Giving Conservation Wings with Daniel Marnewick

Aug 19 2015

Tracy Burrows from Latest Sightings chats to Daniel Marnewick, Programme Manager: Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas at Bird Life South Africa to gain some insight regarding his projects, achievements, favourite birding places and more...

TB: What projects are you currently working on, and what are your responsibilities?
I Manage the Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas Programme, including national coordination of the implementation of the global IBA strategy, and manage regional and project managers who implement IBA conservation action at a site level. 

TB: What is your favourite bird and why?
DM: I believe in totem animals, i.e. animals that you feel a spiritual connection to. The African hoopoe is my totem animal. When I see one I consider it a good omen. They also happen to be uniquely beautiful birds and have a very serene call.

TB: Can you please share an interesting fact about the African hoopoe?
Its name comes from its distinct call sounding like hoo-poo or hoopoo-poo. If you are lucky enough to hear the African hoopoe calling, you will see how it puffs out its throat, flattens its crest and lowers its head with each note. It can call for hours on end. This is a lovely garden bird occurring through most of South Africa, so anyone can enjoy watching it; but garden pesticides can kill the bird through secondary poisoning, so please use pesticides sparingly and responsibly.

TB: What tip can you share with us regarding spotting an African Hoopoe?
DM: They are often seen foraging on grassy sidewalks in urban cities, but with some luck you will see one in your garden if you settle down with a cup of coffee and binocs. Otherwise in most nature reserves in woody areas you are sure to see this majestic bird.

TB: Where is your favourite birding place?
DM: I am so lucky to have insight into 112 of the most import sites for birds (IBAs), which also happen to be awesome for birding. Personally, I love the bushveld. The birds are easy to spot, colourful and loud. While the Kruger National Park is our largest IBA, and provides spectacular birding, I like to walk while birding. So by heading a bit further north to Magoesbaskloof into the Wolkberg Forest Belt IBA, you get a fantastic mixture of forest, woodland and some bushveld… the bird diversity is something to behold.

TB: What achievements can you share with us?
The IBA Programme is all about identifying and conserving a network of the most important sites where threatened and endemic bird species occur in significant numbers. With the successful conservation of these sites, we ensure our future generations can also enjoy these extraordinary birds. Because we are conserving important sites and habitats, this is also benefitting a plethora of other biodiversity. BirdLife South Africa has been working hard the past four years to formally protect priority IBAs. In 2014, BirdLife South Africa was in part responsible for 60 000 hectares of the Chrissies Pans IBA (Mpumalanga) being formally proclaimed a protected area. At least another 60 000 is to follow over the next two years across Mpumalanga, Free State, KZN and Western Cape. The IBA Directory has also been revised, after four years of intensive IBA assessments by our dedicated team of conservationists and birders. This, together with the first South Africa IBA Status Report will be launched in September 2015.

TB: What’s it like working for a bird conservation NGO?
DM: I have worked for BirdLife South Africa for 9 years, and honestly they have been the best 9 years of my career. I have always worked for conservation NGOs, but there is something special about BirdLife South Africa, as well as the BirdLife International global partnership on the whole. Birds are just so accessible to everyone, hence the massive birding community in South Africa (and globally). So you really do feel part of a very large and passionate community. I feel like I’m making a real difference by working to conserve IBAs, and BirdLife South Africa and my colleagues provide the ideal environment to facilitate this work.

TB: Lastly, what drives you?
DM: My Honda CRV project vehicle which is sponsored by Honda SA, for which I am very thankful. But jokes aside, it is not easy to explain the deep seated passion and desire one has to conserve nature. The environmental challenges we face every day speaks to the very fibre of human society. This sounds dramatic but it’s true. Recycling, saving water, rescuing abandoned animals, stopping deforestation or even choosing not to eat a threatened fish species; these are our everyday choices that impact on nature. Religion and culture used to provide society’s moral compass, but in modern times I believe it is now the collective decisions we make about the environment that define human society. As the saying goes, if you think you are to insignificant to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito in the room. It starts with each one of us. I believe in the ability of humans to bring about positive change.

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