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Avitourism 'takes off' in South Africa

Birding Routes Make Millions for Locals…

Avitourism (birding’s ecotourism) is proving be one of BirdLife South Africa’s most powerful conservation tools. Tourism has outperformed all other sectors in South Africa’s economy, with two popular ‘Birding Routes’ generating an estimated US$6.4 million annually for local people. As a result, BirdLife South Africa has announced the development of six new Birding Routes in the Western Cape and Cape Town areas. Birding Routes provide tourists with suggested itineraries, trained local guides and birder-friendly accommodation within areas of spectacular avian diversity. This successful combination is providing sustainable conservation, increased bird awareness and vital employment opportunities for local communities. More than 140 guides have been trained to date, creating a new generation of conservationists in some of the country’s poorest areas. The benefits speak for themselves, with many guides now speaking of the value of birds – both economically and ecologically.

“I am taking bird guiding as my career path. Not only has my family benefited from bird guiding, but the whole of Nyoni village now thinks twice about birds. I am fully involved with the community conservation programme”, said Shusisio Magagula (Amatikulu).

Community projects often fail in their early years due to a lack of support and resources for marketing, managing and fundraising. Part of the Birding Routes success has been setting up of local offices which facilitate joint marketing, bookings and support of the guides, whilst also providing a single point of information and resources for the guide’s clientele.The new routes will afford tourists guided-access to over 600 bird species, of which 28 are endemic to the Western Cape, such as Cape Siskin Serinus totta, Orange-breasted Sunbird Nectarinia violacea and Cape Sugarbird Promerops cafer. A two-week trip could be expected to yield in excess of 350 species.

“The Birding Route system has worked very well in Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal, but the Western Cape’s wonderful variety of birds have enjoyed less of a profile than its other assets such as whales and wine. We’d like to see this change, and these routes could help to achieve it”, said Dr Anton Odendal (BirdLife SA project manager).

By expanding the number of Birding Routes, BirdLife South Africa is proving just how effective avitourism projects can be. Working alongside local people, the routes are successfully linking social, economic and environmental needs – crucial characteristics of effective sustainable development.

4th July 2014