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Home > Research > Maintaining Biodiversity: Species-Level Conservation > Saving Cape Parrots and their forests
Current Research Programmes

Saving Cape Parrots and their forests

The Cape Parrot Poicephalus robustus has been confirmed to be a separate species which is endangered and endemic to a few Afromontane forest patches in South Africa. With fewer than 1 500 individuals remaining in the wild, it is threatened by a diversity of impacts ranging from habitat loss to illegal trade and disease. Tackling this array of threats makes it a useful model for developing and testing different research and conservation strategies, and it is a valuable flagship species for conserving South Africa’s Afromontane forests.

The Cape Parrot Project (CPP), which started in 2009, aims to conserve the endangered and endemic Cape Parrot through research, education and reforestation efforts. This is a partnership with government, local community stakeholders, conservation partners and research collaborators.

Activities in 2017:

  • The CPP reforestation programme continued dealings with relevant policy stakeholders (e.g. Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency) to proclaim forest reserves, reduce yellowwood harvesting, secure planting sites, and engage with rural communities.
  • We continued monitoring and recording data on the foraging, breeding and movements of Cape Parrots in Hogsback and surrounds, as well as on indigenous fruiting trees within the forest, and maintained and inspected artificial nest boxes.
  • Six community staff members, Dumisani Sohobo, Bulelani Velemu, Sakhikile Mabaso, Siyabulela Sonjani, Wanda Limba, and Willie Mafika, attended courses and received training on environmental conservation, and best planting and growing practices for regenerating indigenous trees.

Research Highlights:

  • The CPP expanded a comprehensive research database with observational data which has increased our knowledge on the seasonality of diet, flocking behaviour, distribution and movements of Cape Parrots with respect to changes in food availability and climatic conditions.
  • Five natural nest sites were located. One nest could be inspected, with eggs confirmed. This is the first time the project has been able to locate and monitor these nests.
  • The research team recorded the largest ever flock of Cape Parrots (~600 recorded in Alice pecan nut orchard).
  • The team captured and sampled parrots for Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) testing.
  • Rarely observed behaviours of Cape Parrots were documented: (1) first record of copulation behaviour, (2) drinking water from oak leaves, (3) eating acorn nuts for the first time, and (4) rubbing beaks on and consuming lichen, which may act as a detox during the pecan nut season.
  • The public were increasingly engaged and are helping with data collection via citizen science apps such as BirdLasser. In addition, there is an established “spotter network” in the Amathole mountains where sightings are noted and entered into our growing database to inform conservation on the ground.
  • Three scientific papers on the courtship displays and mating behaviour of Cape Parrots, interactions between birds of prey and the Cape Parrot, and the use nest boxes for Cape Parrots were published. Four other papers are in preparation.
  • Collaboration continued with Prof. Anna Young from Otterbein University, USA, on Cape Parrot vocalisations. Two volunteer students accompanied the team who travelled to Magoebaskloof in the Limpopo Province, the Creighton area in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, and the Wild Coast (Old Transkei) of the Eastern Cape to monitor and record vocalisations of Cape Parrots.
  • A paper titled “Evidence for vocal dialects in the endangered Cape Parrot” was presented at the Animal Behaviour Society conference held in Toronto, Canada.
  • Media coverage of the CPP by two journalists:Janine Stephen from Getaway (November 2017 issue) and Christine Dell’Amore from National Geographic (to be published in 2018 as part of the Year of Birds feature).

Reforestation highlights

  • Over 40 000 seeds from native tree species were collected from the forests, and the climate-controlled germination room continues to run successfully.
  • We established a community run nursery in Sompondo Village, with 16 micro-nursery staff, including a nursery manager. The CPP provided training and built the nursery, storage shed and secured water. The CPP provides the nursery with seeds and buys back seedlings grown.
  • The CPP entered into a partnership with DAFF, where CPP has been given government land to reforest with locally grown indigenous seedlings.
  • We entered into a partnership with the NGO Greenpop and local business Terra Khaya for “Festival of Trees”, an annual event. 1 500 trees were sold; half planted on DAFF land and half on private land in Hogsback.
  • Indigenous seedlings were planted at two sites in Hogsback: over 600 seedlings as a “feed lot” for parrots on municipal land in partnership with two local businesses and the other on DAFF reforestation land in partnership with Greenpop and Terra Khaya. To date, 35 000 indigenous seedlings have been planted in 21 sites around Hogsback.
  • The CPP is collaborating with DAFF to monitor indigenous yellowwood harvesting, exotic pine plantation industry and promote indigenous forest reserve proclamation.

Impact of the project

By learning more about Cape Parrots, we are able to better conserve the species. For instance, by understanding the characteristics of natural nest cavities (e.g. position, type of tree) we can improve the use of artificial nest boxes. Finding where they travel in different seasons and the indigenous tree species they rely on for fruit gives us a better idea of areas that need to be protected and incorporated into reserves. Increased capacity to grow trees allows us to populate degraded habitat with indigenous trees for use by forest species, particularly Cape Parrots.

Key co-sponsors

Abax Foundation; Ford Wildlife Foundation; Roland and Dawn Amall Foundation.

Research team

Dr Steve Boyes (FIAO, UCT, Project Director)
Dr Kirsten Wimberger (Wild Bird Trust, Cape Parrot project director)
Dr Rob Little (FIAO CoE Manager, Wild Bird Trust Trustee)
Dr Kate Carstens (Wild Bird Trust, project coordinator)
Cassie Carstens (Wild Bird Trust, research manager)
Dr Helen Fox (Wild Bird Trust, reforestation manager)
Nikki Steyn (Wild Bird Trust, nursery manager)