The 8th and 9th Austrian Ramsar Committee Meetings, held in 1996 and 1997 respectively, discussed possible financial support from Austria for project work in Africa. The Ramsar Bureau’s Tom Kabii made a presentation at the 1996 meeting, when the idea of using the White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) as a kind of ‘flagship’ species was raised. White Storks are migratory, breeding in Europe and wintering in Africa, where wetlands are their most important feeding grounds. White Storks have a very high public profile in Austria, where significant efforts have been made for their conservation.
In 1997, the Austrian Federal Ministry of Environment, Youth & Family and the Provincial Government of Styria (represented by the ‘Amt der Steiermärkischen Landesregierung’) signed contracts with the Ramsar Bureau for ATS 30,000 each (= a total of approximately SFR 7,000). The Bureau subsequently established a contract with the East African Wildlife Society (EAWS), a member of the Kenya Wetlands Working Group. SFR 9,000 were transferred to EAWS, with SFR 7,000 coming from the Austrian support, and the remaining SFR 2,000 coming from the Government of Switzerland’s annual grant to the Bureau for work in Africa. EAWS were contracted to carry out the following:
- a literature search to establish the historical status of White Storks wintering in Kenya and to identify any trends in numbers of birds and wetland sites used;
- field surveys during the 1997/98 winter season;
- research into the factors directly or indirectly threatening White Storks on their wintering grounds;
- identification of Kenyan wetlands that could be twinned with Austrian wetlands.
A progress report was provided by the EAWS for the 10th Austrian Ramsar Committee Meeting just concluded, in June 1998. The research carried out so far indicates that, between the 1970s and the 1990s, the average flock size of wintering White Storks in Kenya fell by some 50%, whilst the number of wetland sites at which White Storks were recorded fell by about one third. Work is now starting to look at the factors causing these changes. Two Kenyan wetlands have been identified for twinning with Austrian sites.
A further progress report is due from EAWS by 30 October 1998, with the final technical and financial report due by 30 January 1999. The Bureau has provided an interim report to the Austrian Federal Government, as required under the terms of our contract with them.
The first technical progress report from EAWS was very well-received by the Austrian Ramsar Committee, and there seems a strong chance that the project will receive further support for work to continue in 1999. Hopefully, other Austrian Provinces will be encouraged to support wetland work in Africa, perhaps through development of the site twinning initiative established by the current project. Such twinning seems the most likely way of bringing in technical and financial support for tangible wetland management measures.
-- reported by Tim Jones, Regional Coordinator for Europe, Ramsar Bureau