Objective of the flight:

The objective of the flight was to relocate Red-billed Oxpeckers from Skukuza in the Kruger National Park to a game farm in High Flats in KwaZulu-Natal. The Operation Oxpecker project was requested to catch Red-billed Oxpeckers at the Skukuza bomas, as they were irritating the wounds of some of the animals housed there.

Report from the beneficiary:

“The capture took place from 17-25 July 2013 and 20 birds were captured in total. Unfortunately, three birds were lost as a result of a cold snap in Kruger and one was lost as a result of aggression from the other birds. We placed 2 oil heaters running 24/7 when necessary into the boma and as a result had no more losses from cold. The birds were kept in the boma for over a week to quarantine them, as they were captured behind the red line for foot and mouth disease. This period of quarantine is necessary to receive a Red Cross permit allowing the birds to be removed from the area for release.

The birds are all marked with a metal alphanumeric ring (SAfring) which individually identifies them as well as with a colour ring (in this case the colour was yellow). These markings will help to know that birds seen with yellow rings were the ones released into High Flats. The birds are fed on a mixture of minced meat, minced liver, blood, Pronutro, egg and Avistress (a vitamin and electrolyte supplement used when handling or transporting birds). Avistress is also added to their water source. A camera trap was placed in the boma to monitor whether the birds were eating. Some of the pictures are below.

On the 7th of August 2013, the birds were caught in the early morning and placed into the transport crates, which are lined with shade cloth allowing the birds to cling onto the sides. Brett arrived at Skukuza Airfield at around 10am and the birds were loaded into the aircraft. After a relatively short flight, we arrived at the SAPPI airstrip near High Flats in KwaZulu-Natal where we were met by Mo and Trish Lister, the owners of the game farm where the birds were to be released. After a short 8km drive, we released the birds into the specially prepared holding facility. Mo had ensured that there was sufficient heating for the birds, by providing 2 heat lamps for the birds to sit under. He also had fresh meat and blood for the birds, who ate hungrily as soon as the food was put down.

On the 13th of August 2013, 15 birds were released onto the farm. One bird had died during the week, possibly as a result of stress. This bird had been injured in the Skukuza Boma, and had been treated with an anti-inflammatory and antibiotic. It was also an adult bird and adults seem to succumb to stress more than younger birds.

Operation Oxpecker will continue to monitor the population and will get regular feedback from Mo to see where he has seen his birds. Thank you to Brett and the Bateleurs for assisting us with this relocation.

Sixteen Red-billed Oxpeckers were relocated to their new home in KwaZulu-Natal. This helped to alleviate a conflict situation in Kruger and to boost the small number of birds found in High Flats to assist the farmer with holistic environmentally friendly tick control.”

Report from the pilot:

“It was an early start from Eshowe airfield to Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA) to re-fuel. From there a short hop to Skukuza Airfield where Leigh Combrink from the Endangered Wildlife Trust was waiting with the 16 Red-billed Oxpeckers in two specially-made crates. A quick stop, loaded the crates and we were on our way to the SAPPI fire-fighting airstrip near Highflats in Southern KZN.

After a scenic flight over KZN we landed at SAPPI airfield where Mr & Mrs Lister were waiting for their new arrivals. The birds were quickly loaded into their car and went off to a temporary holding cage where they were to be held for about a week before being released onto their game farm. Mr Lister was hoping that the introduction of these birds would make it a viable breeding population again after nearly 130 years of these birds being wiped out by poisonous dips in the area. The nearest Red-Billed Oxpecker population was at Game Valley approximately 60km away. Mr Lister released the birds (15 in total – there was one casualty during the week in the boma) on the 13th of August 2013.

The birds were transported to their new location with limited stress and far quicker than road transport. All the birds survived the trip. A viable breeding population should now establish itself in an area that has not seen such a population of Oxpeckers for about 130 years. The EWT will keep track of the success of the introduction of this breeding group.”