Rich birdlife brings enthusiasts flocking to Botswana


It is perhaps a surprising fact that some 15 to 20 per cent of all visitors to Botswana’s national parks are birdwatchers.Birding vacations make up a large but often unnoticed part of the global travel market, with some 3 million people thought to take birdwatching trips each year. What’s more, the average birdwatcher is over 50 years of age, probably has no dependent children and generally has a high level of disposable income.

These comparatively affluent individuals tend to choose top quality accommodation and spend more than the daily average in the countries they visit.Small wonder that Botswana, with 577 species of birds – out of some 2,300 bird types across the whole continent – is a popular and growing destination for avian enthusiasts. Of the 577 recorded species, about 500 are regularly occurring. Good sightingsIt is reckoned that on a good day, and with a knowledgeable guide, birders can expect to view 100 species a day in winter and as many as 200 in summer.

Unfortunately, Botswana cannot lay claim to any endemic species as all the nation’s birds can be found in other African countries. But many vulnerable species have their biggest populations in northern Botswana. Examples are the wattled crane, of which the Okavango Delta has the world’s largest population; and the slaty egret, with 85 per cent of the species’ total world population in Botswana. The lack of endemic species is more than offset by the quality of Botswana’s bird viewing sites. For example, the River Chobe is one of Africa’s top sites for birding and is highly sought after by visitors. In general, Chobe has more birds and a greater variety of birds than elsewhere. In particular, it has impressive flocks of waterbirds, including the unusual canopy feeding black egret (or black heron). Popular viewing

Other popular viewing sites are the Okavango, the Limpopo River, the Makgadikgadi Pans, the Kalahari and the Tuli Block. Each has different varieties that may not be found elsewhere in Botswana.BirdLife Botswana (BLB) has a mission to attract more birdwatchers to Botswana – in association with the Botswana Tourism Board – and to protect endangered and vulnerable species. The organisation also undertakes research on birds and monitors their habitats. At the same time, BLB is endeavouring to work more closely with communities to create an awareness of birds among local people.

BLB has identified 12 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) throughout the country as habitats for ‘birds of concern’ and its website offers a useful and comprehensive guide to what species can be found where and in what numbers.The organisation appointed its first staff member in 2003 and sponsored this person to attend the University of Cape Town. In 2009 this delegate went to the University of East Anglia, in the UK, to study the Kori Bustard, the world’s heaviest bird capable of flight. Today, BLB employs five staff of whom four are Batswana.Importance

Many camp and lodge owners are members of BLB and recognise the importance of birding to their businesses, especially during the otherwise quieter and hotter summer months. For example, many of the owners offer sponsorship for guides to become BLB members.