Successful reintroduction of red-billed oxpeckers in Mountain Zebra National Park in South Africa

Red-billed oxpeckers feed on ticks and blood-sucking flies and can be spotted on game such as zebra, buffalo and kudu.
Red-billed oxpeckers feed on ticks and blood-sucking flies and can be spotted on game such as zebra, buffalo and kudu.

It has been nearly eight years since the reintroduction of red-billed oxpeckers to Mountain Zebra National Park (MZNP) outside Cradock – and all indications are that the project by the Park’s Honorary Rangers is a success.

A group of 40 red-billed oxpeckers were flown into the Park from Kruger National Park in August 2010.

The birds spent one week in an aviary to acclimatise to the local conditions before being gradually released with the hope that they would settle in and breed.

The current success is measured in the number of juveniles reported as well as regular reports of sightings of oxpeckers on their land by farmers in the area. 

Red-billed oxpeckers have very recently been spotted by various bird watchers and farmers as far afield as in the Graaff-Reinet area.  It is highly possible that these may be from the MZNP core group.

Red-billed oxpeckers feed on ticks and blood-sucking flies and can be spotted on game such as zebra, buffalo, kudu as well as domestic animals like cattle and horses. 

They were exterminated in the Eastern Cape in the early 1900s, largely due to the practice of dipping livestock with toxic chemicals. They are highly sensitive to organophosphates – any of several organic compounds containing phosphorus, some of which are used as fertilisers and pesticides.

 Products that contain organophosphates should thus be avoided in areas that are known to be inhabited by oxpeckers.

Oxpeckers were successfully introduced to other conservation areas in the past, including Addo Elephant National Park near Port Elizabeth.

For the first time since the introduction in 2010, research will be undertaken by the Mountain Zebra Camdeboo Protected Environment (MZCPE) Project together with Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and other interested parties. 

They will focus their efforts in the areas in and around Cradock and Graaff-Reinet, initially looking at monitoring/sightings of birds, awareness and information and reinvestigating the possibility of a similar reintroduction on the Graaff-Reinet side of the MZCPE.

For more information on oxpecker-friendly products or to report sightings of the birds, please contact MZCPE Environmental Ecologist, Maryke Stern on Maryke.stern@sanparks.org or 083 336 3066.

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