When we think of endangered wildlife species we immediately think of the iconic mammals and frequently overlook the highly endangered birds of Africa.
Birds are often left behind when people imagine endangerment and conservation. Yet the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) recently revealed that extinction has become a threat for an ever-increasing number of bird species. One hundred and ninety-two birds find themselves on the IUCN Red List of Critically Endangered Birds, and many of these make their home in Africa.
Three Most Endangered Wildlife Species of Birds
The bird with the largest current threat of extinction is the little known Sidamo lark (also called the Liben lark). Both names are taken from the bird’s traditional home, southern Ethiopia’s Liben Plain, formerly part of Sidamo Province.
It is a tiny ground-dwelling bird, standing at around 6 inches (16-17cm) tall and weighing around 30g. Not much is known about the Liben lark, given how few times it has been sighted. Researchers believe that it must have incredibly specific habitat environments, since it has never been found outside of a small area of land on the Liben Plain. As a result, the conversion of land to agricultural fields here poses the greatest threat to the Liben lark.
Its grassland home is being destroyed by people and livestock travelling to the area’s new watering hole. Unfortunately, few conservation efforts have taken place to help preserve the Liben lark and there are no protected areas in the Liben Plains region.
Further, although the global bird conservation organization BirdLife has recommended that more research be devoted to the Liben lark so conservation methods can be developed, little action has been taken. Without swift action, the Liben lark may soon go extinct.
Northern Bald Ibis
The Northern Bald Ibis is also found on the IUCN’s Critically Endangered Birds list. It is classified as a large ibis, standing at around 2.5 feet tall.
Interestingly, this is one of the world’s oldest protected birds; a decree from Archbishop Leonhard of Salzburg in 1504 ordered its protection. Originally, it was found in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Yet it was gone from Europe by the 1700s. Due to religious beliefs in the Middle East, it was able to survive there longer; sadly, the last Northern Bald Ibis there died in 1990.
Now the only wild population of Northern Bald Ibises can be found in Morocco, where around 200-249 mature individuals are believed to live. (There is another separate and distinct eastern subspecies that migrate from Syria to Ethiopia; sightings of this subspecies have been rare, and it is experiencing a dramatic decline.)
Unlike with the Liben lark, there have been extensive and intense conservation efforts for the Northern Bald Ibis. Its greatest threats are loss of feeding habitat, nest disturbance, hunting, and poisoning. In Turkey, Spain, and Austria there have been semi-captivity programs, where the birds are released for five months of the year.
Recently, there has been an attempt to reintroduce part of the population from Turkey (the eastern subspecies) into Syria/Ethiopia. Thanks to better management action, there has been improved breeding in the Moroccan population. However, this has still not lead to an increase in the number of colonies. Despite this hopeful news, continued action for the preservation of the Northern Bald Ibis, and its related subspecies, is still necessary.
Finally, the African Penguin is proof that large numbers do not necessarily equate to a stable, non-endangered species. With a population of around 52,000, it would seem that the African Penguin is far better off than the previous two bird species. However, their population has declined by 61% in three generations—a drastic decrease.
Only seven colonies support 80% of the population, and there are 25 breeding pairs offshore and 4 breeding pairs on the mainland of South Africa and Namibia. Further, although African penguins can usually live 10-15 years, less and less are living full lives. They can only be found on 24 islands on the southwestern coast of Africa.
Much tourism is generated when people travel to Simonstown (south of Cape Town) to view the only penguins adapted to warmer weather. The biggest threat to these penguins is commercial fishing, since overfishing has resulted in food shortages. The Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds is dedicated to preserving African Penguins, and they allow people to adopt a penguin through their website.
All are important
All of these African bird species—and the many others on the IUCN’s Red List—are unique and important species for their ecosystems. Their preservation and conservation efforts should not be overshadowed by that of African mammals.
Contributed by Nikela Volunteer Cassie