the Sudan-Guinea Savannah Biome) was recorded only in farmlands, while the palaearctic and Intra-African migrants mainly utilized farmlands and wetlands. Poisson Logistic Regression shows that bird encounter rate significantly differs between habitats and seasons (Table 1; Fig. 5).
forest x wet
wetland x wet
Effective conservation of biodiversity largely depends on the involvement of stakeholders. Our findings have revealed that their involvement increases the appreciation of the natural world. If well-engaged, they can also contribute data which are essential for formulating conservation strategies as presented here. The IBC has successfully raised awareness about bird conservation and engaged citizen scientists. The club has attracted the attention of indigenes, visitors/tourists, enthusiasts, professionals, researchers and students, who in turn disseminate the knowledge gained from the club to a wider audience such as colleagues, families and friends. In addition, the influence generated online via the Facebook Group Page is producing positive cascading effects. Worthy of note is the performance of the IBC Juniors whose age averages 9 years. Children learn quickly at tender ages, and we have maximized this opportunity to inculcate environmental and conservation values in them. It is anticipated that both the values and practical skills will provide a worthwhile basis for their contributions to society as citizens of the future.
Given the focus of this study, which is citizen science, our biological data undoubtedly under-estimate bird diversity in the study area (see Adeyanju et al. 2014). It is also important to note that we were more interested in the number of species encountered per habitat but the fact that more birds were encountered in a certain habitat does not imply it is richer. In addition, the survey was carried out towards late afternoon, implying that we have missed out on some birds at dawn. Nevertheless, the study has added to the goal of constant monitoring of birds and habitats, and local capacity has been built. In addition, our study has affirmed the ornithological significance of the study area by recording 21 out of the 67 bird species that qualify the IITA Forest Reserve as an IBA (Ezealor, 2001). The yellow-billed shrike , a species restricted to the Sudan-Guinea Savannah Biome was recorded during our expeditions. Although this is hardly surprising due to the location of the study area in the transition zone between the forest and savannah (Neuenschwander et al. 2015), this might also provide a clearer indication of savannah encroachment into the forest zone. By occurring in nearly all the habitat types, three species were the most commonly recorded throughout the survey: red-eyed dove (18/18), African pied hornbill (17/18) and pied crow (16/18).
Interestingly, more birds were encountered in the wet than dry season in all three habitats (Table 1; Fig. 5). On the one hand, this may be due to the influx of migratory birds at the end of the wet season in August and September as the study area serves as an important wintering ground for Palaearctic migrants. On the other hand, it may be due to the recruitment of new individuals as most Afro-tropical resident birds are known to breed during the wet season when food is plentiful (Elgood et al. 1994). As IITA is an agricultural research institute, mechanized farming is carried out within the campus. During two of our bird walks during the wet season, over 50 birds at a time were noted intensively foraging behind tractors as they ploughed in the research fields. This might account for the higher number of birds recorded in this habitat during the wet season. In addition, we also noted that heavy downpours caused some lakes to overflow their banks. While this may appear hazardous, receding water increases the concentration of prey available to birds foraging along water bodies (Cumming et al. 2012).
In conclusion, we have provided evidence that environmental education via bird clubs is vital for bird conservation. Our findings from the citizen science data presented here may be the first in Africa and, given the rate at which habitats are lost due to anthropogenic activities, environmental education and citizen science are particularly important now. Although the activities of the IBC were restricted to the IITA campus during this reporting period, plans are underway to replicate activities in other areas around Ibadan. We will also endeavour to get more birdwatching equipment and materials (binoculars, telescopes, cameras, bird song recorders and guidebooks) to better serve the average number of members we expect at monthly meetings.
Authors are grateful to the following people and organizations: all IBC members who supported the activities of the club; Chima Nwaogu and Sam Ivande advised on statistical analyses; Shiiwua Manu and Phil Hall commented on an earlier draft; the AG. Leventis Foundation funded the IBC as part of the Ornithological Monitoring Project, and IITA-Ibadan hosted the activities of the club. This is publication number 146 from the A. P. Leventis Ornithological Research Institute (APLORI), Jos, Nigeria.
Adeyanju TA, Ottosson U, Adeyanju T, Omotoriogun T, Hall P, Manu S, Alabi T, Lameed G, and Bown D. 2014. Birds of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture campus, a stronghold of avian diversity in the changing Ibadan area (Nigeria) over the last 50 years. Malimbus 36:76-105.
