By Andrew de Blocq, Avitourism Project Manager, BirdLife South Africa
BirdLife South Africa’s community bird guides are some of the most fondly regarded and revered guides on the continent, but the pandemic has dealt them a devastating blow. Read below for more information on this wonderful community project and how to support the guides in these trying times.
There are over 10 000 species of bird in the world. Each one is wonderful in its own special way. However, that number is just too big for anyone to fully wrap their head around. Some of them are near-global in their distribution, others are confined to tiny geographical areas or tied to very specialized habitats. There are so many challenges to seeing the world’s birds. How on earth do you even begin to tell them apart? How do you plan your travel in order to maximize the number of birds that you are likely to see? Where can you best spend time looking for those rare, localized species? How do you access the best areas for birding? The logistical and practical barriers are nearly overwhelming!
However, this is where the real value of guides really comes to the fore. Having an expert that is intimately acquainted with an area and its birds adds untold value to any birding trip. But if you are on the Birding Ecotours website reading this you clearly don’t need convincing of that!
BirdLife South Africa is the preeminent avian conservation NGO in South Africa and one of the leaders in conservation on the continent. One of our most successful, exciting, and rewarding projects to date has been our Community Bird Guide Project, one of a suite of avitourism-related projects we run. In the last 10+ years BirdLife South Africa has trained over 200 previously disadvantaged people to be bird guides, equipping them with the skills and qualifications to enter the ecotourism industry. Around 50 guides are still active, while others have branched out into conservation, environmental work, and community education. The BirdLife South Africa community bird guides, as they are affectionately known, are some of the most revered bird guides in the country. The guides are picked from the communities surrounding birding hotspots and are then trained to identify the local species, especially the special and unique birds in the area, as well as in the skills of guiding people and being a successful freelancer in the industry. Some find placements in lodges as in-house guides, while others have set up small self-sustaining businesses. This helps them to support their families, and many have also become leaders in their communities, championing the causes of conservation and ecotourism. The footprint of the project is immense.
Photo Mark Anderson
There are countless birders, both local and foreign, who owe the community bird guides for special lifers. On a personal level, I would never have found the diminutive African Broadbill without the quietly confident Chris Nethonzhe in Vhurivhuri, nor been able to spot the Orange Ground Thrush in the Entabeni Forest canopy without the sharp eyes and ears of Samson Mulaudzi. Their knowledge of their local hotspots is unmatched. These men and women are highly skilled, generous, and friendly operators that truly love the birds in their local haunts.
However, our community bird guides have been dealt a devastating blow with the global COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting national lockdown and travel restrictions. Effectively their income stream has been severed for months. For these guides, many of whom support large extended families, this situation is untenable.
BirdLife South Africa recognized the difficulty ahead for the community bird guides and proactively established the Community Bird Guide Relief Fund. We reached out to our members, supporters, and members of the birding community to tap into the spirit of ubuntu and donate to sustain these guides during these times. Within a week of the fund launching we were able to provide relief funding to over 30 of our guides to the value of over R120 000.
We are so grateful to all the donors who have made it possible for us to intervene and make a difference in the lives of the community bird guides. We have been inundated by messages of gratitude from the guides, including heartfelt video messages and pictures of shopping carts full of essential foods and medicine that could not otherwise have been purchased. The warm messages accompanying the donations also were testament to the fondness with which our guides are regarded.
Photo Mark Anderson
However, the national lockdown has been extended, which has tightened the purse strings once again, and there are expected to be long-term travel restrictions implemented post-lockdown that will keep our guides without an income or with much-reduced prospects for months to come. We are therefore asking for further contributions to the Relief Fund by members of the birding community, both locally and abroad, that have the means to help out those in birding circles with the most to lose. Our happy band of guides are facing the toughest time of their lives currently, and this Relief Fund is their only lifeline.
If you would like to help by donating to the Community Bird Guide Relief Fund, you can EFT your contribution to the banking details below with the reference format “BG_initials_surname”. Alternatively, there is a SnapScan code, but this incurs admin costs on our side so the EFT option is preferable. For foreign donors there is an option to donate using the PayFast platform by visiting our website and selecting the ‘Community Bird Guide Training’ option. One of the silver linings of the economic collapse is that foreign donations are going about 25-30% further because of the exchange rate right now – so even a small donation helps a lot!
BirdLife South Africa bank details:
Account Name: BirdLife South Africa
Bank: First National Bank, Randburg
Branch Code: 254005
Account Number: 62067506281
All donations made by South African tax payers are eligible for a Section 18A tax certificate. Please forward your proof of payment to [email protected] along with your full name and postal address.
Any further inquiries about the Community Bird Guide Relief Fund can be made to [email protected].
*BirdLife South Africa would like to express their gratitude to Birding Ecotours for their willingness to support this initiative and to host a guest blog article on their website and newsletter. This is the time for the birding community all over the world to come together and help each other out, and Birding Ecotours are providing a wonderful example.