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Double knocks, giant mice and the Neopolitan Mafia

BirdLife?s news review of 2005

The year opened with the aftermath of the Asian tsunami. BirdLife played its part in helping people affected in Important Bird Areas (IBAs), and advised that redevelopment and resettlement should avoid further damage to natural habitats, such as mangroves, which had provided protection to some coastal communities.

The year ended with the non-arrival of a natural catastrophe. Millions of wild birds flew to their wintering sites across, Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas without the widely predicted outbreaks of H5N1 bird 'flu along their migration routes.

"The most obvious explanation is that migrating wild birds are not spreading the disease," said Dr Michael Rands, BirdLife's Director & Chief Executive.

Community organisations set up as part of BirdLife's IBA Local Conservation Group work proved their worth in more than one of this year's natural disasters. "Site Support Groups in Malaysia and Thailand were able to get rescue and reconstruction work underway quickly after the tsunami, because they were already organised and trained," said BirdLife International Chairman Peter Schei. And when a massive earthquake struck South Asia in October, a coalition of civil society organisations in the Palas Valley, where BirdLife has worked for 15 years, played an important part in the organisation and distribution of relief supplies, and guided the efforts of aid agencies.

BirdLife's 2005 assessment found that 1,212 of the world's 9,775 species were globally threatened with extinction

In June, BirdLife's annual evaluation of the world's bird species found 1,212 threatened with extinction, and 788 Near Threatened – a total of exactly 2,000 species in trouble, over one-fifth of the planet's remaining 9,775 species. A number of European birds entered the list for the first time, including Roller Coracias garrulus and Dupont's Lark Chersophilus duponti. But it was not all bad news: five species were "downlisted" to lower categories of threat, including Kirtland's Warbler Dendroica kirtlandii, Seychelles Magpie-robin Copsychus sechellarum and White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla.New species recognised in 2005 (though not necessarily yet by BirdLife) included the Sulfur-breasted Parakeet Aratinga pintoi from the Amazon Basin, two tapaculos from the Cordillera Central mountains of Colombia, and the Iquitos Gnatcatcher Polioptila clementsi, named after James Clements, author of Birds of the World: A Checklist, who died this year.

A number of birds were seen after decades without confirmed sightings, including the distinctive endemic Peruvian race of the endangered Southern Helmeted Curassow Crax unicornis koepckeae, not recorded since 1969. In Angola, the Orange-breasted Bush-shrike Laniarius brauni and White-headed Robin-chat Cossypha heinrichi (last seen in 1957), and the Black-tailed Cisticola Cisticola melanurus (last seen in 1972), were refound.

April 2005 brought incredible news from the woods of Arkansas… But the most sensational and controversial "rediscovery" was the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Campephilus principalis in North America. The rediscovery has split the ornithological community, with many convinced that photographic, video and audio evidence confirms the survival of the species in Arkansas, while others insist the blurry pictures and recordings of "kent" calls and double-knocks are open to other interpretations, implicating leucistic Pileated Woodpeckers, Blue Jays, snapping twigs and distant gunshots. Survey teams are currently scouring the area.

The USA lost another species at the end of 2004, with the death in Hawaii of what was probably the last Po'o-uli Melamprosops phaeosoma on earth. But this year, New Zealand has been proving that it is possible to restore fragile island ecoystems from the depredations of introduced, alien predators like rats and cats.Sixty Stitchbirds Notiomystis cincta were transferred to the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary near Wellington, on New Zealand's North Island, from the predator-free island of Tiritiri Matangi. The last time the species was found on the New Zealand mainland was in the 1880s. Captive-bred Shore Plover Thinornis novaeseelandiae will be introduced to an island off South Island early in 2006, the first in a proposed five-year series of transfers. Meanwhile, the Kakapo Strigops habroptilus, the world's largest parrot and the beneficiary of an earlier programme of transfers to predator-free islands, began breeding again on New Zealand's Codfish Island after a lapse of three years.