Asefu A. 2015. Bird observations in Muktar Mountain Forest, eastern Ethiopia: a previously unidentified Important Bird Area. Bulletin of the African Bird Club 22(1):36-42.
Awoyemi AG, Bown D, Manu S, Ajayi A, Olasupo O, and Olubodun O. 2018. First breeding record of Ahanta Francolin Pternistis ahantensis for Nigeria. Bulletin of the African Bird Club 25(1):70-71.
Bibby CJ, Burgess ND, and Hill DA. 2000. Bird census techniques. London: Academic Press.
Borrow N, and Demey, R. 2010. Birds of Western Africa. Christopher Helm, London.
Cumming GC, Paxton M, King J, and Beuster H. 2012. Foraging guild membership explains variation in waterbird responses to the hydrological regime of an arid-region flood-pulse river in Namibia. Freshwater Biology 57:1202-1213. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2427.2012.02789.x
Demey R. 2015. Volunteers for bird conservation. Bulletin of the African Bird Club 22(1):11.
Dickinson JL, Shirk J, Bonter D, Bonney R, Crain RL, Martin J, Philips T, and Purcell K. 2012. The current state of citizen science as a tool for ecological research and public engagement. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 10(6):291-297. https://doi.org/10.1890/110236
Elgood JH, Heigham JB, Moore AM, Nason AM, Sharland RE, and Skinner NJ. 1994. The birds of Nigeria: an annotated check-list (2nd edition). The Natural History Museum, Tring, Herts HP23 6AP, UK.: British Ornithologists’ Union.
Ezealor EA. 2001. Nigeria. In Fishpool LDC, and Evans MI (eds.). Important Bird Areas in Africa and Associated Islands: Priority Sites for Conservation. Newbury: Pisces Publications and Cambridge, UK: BirdLife International.
Guilherme JL. 2014. Birds of the Boe region, south-east Guinea-Bissau, including the first country records of Chestnut-backed Sparrow Lark Eremopterix leucotis, Lesser Striped Swallow Cecropis abyssinica and Heuglin’s Wheatear Oenanthe heuglini. Bulletin of the African Bird Club 21(2):155-168.
Hulbert J. 2016. Citizen science tools available for ecological research in South Africa. South African Journal of Science 112(5/6):1-2.
Ivande ST, Talatu T, and Ottosson U. 2016. Nigeria Bird Atlas Project: how far so far? progress report august 2016. Biodiversity Observations 7(50):1-3.
Manu S, Peach W, Bowden C, and Cresswell W. 2005. The effects of forest fragmentation on the population density and distribution of the globally Endangered Ibadan Malimbe Malimbus ibadanensis and other malimbe species. Bird Conservation International 15:275-285. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0959270905000444
Neuenschwander P, Bown D, Hèdégbètan GC, and Adomou A. 2015. Long-term conservation and rehabilitation of threatened rain forest patches under different human population pressures in West Africa. Nature Conservation 13:21-46. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.13.6539
R Development Core Team. 2013. R: A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria. ISBN 3-900051-07-0, URL http://www.R-project.org/.
Redman N, Stevenson T, and Fanshawe J. 2009. Birds of the Horn of Africa. London, UK: Christopher Helm.
Silvertown J. 2009. A new dawn for citizen science. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 24(9):467-471.
Greedy southern pale chanting goshawk Melierax canorus
Tal 34, Munich, Germany
Southern pale chanting goshawks (Melierax canorus) never miss an opportunity for feeding on any creature living or dead. Here three birds are recorded with the beak or crop still full, and hunting techniques and diet are described.
Southern pale chanting goshawk hunting skills encompass a great variety of techniques. They hunt alone or in groups. They mainly hunt smaller prey, but are capable of killing animals heavier than themselves. The local available biodiversity determines the composition of the diet, which is generally highly diverse. Among recorded prey items are mammals (mainly rodents), birds (a variety of species ranging from larks, swallows, weavers to the size of francolin, korhaan, sandgrouse, owls and guineafowl) (Malan and Crowe 1996). Predation records have included a stunned rock kestrel or sometimes chickens (Steyn 1982). Southern pale chanting goshawks have also been recorded predating reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates (sunspiders, harvester termites, grasshoppers, beetles and other insects). Southern pale chanting goshawks also feed on carrion of any kind, from hares to owls (Stein 1982; Biggs et al. 1984; Malan and Crowe 1996; Allan 2005). In one incident they might have detected a carcass of an Egyptian goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca) by observing Cape crows (Corvus capensis) gathering nearby (Ryan et al. 2012).
