Avitourism Continues to Grow in South Africa

South Africa is renowned the world over for its wildlife, with tourists from far and wide visiting its many well-stocked game reserves. South Africa is also a bird-watchers paradise, a fact that has largely escaped the notice of the international birding community. With the active promotion of avitourism, it is anticipated that this situation will start to change as more birding enthusiasts, both local and international, discover the birdlife treasures of South Africa.

South Africa is home to more than 900 species of birds, of which 177 are either endemic or near endemic. This means that more than 20% of South Africa’s birds are found nowhere else in the world. In addition to this, a well-developed road and air travel system makes it easy to reach the comprehensive network of birding routes throughout the country. Local community bird guides (at affordable rates) and “birder-friendly” accommodation to suit all budgets makes South Africa a birding destination well worth exploring.

BirdLife South Africa oversees a network of Birding Routes across this magnificently diverse country. These routes serve as an invaluable conservation tool, while allowing bird lovers access to a multitude of birds in their natural habitats. Income generated from the use of the BirdLife South Africa Birding Routes and BirdLife Travel is either put towards essential conservation projects or goes directly back into the communities around the birding sites who act as informal custodians of the bird habitats.

Most of the land-based birds in South Africa can be seen during a relatively short walk from a car park, although many areas have hiking trails of various distances and levels of difficulty for the enjoyment of visitors. A number of the birding routes are in some of South Africa’s most popular “Big Five” game reserves, giving an added element of excitement to a birding excursion.

Tourism consistently makes a significant contribution to the South African economy. As a result of the success stories coming out of current avitourism projects, BirdLife South Africa is planning six new Birding Routes in the Cape Town and Western Cape areas. As with other Birding Routes in KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo, the planned routes are expected to uplift surrounding communities by providing employment, as well as raising awareness of the value of conserving the natural resources of the country. The new Birding Routes will give birders guided access to more than 600 bird species, of which 28 species are endemic to the Western Cape. These include the Cape Siskin (Serinus totta), Cape Sugarbird (Promerops cafer) and Orange-breasted Sunbird (Nectarinia violacea).

More than 140 guides have been trained by BirdLife South Africa to date. These guides have gained an appreciation of the significance of birds, from an economic and ecological view point, and this has rubbed off on the communities within which they live. This has benefited the communities as well as the birds and their habitats.

By working along with local communities BirdLife South Africa has demonstrated just how effective avitourism projects can be. Their Bird Route projects are helping to fulfill social, environmental and economic needs, which are vital factors for successful sustainable development.