Posted on the 18th April 2010

A recent preliminary conservation assessment has shown that South Africa’s bustards and korhaans are one of our country’s most threatened groups of birds. Ten species of bustards occur in South Africa, of which six are endemic (or near-endemic) to southern Africa (in other words, found nowhere else in the world) and of which six are listed in The Eskom Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. The Denham’s Bustard and Blue Korhaan are also listed as ‘Near-threatened’ internationally.

Under the auspices of BirdLife South Africa, ten South African bustard experts participated in a Bustard Conservation Workshop in Johannesburg in 2009. The workshop report has now been completed and is available on:

During the workshop, 30 potential threats were assessed, in six major categories (habitat destruction and degradation, mortality, disturbance, trade, falconry and climate change). Sixteen of the threats were determined to have a significant impact on at least one bustard species.

Mortality from collisions with overhead lines is the only threat considered as having a ‘major’ impact on bustards and only on two species, Denham’s and Ludwig’s bustards. The other 15 threats are all considered as having at worst a ‘moderate’ impact on our bustards. However, some threats impact on a wider range of species than do collisions with overhead lines; in particular, habitat destruction and degradation from crop farming (impacting six species), and general disturbance and climate change (impacting four species each). Overall, habitat destruction and degradation contributes eight sub-categories of significant threats (impacting eight species), disturbance four, mortality three and climate change one (all three of the last impacting four species each), suggesting a likely overall pre-eminence in importance of threats associated with habitat destruction and degradation.

Denham’s Bustard appears clearly the most severely threatened species, followed by Ludwig’s Bustard, and then by White-bellied Korhaan and Kori Bustard, the last two of which appear to face fairly similar levels of threat. Next in line are the Southern Black Korhaan and Blue Korhaan, followed by Karoo Korhaan, with the three species Northern Black and Red-crested korhaans and Black-bellied Bustard bringing up the rear as the least threatened members of the family.

The workshop participants recommended that attention should be paid to upgrading the Red Data status of Denham’s Bustard and Southern Black Korhaan. Black-bellied Bustard, currently considered nationally ‘Near-threatened’, had a surprisingly low perceived level of threat in this assessment. Karoo Korhaan had a surprisingly high perceived level of threat, which likely requires confirmation. This assessment brings into focus several clear priorities relevant to South Africa’s bustard species. These are (in approximate descending order of priority for attention):

· Urgent further research and mitigation on collisions with overhead lines by Denham’s and Ludwig’s bustards (and perhaps also Kori Bustard).

· Further research on the impact of habitat destruction and degradation, especially from crop farming, and particularly on Denham’s and Black-bellied bustards and Southern Black, Blue and White-bellied korhaans.

· Investigation on the impacts of human disturbance, perhaps particularly during breeding, in Denham’s, Ludwig’s and Kori bustards and Southern Black Korhaan.

· Study on the impact of climate change, perhaps especially relevant to Denham’s and Ludwig’s bustards and Southern Black and Karoo korhaans.

· Definitive resolution of the impact of poisons used during locust-control operations in the Karoo, relevant to Ludwig’s Bustard and Karoo Korhaan.

· Revision of the Red Data status of Denham’s Bustard and Southern Black Korhaan.

· Examination of the obscure conservation status of the Black-bellied Bustard.

For further information, please contact: Mark D. Anderson, Tel. 011-7891122, e-mail:; or David Allan, Tel. 031-3112240/3224214, e-mail:

Notes for the editor:

1. The mission of BirdLife South Africa is to promote the enjoyment, conservation, study and understanding of wild birds and their habitats.

2. BirdLife South Africa contact details: Lewis House, 239 Barkston Drive, Blairgowrie, P.O. Box 515, Randburg, Johannesburg, South Africa, Tel. +27-11-7891122, Fax. +27-11-7895188, e-mail address:, website:

3. Images of bustards are available from Mark Anderson (

Northern Black Korhaan  Image: AO

Southern Black Korhaan   Image: AO












Denham's Bustard     Image: AO


Kori Bustard        Image: AO











Ludwig's Bustard       Image: AO


Karoo Korhaan     Image: AO











A very wet Black-bellied Korhaan  Image: AO


Red-crested Korhaan     Image: AO















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