Steyn (1982) reports lizards as the most common prey in Kenya, while a study in the Western Cape Province, South Africa, found that more than 90% of the diet consisted of three species of rodents: Karoo bush rat (Myotomys (Otomys) unisulcatus), Brants’ whistling rat (Parotomys brantsii) and four-striped grass mouse (Rhabdomys pumilio) (Malan and Crowe 1996). Malan (2017) found leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis) hatchlings being preyed upon, but only in their first two weeks while their carapaces, the outer shells, were still soft. In the arid savannah near Usakos, Namibia, (22° 24’S; 15° 25’E), I once saw two juvenile southern pale chanting goshawks, in the presence of one adult, dropping down clumsily on three young bat-eared foxes (Otocyon megalotis) who made it in time to their distant underground den, while the adult fox was defensively snapping into the air towards the attacking birds. It is unclear whether this behaviour was curiosity, hunting instinct, honing the hunting skills of the juveniles, or a serious attempt at predation in the harsh environment.
Southern pale chanting goshawks perch high up to swoop down on prey and may pursue their prey swiftly on foot, if needed. They run so “blisteringly fast with these long legs” that “they easily can catch a sunspider” (Malan 2017). In strong wind, hunting may be restricted to the ground (pers. obs.). Although most prey are caught on the ground, birds can also be predated in flight, as Steyn (1982) observed during predation on a crowned plover (Vanellus coronatus) and a harlequin quail (Coturnix delegorguei).
Southern pale chanting goshawks are also known to take advantage of the hunting skills of other animals, and follow mammals (mainly honey badger, Melivora capensis, and slender mongoose, Galerella sanguinea), other birds, and possibly rock monitors (Varanus albigularis), who all could flush prey by their presence, by digging and exploring holes. Pale chanting goshawks have been sighted hoping for secondary prey from a Cape cobra (Naja nivea) (Siebert and Siebert 2003; Vanderwalt 2016), and kleptoparasitising a booted eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus) (in Malan 1998, p. 199) and a pipit from a kestrel (Steyn 1982).
We have caught two different southern pale chanting goshawk individuals, which had swallowed lizards directly before our observations – the tail of a lizard was still sticking out of the throat when each came swooping down to its next prey in the form of a mouse in a trap (Figures 1 and 2). Bird ringers might have experienced that a southern pale chanting goshawk will repeatedly try to take the bait whenever an attempt (or more) of catching the bird with a bal-chatri trap has failed. A bal-chatri is a cage containing a live rodent used to attract the attention of the raptor, and with nooses or fishline on top of the cage to entangle the raptor’s feet when landing and trying to catch the bait (de Beer 2001).
A further adult female was trapped and ringed coming straight from a fresh helmeted guineafowl (Numida meleagris) kill. All flesh had been consumed. The southern pale chanting goshawk came to the bal-chatri already with a huge crop (Figures 3 and 4). As the site was near a gravel road, it remains unclear whether the southern pale chanting goshawk had killed the guineafowl or whether it had been hit by a car.
I am grateful to Susan Mvungi from the Niven Library, Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town, for supporting me with access to literature, and to Dane Paijmans for revising the text.
Allan DG 2005. Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk. In: Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ, Ryan PG (eds). Roberts Birds of Southern Africa. 7th Ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town. pp 509-511.
de Beer SJ, Lockwood GM, Raijmakers JHFA, Raijmakers JMH, Scott WA, Oschadleus HD, Underhill LG 2001. SAFRING bird ringing manual. 2nd Ed. Animal Demography Unit, Cape Town.
Biggs HC, Biggs R, Freyer E 1984. Observations on the Chanting Goshawk Melierax canorus during a period of poor rainfall. Proceedings of the Second Symposium on African Predatory Birds 61-70. Natal Bird Club, Durban.
Ferguson-Lees J, Christie DA 2001. Raptors of the world. Christopher Helm, London. pp 512-513.
Kemp AC, Kirwan GM 2017. Pale Chanting Goshawk Melierax canorus. In: del Hoyo J, Elliott A, Sargatal J, Christie DA, de Juana E (eds). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. Available from http://www.hbw.com/node/53039 (Accessed on on 29.10.2017).
Malan G 1998. Solitary and social hunting in Pale Chanting Goshawk Melierax canorus families: why use both strategies? Journal of Raptor Research 32:195-201.
Malan G, Crowe TM 1996. The diet and conservation of monogamous and polyandrous Pale Chanting Goshawks in the Little Karoo, South Africa. South African Journal of Wildlife Research 26:1-10.
