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Melissa Mungroo - UKZN’s Cape Parrot Working Group

Saving a species and their forest habitat
South Africa’s Cape Parrot is more than just a colourful bird; it is a symbol of the precious biodiversity
hidden within the nation’s Afromontane or Southern Mistbelt forests. With its vibrant green lumage, striking red orange patches, and distinctive, beautiful calls, the Cape Parrot has earned its nickname as the “jewel of the forest”. However, this jewel is at risk, with under 2 000 individuals remaining in the wild. It is for this reason that the Cape Parrot Working Group (CPWG) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) is working diligently to ensure the survival of this charismatic species and their forest habitat.

The CPWG is a dedicated team of researchers and conservationists, led by Professor Colleen Downs, and assisted by the UKZN Foundation, which facilitates vital funding for their endeavours. The CPWG advocates for robust enforcement of conservation laws, particularly to combat poaching and illegal trade. Moreover, the group is fervent about raising awareness at local, national, and international levels, ensuring that the Cape Parrot and its forest habitats remain a focal point in people’s hearts and minds. They also promote the captive breeding programme, serving as a safety net for this endangered species.

Previously abundant in their forest homes, Cape Parrots faced a steep decline because of a combination of factors. Historical logging activities, particularly the felling of mature yellowwood trees, took a toll on the quality of their habitat. These parrots rely on these trees for both food and nesting. Modern challenges persist, such as cattle grazing and the removal of saplings, which further degrade the forests, while the illegal trade in Cape Parrots for the pet market threatens their wild populations. Additionally, a more recent concern is the Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease, which weakens the birds’ immune systems and causes mortality, especially among young parrots in times of extreme stress such as drought.

The CPWG research efforts help uncover crucial information about the parrot’s behaviour, ecology, health, as well as research on the forest habitat, which is guiding conservation action. For over two decades, the CPWG has prioritised academic research and citizen science programmes, contributing to vital management plans and conservation initiatives.

In 2015, CPWG’s research led to the reclassification of the Cape Parrot as a distinct species, increasing its conservation priority. Their annual Cape Parrot Big Birding Day involves volunteers monitoring forests, estimating the parrot population numbers, and observing their behaviours.

The CPWG in collaboration with BirdLife South Africa and the Wild Bird Trust’s Cape Parrot Project, aimed to amplify awareness about this iconic species throughout 2023 with the Bird of the Year initiative. This recognition shined a spotlight on the importance of conserving this unique species and its forest habitats. In addition, their role in avitourism is highlighted, drawing bird enthusiasts to South Africa, and supporting rural communities dependent on ecotourism for their livelihoods.

Cape Parrot Species Guardians conduct essential work in population monitoring, forest research, habitat restoration, nest box provision, species rehabilitation, and community outreach. Their multidisciplinary Cape Parrot and Mistbelt Forest Action Plan guides unified conservation efforts.

“As the Cape Parrot takes its rightful place as Bird of the Year, the CPWG’s work gains even more significance. It reminds us that to save this charismatic bird is to safeguard South Africa’s mistbelt forests and the myriad of life they sustain. Every effort to protect the Cape Parrot is a step towards conserving the biodiversity and ecological balance of these remarkable habitats,” said Downs.

Woolworths launched a shopper bag in 2017 to support the conservation of the Cape Parrot. This bag raised significant funds through its unique design for BirdLife South Africa and the Cape Parrot Working Group (CPWG). Recently Woolworths released a second version of the bag with artwork by Athol Moult and Di Botha, continuing its support for CPWG and BirdLife SA.

Proceeds from the sale of each bag, which is part of Woolworths’ Good Business Journey, go towards funding research and the annual Cape Parrot census organised by the CPWG. Additionally, Woolworths donates R10 from each bag sale to BirdLife SA to aid in the conservation of the Cape Parrot and the Afromontane mistbelt forests.

Buy the bag here for R70, shop at BirdLife SA for the Bird of the Year merchandise or see below for how to directly donate to the CPWG.

T: +27 (0)31 260 2389

 Melissa Mungroo UKZNs Cape Parrot Working Group 1.png
 Melissa Mungroo UKZNs Cape Parrot Working Group.pdf

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