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Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland

  RDB cover
The cover of the Red Data Book features a Wattled Crane, by Chris van Rooyen

An essential part of identifying the Important Bird Areas was an up-to-date knowledge of which species were threatened in South Africa. This required a classification of the threat categories for all species, an exercise last undertaken by Richard Brooke, and published in 1983. The need to reclassify species was essential, both because the definitions of the threat categories had been made more precise, and because a vast amount of new information had become available since 1983. The most important of this new knowledge was that contained in The Atlas of Southern African Birds, which provided, for the first time, accurate maps of species distributions, based entirely on sight records. Data from other Avian Demography Unit projects, the Coordinated Waterbird Counts (CWAC) , the Birds in Reserves Project (BIRP) and the Coordinated Avifaunal Roadcounts (CAR) also provided information that was of great value in the allocation of threat categories.

In order to facilitate comparisons with Richard Brooke's Red Data Book, the revision is based on the same area, South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. The new Red Data Book was published by BirdLife South Africa in 2000.

In the 2000 Red Data Book, two species were classified as "Regionally Extinct", five as "Critically Endangered", 11 as "Endangered", and 43 as "Vulnerable". These three categories imply that the species in them could become extinct in the wild in 10, 20 and 100 years, respectively. Species in these three categories are regarded as "Threatened", and they are the species that need prioritisation for conservation action. These actions could take the form of legislation, the creation of protected areas, and education and awareness programmes.

The two "Regionally Extinct" species are Egyptian Vulture and African Skimmer. Occasional sightings of both species as vagrants hold out some hope that they will recolonize South Africa

The five species classified as "Critically Endangered" in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland are Bittern, Wattled Crane, Whitewinged Flufftail, Rudd's Lark and Blue Swallow. These species have all suffered steep declines in numbers during recent decades. The Red Data Book provides estimated population sizes for the end of the 20th century: below 350 birds for Bittern, 230 for Wattled Crane, below 250 for Whitewinged Flufftail, between 2500 and 5000 birds for Rudd's Lark, and between 81 and 120 breeding pairs for Blue Swallow.

A further 64 species were flagged as being "Near-threatened". This implies that their status needs to be carefully monitored, and active measures need to be undertaken to improve their conservation status, otherwise they are likely to join one of the "Threatened" categories at the next revision of the Red Data Book.

The species texts for the Red Data Book for South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland were made available to BirdLife International , and were used in the compilation of the new global list of threatened bird species.

Copies of the Red Data Book are available from BirdLife South Africa.