"It is like a tabby cat attacking a hippopotamus" —Geoff Hilton, RSPB BirdLife's Save the Albatross Campaign entered a new phase with the launch of Operation Ocean Task Force and a new web site at http://www.savethealbatross.net The world's racing yachts also lent their suport through the Volvo Ocean Race.But on remote Gough Island in the South Atlantic, the most southerly of the Tristan da Cunha group (a UK Overseas Territory), around three million invasive, introduced house mice, three times the size of those in Europe, are devastating seabird populations. Dr Geoff Hilton, a Senior Research Biologist at the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) said, "Gough Island hosts an astonishing community of seabirds and this catastrophe could make many locally extinct within decades."

Among the affected species are the endangered Tristan Albatross Diomedea dabbenena, which has around 2,000 annual breeding pairs restricted to Gough Island and St Helena. "The albatross chicks weigh up to ten kilograms. Ironically, albatrosses evolved to nest on Gough because it had no mammal predators - that is why they are so vulnerable. The mice weigh just 35 grams; it is like a tabby cat attacking a hippopotamus," added Dr Hilton. The RSPB has been awarded £62,000 by the UK Government's Overseas Territories Environment Programme to fund additional research on the Gough Island mice and a feasibility study of how best to deal with them.Vultures in India continue to decline – though there are encouraging signs

The Indian Government confirmed their intent to phase out a veterinary drug responsible for the massive decline in vulture numbers. Diclofenac, used in southern Asia as a livestock treatment, is now proven to have been responsible for the near-total collapse of three species of vulture in south Asia – White-rumped Gyps bengalensis, Indian G. indicus and Slender-billed G. tenuirostris. The species are already locally extinct in several parts of the region, but were formerly among the commonest large birds of prey in the world.

44 birds, equal numbers of Indian and White-rumped Vultures (Gyps indicus and G. bengalensis), have been brought together at the first captive breeding centre at Haryana, India. Work is beginning in West Bengal on a second captive-breeding centre for all three species, and four more are planned, in an attempt to create reservoirs of birds to be re-introduced once the environment is clear of diclofenac. Chris Bowden, the RSPB's Vulture Programme Manager, believes that viable breeding populations of White-rumped and Indian Vultures could be established within 18 months if resources and efforts are fully coordinated. However, although efforts are underway, no Slender-billed Vultures – the most severely threatened of the three – are yet in captivity.

BirdLife was also involved in purchasing or otherwise protecting parts of a number of Important Bird Areas

The 2005 Birdfair, held as usual in August at Rutland Water in the UK, is supporting BirdLife's work for Gurney's Pitta Pitta gurneyi in Myanmar and Thailand. The final amount raised will be announced in January 2006.

BirdLife was also involved in purchasing or otherwise protecting parts of a number of Important Bird Areas, including the whole of the Serra do Urubu IBA, one of the last significant remnants of Atlantic Forest in northeast Brazil and home to 21 endemic bird species, including the critically endangered Alagoas Foliage-gleaner Philydor novaesi.

SEO/BirdLife (BirdLife in Spain) purchased a 209 hectare reserve to protect the globally threatened Houbara Bustard Chlamydotis undulata on Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands.A new project managed by BirdLife will boost conservation in Asia's newest nation. The Australian Government's Regional Natural Heritage Programme (RNHP) has awarded AU$193,000 to identify conservation priorities and build partnerships for managing Timor-Leste's first national park.

LIPU makes an offer the birds can't refuse… Some protected areas are purchased, some donated, others gazetted by governments. But Italy's BirdLife Partner LIPU hopes to manage possibly the first to be seized from organised crime.

The Camorra, the Neapolitan counterpart of the Mafia, had dug 40 ponds in an area surrounding the town of Villa Literno, not far from Naples. Hunters paid the Camorra substantial fees to shoot migratory waterbirds from concrete bunkers.

After the ponds were raided by the Carabinieri, Italy's Minister for the Environment announced a plan to transform the area into a nature sanctuary. LIPU has proposed that this take the form of a protected area managed by professional staff, with nature trails, information boards, and other facilities for visitors. The concrete bunkers would be transformed to hides.

4th July 2014