20 January 2017

The 14th PAOC was held at Hotel Ngor Diarama, Dakar, Senegal, 16–21 October 2016, with the theme “Global changes — threats and opportunities for birds”. Around 250 participants converged for the congress, which comprised four days of plenaries, symposia and round table discussions, a full day of mid-congress excursions and various workshops and meetings before and after the event. The Congress opened on Sunday 16th October with a series of training workshops through the day and a cocktail in the evening provided by the Ministry of Environment, which included a lively local dance troupe. The main auditorium was bursting at the seams for the formal opening on 17th October, with pertinent addresses by the Minister of Environment, the Dutch Ambassador to Senegal and others. The congress had a good mix of plenary presentations and symposia, covering a range of themes. Of particular note was the ‘Vultures in Africa’ symposium, which was followed by a three-day vulture workshop at the same venue. There were also substantial symposia on seabirds and waterbirds and others addressing different aspects of migration.

The waterbird symposium included presentations from Senegal, Egypt, Mauritania, and on flyway trends of waterbirds along the East Atlantic flyway plus a keynote focused on the importance of waterbird population estimates in Africa – vital for identification of shadow Ramsar Sites. This symposium was followed by a meeting of African National Coordinators of the International Waterbird Census (IWC), at which Miguel Xavier of Angola was nominated as the Africa representative on the Strategic Working Group of the African-Eurasian Waterbird Monitoring Partnership. There were also symposia on African cranes and communities and on wetland conservation along the East Atlantic Flyway.

A number of posters showcased some of the work underway in the region, with several also focused on vultures and seabirds – both great topics for the venue, which hosted a small roost of Hooded Vultures Necrosyrtes monachusin the hotel grounds, whilst a range of seabirds were seen offshore. Other delegates visited the wetlands of Somone, where important mangrove restoration work has been achieved, and Technopole, a magnet for waterbirds on the outskirts of Dakar.

The PAOC aims to promote the further study, conservation and appreciation of African birds, and disseminate information through congresses and their published proceedings. Congresses take place every four years; this was the first one in a francophone country of West Africa. One of the key features of PAOC14 was simultaneous translation throughout, significantly increasing the ability for sharing ideas and information between Africa’s regions.

The PAOC is always an important event for students, and for many it is the first major conference they participate in. The prize for the best student presentation went to Ngoné Diop of Senegal, who illustrated the feeding ecology of Red-billed Tropicbirds Phaethon aethereus on two islands in the tropical Atlantic – Iles de la Madeleine (Senegal) and St Helena.

It is never easy organising a major congress in Africa, and the planning for and organisation of PAOC14 were no exception. However, despite a number of challenges, the whole event came together very well. There was a good mix of delegates from across Africa and further afield, a wide variety of quality presentations, simultaneous translation, excellent excursion options and a welcoming atmosphere. The Chair of the Congress, Abdoulaye Ndiaye, and his core team need a strong vote of thanks for never giving up and for securing the essential financial support required to stage such an event.

The Congress will have made a good impact locally in Senegal, where a number of exciting developments in ornithology and bird conservation are underway, including the launch of a Masters course in Ornithology, Conservation and Development at the University of Gaston Berger in Saint-Louis. The Minister of Environment was also very keen for the Congress to have a lasting message; this has been formulated into the ‘Dakar Declaration’, which calls on the African Union to promote and coordinate governmental responses to continental-level declines in vultures, amongst other actions.

Finally, thanks must go to the main sponsors of the Congress, notably the MAVA Foundation, plus the Netherlands Embassy in Senegal, the Senegal Government, the PRCM (West African Regional Marine and Coastal Conservation Programme), the Tour du Valat, the African Bird Club and the Wadden Sea Flyway Initiative.

Further information about the congress is available at www.paoc-africa.org .