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Southern Africa loggers threaten survival of tiny Lilian Lovebirds
A tiny parrot with a romantic name is being driven towards extinction by logging in the four countries where it lives in southern Africa, researchers say.
This is because the Mopane trees in which the Lilian's Lovebird roosts and nests are increasingly being cut down for the timber and charcoal trade. This is happening across the birds’ diminishing range in Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
“Mopane is being cleared for timber and charcoal at an alarming rate,” said Tiwonge Mzumara-Gawa, an ecologist at the Malawi University of Science and Technology and postdoctoral fellow at the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology.
“We need a regional agreement to halt the legal exploitation of Mopane in the four countries that are affected until a full assessment is done on just how much suitable habitat (for the Lilian's Lovebird) is still available,” she told RFI.
Mzumara-Gawa’s interest in lovebirds started 13 years ago when she came across Lilian’s lovebirds that had been poisoned by poachers around a waterhole in Malawi’s Liwonde National Park.
“This encounter led me to start asking questions on how poisoning would harm this species. And so in 2010 I began my research in Liwonde and now my interest has grown to look at conserving the species across its range in countries outside Malawi,” she said.
Lilian’s Lovebirds, which get their name from their habit of preening each other in a way that makes them look like they’re kissing, are listed as “near threatened” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
In May, Mzumara-Gawa and others published a paper in the journal Bird Conservation International based on research done in Zambia. The study confirmed that these tiny green, orange and red birds are confined to rapidly-diminishing Mopane woodlands, especially areas where there are large old trees that have natural cavities used by the birds to nest and roost in all year round.
Due to the loss of this kind of woodland, Lilian's Lovebirds are now almost exclusively confined to protected areas such as Zambia's South Luangwa National Park.
Mzumara-Gawa pointed out that Mopane trees aren’t just important to the birds; they also host Mopane worms, a moth caterpillar that provides an important source of protein for millions of people in the region.
Climate change could pose an additional threat to the survival of the lovebirds.
“We know that during the breeding season, naturally occurring waterholes are extremely important as a water source for the lovebirds and other species,” she said. “The occurrence of these depend on the rainfall pattern which we know climate change will affect,” she added, noting that this is an area that needs further research.
Rowan Martin, Africa programme director of the World Parrot Trust says that the lovebird, with its emerald-green wings, red bill and fiery orange face, could be an “ambassador” for the protection of southern Africa’s woodlands that play host to a rich diversity of wildlife.
“Southern Africa’s dry woodlands are often forgotten in discussions about forest loss,” Martin, who took part in the Zambian survey led by Mzumara-Gawa, told RFI.
“It's critical that their importance for supporting biodiversity and providing vital ecosystem services is given greater recognition.”