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Responses of large wetland birds to human disturbances: results from experimental bird approaches in areas with different protection status in western Tanzania

Research Paper | January 1, 2015

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Jasson R. M. John

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J. Bio. Env. Sci.6( 1), 469-479, January 2015


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Flight distances are quite often used to establish wildlife responses to humans. It is generally hypothesised that animals in protected areas are more sensitive to approaching humans than in areas where animals may coexist with humans at high densities. But this hypothesis may not hold true if animals are persecuted. A field experiment was designed on three large wetland birds, two ‘Vulnerable’ and CITES Appendix II; Shoebill Balaeniceps rex and Wattled Crane Bugeranus carunculatus and one ‘Least Concern’ Saddle-billed Stork Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis, in areas with different protection status to test the effect of protection gradient on flight distances. Because Shoebill and Wattled Crane are restricted in western Tanzania and all the three species in this study are trapped it was also expected they should respond to the hunting pressure. The study found that birds were more wary in heavily protected area with longer flight initiation distance (83.75 ± 18.84 m) than in unprotected (57.24 ± 23.53 m), conforming to the first hypothesis. However, flight distances for Saddle-billed Stork did not differ significantly among the sites. In addition, Shoebill formed tight flocks in heavily protected area when flushed suggesting that birds were responding to persecution familiarity. Allegations of illegal bird trapping in protected areas were also rampant and insufficient on-site law enforcement was noted. Given the small population of the Wattled Crane and Shoebill in Tanzania (< 500 individuals for each species), the study recommends suspension of trapping and trade of the two species, and improving on-site law enforcement.


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Responses of large wetland birds to human disturbances: results from experimental bird approaches in areas with different protection status in western Tanzania

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