Ryan PG, Shaw JM, van der Merwe R, van der Merwe E 2012. Carrion attraction: goshawks and other birds captured on camera traps. Ornithological Observations 3:102-106. Available from http://bo.adu.org.za/content.php?id=49 (Accessed on on 29.10.2017).
Siebert S, Siebert P 2003. Pale Chanting Goshawk following Cape Cobra. Promerops 254:19.
Steyn P 1982. Birds of prey of Southern Africa. Their identification and life histories. David Philip, Cape Town. pp 183-186.
White-throated Swallows are common in Cape Town in the summer months, building their nests under the multiple bridges that cross canals and rivers. They migrate north in Africa for the wet winter.
Ringing of these swallows (both adults and nestlings) has been opportunistic most of the time, while ringing weavers in wetlands around Cape Town. Nevertheless, some interesting data has been obtained. Most chicks were ringed in October and November, matching the peak of October to December. Brood size varied from 2 to 4 (average 2.8) – this compares with published clutch size of 2-5 (mean 3.2), suggesting a small mortality of eggs laid to chicks fledged.
One adult White-throated Swallow was recaptured 3 years later and another 2 years later, and two others a few months later. All recaptures were in the same area, suggesting a high site fidelity in this species. None of the 33 chicks ringed has been recaptured to date.
The range and numbers of this species have increased in the Western Cape due to the widespread availability of impoundments and structures that can be used as nesting sites. The White-throated Swallow could be an interesting subject of more detailed studies.
Kingfishers are colourful and interesting, and it is a great pleasure to hold one in the hand (Figure 1). Catching them also provides valuable data, and here longevity data will be highlighted (data that can only reliably be obtained from ringing efforts).
There are 10 species in southern Africa, and the greatest longevity record is nearly 9 years, for a Brown-hooded Kingfisher, followed closely by Woodland and Giant Kingfishers both at 8 years. The most ringed kingfisher species is the Malachite Kingfisher, followed by Brown-hooded Kingfisher and African Pygmy Kingfisher, all species with over 2400 individuals ringed. The other kingfishers have less than 900 ringed each, with the rarer Mangrove Kingfisher at only 12 ringed. No Mangrove Kingfishers have been recaptured nor found dead, so this kingfisher has no longevity record.
The longevity for the African Pygmy Kingfisher is not high, being close to 4 years. Partly this could be due to it being an intra-African migrant, and it is not retrapped often. The greatest distance moved for this species (based on ringing data) is 433 km, between Durban and East London. Kingfishers in Europe have reached an age of 21 years, which is substantially more than records for African kingfishers, possibly due to more ringing in Europe and greater efforts to recapture these birds. This shows that there is potential for much greater longevities in our kingfishers, especially as African birds usually reach higher ages than similar species in Europe.
One of the kingfishers with the most number of recaptures was bird E16147 (Figure 2), ringed as an adult along the Ottery River in Cape Town, and recaptured 11 times thereafter, and becoming the oldest known Malachite Kingfisher. Unfortunately the ringing site was abandoned after the site deteriorated (dumping of rubble, and other factors), else the longevity record may have been a few years more by now (if the same bird was still alive and being caught). This also highlights the threat of habitat loss to kingfishers, and Malachite Kingfishers are sadly declining in southern Africa.
Table 1. Longevity records for the southern African kingfisher species
Dwarf ravens kill and eat a spotted thick-knee – previously undocumented behavior of the dwarf raven or Somali crow
Peter S. Wairasho
The dwarf raven or Somali crow (Corvus edithae) is an endemic resident in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somali, Kenya and SE Sudan (Fry et al. 2000). In Kenya they are locally found mostly in the North from around Kapedo, Laisamis, Mado Gashi and Wajir areas. These birds belong to the family Corvidae. They are medium to large passerine birds. They are conspicuous, bold, inquisitive and highly adaptable. As a family they occupy a wide range of habitats including forest, woodland, grassland, tundra, desert and cliffs but more often around human habitation (Fry et al. 2000).
This species, in particular, inhabits deserts, semi-deserts, arid plains, dry savannas and open thorn bush from sea level to around 2000 m ASL (Fry et al. 2000). Their general behavior is not well documented but they are known to be solitary or to live in pairs and in flocks of up to 100 in the non-breeding season. They are usually fearless and aggressive.
Their food consists of small ground-dwelling animals, carrion, some plants, bird eggs, ticks and lice (Fry et al. 2000). They are largely considered to be scavengers. Thus, while at Turkana in May 2018 I was surprised to witness a small group of the species behave like raptors in pursuit of their prey. A group of three dwarf ravens landed about 50 m from where I was standing, and began rummaging through small dry bushes (Figures 1 and 2).
