In 2013, Amorentia Estate, in Limpopo Province, South Africa, partnered with Explore-Trees in order to attempt an ambitious cavity nesting box program designed to help bolster the endangered population of the Cape Parrot. Explore-Trees, fresh off an exploratory mission to document and help conserve the “African Giants,” massive trees unique to the African continent such as the Yellowwood and Baobab, brought professional arborist experience to the table, crucial in developing a working nesting box for the Cape Parrot. In 2015, the Loro Parc Foundation came on board to expand the project and bring in researchers.
Cape Parrots are cavity nesting birds. They make their homes in the hollowed out remains of dead trees. The process that creates their home is lengthy, and requires the death and considerable decay of massive trees. The combinations of habitat loss, the harvesting of possible future nest sites for lumber, and the poaching of Cape Parrots, who are very valuable in the illegal pet trade, have led to a massive decline in the breeding populations. It is estimated that there are only about 1000 left in the wild.
The project to build nesting boxes started some time ago. Since 1998, several attempts have been made to successfully implement these boxes in the wild. The initial boxes stood at a height of 5-6 meters. At this height they lacked protection from poachers and were very susceptible to honey bee infestations, but still, in 2005, managed to produce the first Cape Parrot chick raised in an artificial box. While these projects are separate from the one that Explore-Trees, Loro Parc, and the Amorentia Estate are conducting, they also provided crucial groundwork for the current expedition.
The Limpopo population of Cape Parrots was discovered in 2007. People at Amorentia Estate started noticing a flock of 20-40 birds that frequented the area. Box installations began a year later, but failed due to honey bee infestations. Finally, in 2013, Amorentia Estate decided that it needed professional aerial tree climbers to install boxes at a height of 30-60 meters (over 180 feet!). However, the solutions used to keep honey bees out once again failed and by July 2014, 100% of the nest boxes were occupied by swarms of African Honey Bees.
Explore-Trees and Amorentia were not to be deterred. They turned to the Loro Parc Foundation and Caroline Efstathion, a researched from the University of Florida, and her “Integrated Pest Management” system that has been tested in Florida and Brazil and proven, in the past, to keep bees out. The “push-pull” system, whose specific techniques we are unfortunately not allowed to reveal, will, if successful, provide both bees and birds new homes and allow for successful breeding of Cape Parrots as well as an opportunity to utilize the honey and wax created by the bees.
What makes the project unique is what happens after the boxes are installed. Monitoring and repairing nest boxes that are 180 feet in the air is a job for professionals – professionals like the Explore-Trees team that won’t be around for good. Because of this, they plan to train locals how to monitor and take care of the boxes, using proper tree-climbing techniques. The bee hives that develop in the false boxes can be used for honey and to pollinate the many macadamia farms located in the region, which require an inordinately high amount of pollination to produce fruit. Not only will locals be trained in the upkeep and monitoring of their endangered parrot population, but also in the use and maintenance of bee hives and beekeeping, and the local combined school, Thalifa, will be the main beneficiary. Eventually, the project will be in the hands of the people that inhabit this corner of South Africa, and hopefully the Cape Parrot will be given a place to recover.