Partnership to ensure the survival of the critically endangered Cape Parrot yields fruit

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

Cape Town-based Fairtree, a global investment company, has partnered with the Cape Parrot Project and the Wild Bird Trust to plant at least 10,000 indigenous trees over the next three years – of which 5,000 will be planted by the end of 2022. This is to restore the forest habitat that is home to South Africa’s only endemic parrot, the Cape Parrot.

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 Yellowwood trees – South Africa’s national tree – and rely on the fruit of these trees for nutrition and survival. However, there is currently a shortage of natural nesting sites due to the scarcity of old Yellowwood trees, largely attributed to habitat degradation caused mainly by historical logging practices. “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, would have been 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 planned to open in the near future 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.

“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.

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.

More about the Wild Bird Trust and Cape Parrot Project 

Dr Steve Boyes founded the Wild Bird Trust in 2009 with its primary objective of keeping birds safe in the wild. The Cape Parrot Project (CPP) was the Trust’s first project. The project aims to conserve the endangered Cape Parrot through research on the parrot, habitat restoration efforts and community engagement and has planted 50,000 trees in over 200 hectare of restored habitat, resulting in nearly 100 Tonnes of carbon sequestered since 2009.

Afrotemperate forests in South Africa face various threats, ranging from water scarcity to unregulated use of forest products. It is only through the protection and restoration of these forests, in collaboration with the communities that surround them, that the Cape Parrots will ultimately survive. CPP, through implementing community engagement, education and community-based restoration initiatives across three critical population zones will help preserve Afrotemperate forests and ultimately the Cape Parrot.
In an interview with National Geographic, Dr Steve Boyes said that we have a responsibility to give back what we took. “In the Okavango Delta [Botswana], the birds are spoiled for choice with thousands upon thousands of natural cavities [in trees]. Here in the Amatholes [Eastern Cape], on the other hand, there aren’t any. We chopped all the large hardwoods down over the last 150 years,” he said. “It is our responsibility now to supply homes for cavity-nesting birds like the Cape Parrot. And that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

Hobbiton Outdoor Educational Centre was started in 1945 and offers free camps for less privileged children, to promote team building, personal development, conflict resolution, effective communication and environmental education. The Wild Bird Trust (WBT) and Cape Parrot Project teamed up with Hobbiton to nurture the development of well-rounded, caring, creative children living in under-privileged communities surrounding key Cape Parrot habitat, and share with them the importance of conserving and protecting the Cape Parrot, the forests, and all creatures that inhabit them. Through two camps held thus far, a total of 120 children (between the ages of 10 – 14 years) from local villages adjacent to Cape Parrot habitat in the Amathole Key Biodiversity Area have been reached with the WBT aiming to fund many more camps in the future.

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