I had not even taken much notice of two fully-grown spotted thick-knees (Burhinus capensis) nearby (Figure 3), thanks to their cryptic plumage which blended well with the surroundings: sun-bleached volcanic rocks spewed all over this vast arid region interspersed by short dry grass and bushes.
Before long, I noticed something emerge fast from the short bushes, apparently disturbed by the ravens. It was a young spotted thick-knee (Figure 4), not fully grown but just as tall as the parents, who were close by.
The ravens actively pursued the young thick-knee (Figure 5), caught it and relentlessly attacked it (Figures 6, 7, 8, 9).
The attack was briefly interrupted when Egyptian vultures (Neophron percnopterus) landed nearby (Figure 10) and again when a white-headed vulture (Trigonoceps occipitalis) landed nearby (Figure 11).
The parents of the young thick-knee watched from a safe distance away and made no attempts to rescue the fledgling. Eventually the ravens killed the thick-knee before proceeding to dismember it and devour it (Figure 12).
We could not find other records of Corvids actively hunting and killing live prey but it is likely desert dwelling corvids will often resort to catching live prey (of any taxa).
Many thanks to Dr Peter Njoroge for his advice in the presentation of this record.
Fry CH, Keith S, and Urban EK (Eds). 2000. The Birds of Africa Vol. VI Academic Press, London.
Checklist of the Birds of Kenya, Fourth Edition, OS-c EANHS September 2009.
We were on a game drive following the Shingwedzi River towards the Kanniedood Dam in the Kruger National Park on 5 October 2017. About four km after leaving the Shingwedzi Rest Camp we spotted a group of lions feeding on a greater kudu that appeared to have been killed earlier that morning (Figure 1). It was 08h30.
There were ten lions: two adult males, one young male, and seven adult females. They were feeding on the opposite bank of the river. Although the latter was open sand banks with scattered bushes, our visibility was rather limited by the dense vegetation on our side. After a while we managed to find a gap in the vegetation that enabled us to watch them.
At exactly 08h45 (we know the exact times because of the photo timestamps) four lionesses were feeding on the kill while the remaining members of the pride were nearby, either a few metres away or up on the river bank. We also noted that there were three adult buffalo about 50 metres towards the right of the lions. They were not grazing, just watching them.
Suddenly, one of the buffalo ran the distance that separated it from the lions at speed and charged the group, scattering them in all directions (Figure 2). Then the buffalo started to head-butt the greater kudu carcass.
The buffalo thrashed the carcass for a few seconds. During this time, the lions dispersed a short distance and then stopped and watched the buffalo (Figures 3 – 5).
Then, the other two buffalo came and the trio stood at the site for a while before moving off to the other side of the carcass at a distance of about 30 metres (Figures 6 and 7).
Two minutes later the lions started to come back and resumed feeding, still being watched by the buffalo. Several lion came to feed and left, including the males. After thirty minutes, six lionesses were feeding at the kill (Figure 8) when a second buffalo charge took place (Figures 9 and 10).
This time the buffalo only displaced the lions and it did not interfere with the carcass (Figure 11).
After this second interaction the three buffalo turned their attention towards the lions that were now away from the carcass and proceeded to flush them out from the locations the lions chose as cover (Figure 12).
After about one hour of this confrontation, one of the lionesses moved off and walked about 200m towards a pool in the river and, after drinking, took cover under some bushes.
By about 11h00 the standoff was over and the buffalo moved away leaving the lions undisturbed either singly or in small groups at various places along the river. When we returned before sunset, a group of lions was resting on the riverbed but the buffalo were no longer in the area. By the following morning there were no signs of the lions or the carcass but some buffalo were still in the area.
We believe that there are three issues of interest. The first is that at no time the lions attempted to face or retaliate against the buffalo despite the size of the pride. This is probably explained either by not being hungry (as they had fed on the grater kudu) and/or being aware that the strong buffalo were a dangerous prey.
The second issue is the clear and understandable adverse reaction of the buffalo against the lions that they perceive as a danger and did not wish to have in their territory.
The third issue relates to the buffalo behaviour towards the carcass. It is possible that, unable to retaliate against the lions, the buffalo’s anger was expressed against what they saw as associated with the predators. Of course we cannot rule out that some other reason sight- or smell-related, triggered this conduct.
Perhaps readers with more experience on animal behaviour would like to comment on this and put forward a better explanation?