3. Birds

Posted: 5 March 2001

Author: Alison Stattersfield

Author Info: Alison Stattersfield is a Senior Research Officer at Birdlife International. She may be contacted for further information at: BirdLife International, Wellbrook Court, Girton Road, Cambridge CB3 0NA, UK. Email ali.statt@BirdLife.org.uk Endemic Bird Areas of the World: Priorities for Biodiversity Conservation by Alison Stattersfield, Michael Crosby, Adrian Long and David Wege, BirdLife International, 1998, ISBN 0946888337.Threatened Birds of the World, by BirdLife International, Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, 2000, ISBN 0 946888 39 6 (UK) 84 87334 28 8 (Spain).

For over 10 years BirdLife International has been using birds to identify areas of high species endemism, where conservation resources can be most effectively directed. Alison Stattersfield reports.

BirdLife's 'Biodiversity Project' has revealed that over a quarter of all birds - that is, 2,561 species - have restricted ranges: they are confined to areas of less than 50,000 km² (the size of Costa Rica). These small areas overlap to form Endemic Bird Areas (EBAs).

Most restricted-range species - 93 per cent of them - are encompassed by 218 EBAs, with over three-quarters of these located in the tropics and sub-tropics. The 2,561 restricted-range birds include over 800 species that are currently classified as globally threatened with extinction, almost three-quarters of the 1,186 threatened bird species in the world. Bannerman's turacoBannerman's Turaco, Mount Oku, Cameroon© Roger Fotso/BirdLife International EBAs vary in size from a few square kilometres to more than 100,000 km² and in the numbers of restricted-range species they support - from 2 to 80. The natural habitat, however, in most EBAs is forest. Research has shown that there is broad overlap in endemism between birds and other major taxa such as plants, amphibians, reptiles and butterflies.

These findings show that a major part of the earth's biodiversity can be conserved by focusing conservation resources and actions within a relatively small total area - equivalent to only 1 per cent of the earth's land surface. EBAs of the world are thus clearly priorities for conservation action. BirdLife is identifying the most important sites - Important Bird Areas (IBAs) for restricted-range species within the Endemic Bird Areas and working to protect them. At a national level, information on Endemic Bird Areas can be used directly in the implementation of conservation agreements and conventions, particularly so for the Convention on Biological Diversity, which requires member states to identify important areas and ecosystems.

The Cameroon Mountains EBA is one good example of BirdLife's approach to saving species and habitat. This area comprises the chain of mountains that runs through western Cameroon and adjacent south-eastern Nigeria, and the mountains on the island of Bioko. It supports 29 restricted-range bird species, 10 of which are threatened and confined to this one area alone.

Habitat destruction

The main threat in the Cameroon Mountains is forest loss, caused by unsustainable exploitation for timber and firewood, overgrazing, fire damage and agricultural encroachment. This is particularly serious in the Bamenda-Banso highlands, where half the forest cover has been estimated to have been lost between 1965 and 1985. The largest area of forest remaining in the Bamenda-Banso highlands Occurs on the slopes of Mount Oku and the Ijim Ridge, and this forest represents the only hope for survival for Bannerman's Turaco (Tauraco bannermani) and Banded Wattle-eye (Platysteira laticincta), two of the restricted-range species that have highly localised ranges and populations estimated at fewer than 10,000 birds.

Carmine Bee Eaters© Kevin Schafer/Still PicturesBirdLife International has been implementing the Kilum-Ijim Forest Project (KIFP) to conserve the montane forests there since 1987. The project uses the charismatic Bannerman's Turaco as a flagship species to focus attention on the wider issues of forest loss. One of the best hopes for its continued survival rests on its strong cultural value to the Kom people of the forest. Making the link between forest clearance and the declines of valued wildlife is increasing the chances for working for effective conservation of the bird's habitat. Traditional leaders (the Fon, and his Council, the Kwifon) are strong supporters of the project. They are actively encouraging people to carry out conservation, and are discouraging damaging practices such as burning, cutting of live trees and grazing of goats in the forest.

People are still allowed to use the forest in a sustainable way, however. At the centre of project activities is Community Forest Management. A revised Forestry Law published in 1994 provides a legal framework which allows communities to manage their forests according to management plans that have been approved by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. The KIFP is helping communities to negotiate internal forest boundaries, develop management plans, build capacity in forest management institutions, and monitor and evaluate the impact of forest use and management. It is also helping to maximise incomes from forest based activities such as bee-keeping.

The project is working in partnership with the Ministry of Environment and Forest, which is seen as the key to institutionalising the process and making it sustainable. The Kilum-Ijim Forest Project has already achieved notable success. It was once predicted that if forest clearance trends continued, all the forest in the Cameroon Mountains would be gone by 1992. In 2001 the forest boundary has not been encroached beyond its 1987 limit and in some places forest on degraded land is regenerating. The incidence of fire has been much reduced, and community-based forest management institutions cover the entire forest. The project, by using a bird species to increase conservation awareness and by working closely with local people, has ensured the survival of much endemic wildlife in a forest that remains a resource for local communities.