Fairtree partnership works to ensure the survival of South Africa’s Bird of the Year 2023 – the critically endangered Cape Parrot

Preserving our natural heritage for future generations – 10,000 trees at a time.

Listed as Critically Endangered, there are fewer than 2,000 Cape Parrots (Poicephalus robustus) left in the wild, limited to forest patches in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and Limpopo Province. The parrots nest in existing tree hollows in old indigenous trees, especially Yellowwood-South Africa’s national tree. However, there is currently a shortage of natural nesting sites and food due to the scarcity of old Yellowwood trees, largely attributed to habitat degradation caused mainly by historical logging practices.

Fairtree, in partnership with the Cape Parrot Project and the Wild Bird Trust have undertaken to plant at least 10,000 indigenous trees – of which 5,000 have already been planted. This is to restore the forest habitat that is home to South Africa’s only endemic parrot, the Cape Parrot.

Sponsored by Fairtree, thirteen forest tree species were planted to restore an area of approximately 4ha in an area of importance to the critically endangered Cape Parrot (Poicephalus robustus) both for feeding and nesting. 

“Our goal is to achieve sustained growth in the population of this rare parrot species, and together with strategic partnerships we are working towards a total wild population of 2,500 birds within the next 10 years,” says Dr Kirsten Wimberger, Director of the Cape Parrot Project and Trustee of the Wild Bird Trust. “The Cape Parrot’s limited habitat is under threat because of numerous human-induced factors, including over-exploitation of natural resources, the proliferation of exotic plants, including commercial forestry, and depleted groundwater supplies, which all contribute to habitat degradation and ultimately a lack of nesting sites and food for the species. Then there are the new emerging threats such as climate change. The plan is to protect and improve Cape Parrot forest habitats, thereby halting the habitat degradation driving their decline, and providing conservation actions needed to improve population numbers. We are working with the team at Fairtree to help us achieve this.” 

The Fairtree Reforestation Project, in partnership with the Cape Parrot Project, aims to provide indigenous trees, particularly Yellowwoods, to restore forest habitat in a stronghold area of the Cape Parrot, namely the Amathole region of the Eastern Cape, thereby contributing to ensuring their survival. This is being accomplished by engaging members of local communities in conservation efforts through the establishment of community tree nurseries.  

In 2017, the first community nursery was developed at Sompondo village, while a second nursery was built in 2021 in the Esikhululweni village in the Hogsback area, located in the Amathole mountains of the Eastern Cape. Here, members of the local community act as custodians of the trees, collecting seeds, germinating, planting and nurturing them until they are large enough to be planted on surrounding habitat restoration sites – essentially degraded areas within this forested landscape which are being restored as part of this project. 5,000 indigenous seedlings, comprising a variety of species, including 1,000 Yellowwood trees, were planted within a year since the start of the Fairtree Reforestation Project in 2021. 

Through this partnership, the existing Sompondo community nursery was extended to accommodate 12 additional growers – bringing the number of community growers up to 28, while the newly established isiKhululweni community nursery accommodates 8 growers. These 36 community growers of indigenous trees represent 36 families who benefit materially from the project. A 3rd nursery is now online through funding from GreenPop. In addition, 10 community members are part of the core Cape Parrot Project team and 6 temporary workers are hired during the planting season. Recently, the Cape Parrot Project partnered with Brownie Points who have employed 12 contractors for a period of 9 months through a governmental funding initiative.

“We see a strong link between Fairtree’s mission of enriching lives and the caring for local communities that happens through this initiative. One of our main aims with this project is to create opportunities for local communities to earn an income for their families,” says Kobus Nel, Fairtree’s Group Chief Executive Officer. “Involving the community in the Fairtree Reforestation Project not only supports these families financially, it also enables them to contribute to the long-term survival of the Cape Parrot and play a vital role to safeguard our natural heritage. We are very proud to be integral to this project that works to conserve the South African national tree, while helping to save an endangered species in the process,” he adds.

Mama Evelyn – a true pioneer

Now in her 70s, Nozibele Mphothulo, affectionately known as ‘Mamma Evelyn’, is one of the 28 tree growers at the Sompondo Nursery. A true pioneer of the nursery, she has lived in Sompondo village all her life and the neighbouring Auckland State Forest is home to her. With other growers, she collects indigenous seeds from trees in the community and forest edge, germinates the seeds and grows healthy seedlings, which are then purchased by the Cape Parrot Project, when they reach planting height (40cm). For Mamma Evelyn – and most of the growers – this is their only source of income with which to support their families. Mamma Evelyn has been able to purchase rainwater tanks for water security, fence off her homestead food garden and support her large family, with the income she gets from the Cape Parrot Project. 

Although she grows a diversity of tree species, the Outeniqua Yellowwood (Afrocarpus falcatus) is her signature species and over several years, thousands of these trees have been planted in and around this forest habitat. “If I ever retire, I want to pass on my knowledge to the younger generation,” she says.

“As we move forward on our Fairtree journey, this initiative speaks to who we are, not only as a company but also as individuals. This project allows us the opportunity to give back, restore what has been lost, and leave the world in a better place. Most of all, we want to leave a legacy for future generations,” Nel concludes.

For more information please contact the Cape Parrot Project at capeparrot@wildbirdtrust.com.

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