OFFERING SERVICES TO BIRDS AND BIRDERS
Xaro Lodge, Botswana, enjoys benefits of birding tourism
Photos and text by Stefan Rust
(In terms of the Geneva Convention the copyright of these texts belongs to Stefan Rust)
It doesn’t come as a shock to those who’ve visited the Okavango Delta to learn that the African Skimmers face a battle for survival. With their numbers decreasing rapidly due to habitat loss, exploitation and disturbance, the birders paradise Xaro Lodge is putting in effort to help and trying to put it right.
Two African Skimmer chicks crouched on a small sandbank in the Okavango River against a log, the waves of the driving boat almost reaching them. If it wasn’t for the boat driver to have slowed down while passing the sandbank on the way to Xaro Lodge, the wake created by the boat would have washed these tiny helpless chicks into the water and they would have drowned.
The chances for these two chicks to survive and to reach adult age aren’t high. But for them to have hatched is very positive because a research in the Okavango showed that of 171 eggs in 67 nests only 47 (27.5%) survived to hatching and of these only 11 fledged. The average breeding success of the African Skimmer is less than 0.32 young ones per pair per year.
Unique to Africa, the total population is estimated at 10 000, with only 800-1 200 birds in southern Africa. If African Skimmers could speak, they would talk about their struggle to find enough food to feed themselves and their offspring, and the disturbance by boats in the Okavango River being greatest during breeding (dry) season, when the wakes created by boats wash their eggs and chicks into the water. Others will talk about people collecting eggs for food, and chicks to use as fishing bait. They will speak about breeding birds that are disturbed by canoeing safaris that camp on islands.
The construction of Lake Kariba led to the loss of breeding sites both up- and down stream of the dam wall. In areas of southern Okavango birds have disappeared between 1975 and 1985. Today Botswana’s Okavango Delta shows a major population decrease.
The situation for the African Skimmer is not easy and it is a sad story. Today BirdsConTour traveled far, reaching the Xaro Lodge in the panhandle of the Okavango Delta in its quest to reward the bird and birder friendly lodge with a two penguin-rated Bird & Birder Friendly Award. Thanks to the bird conservation efforts of the Xaro lodge, some African Skimmers in the panhandle have chances of successful breeding. The lodge started a new approach to protect breeding African Skimmer areas by putting signs up requesting boats passing sand banks with African Skimmers breeding on to slow down.