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South Africa is home to a plethora of bird species ranging from our elegant national bird, the blue crane, to the endangered Cape vulture with its impressive wingspan and the colourful lilac-breasted roller.
The abundant variety of members of the avian species is due to the vast and varied landscapes and biome found across the nation. In fact, it is estimated that nearly 850 different bird species are viewable in the country, with as many as 725 being endemic and almost 50 species found only in South Africa.
It would not by any stretch of the imagination be a flight of fancy to take this natural wealth to the next level.
Dr Armand Viljoen from TREES says there are ample opportunities for the integration of birding tourism (avi-tourism) and agri-tourism (tourism activity directed to farms). Recent research conducted among farmers has revealed that birding as a potential agri-tourism activity is highly regarded as a way to diversify economic activity and benefit from tourism.
Birdwatchers are willing to open their wallets
Birdwatchers, it seems, are willing to spend a fair amount of time and money on this pastime, both on equipment and accessories such as binoculars, cameras and books, and on travel and accommodation.
On average, they spend 38 days annually on birding trips, according to a 2010 study by the Department of Trade and Industry on the potential economic impact of avi-tourism.
The study found that up to 66% of birding trips include overnight travel and as many as 60% take place outside birders' home provinces. Annually, birdwatchers spend between R17 000 and R55 0000 on birding activities.
Do your homework
The research projects conducted by TREES reveal that avi-tourism has definite potential but realising this depends on various external factors, such as location, climate and available bird species on farms.
“If rare bird species are found on a farm, it has a natural competitive advantage, since many birdwatchers tick them off their life lists (checklists) of birds.In order to benefit most from the avi-tourism potential, it is essential that farmers identify the type of birdwatcher they would like to attract,” says Armand. This will influence the kind of amenities they will need to develop and consequently the costs they might incur.
Birdwatchers have varied travel behaviour and needs, including level of comfort, with types of accommodation required ranging from camping with ablution facilities to self-catering. “It is a balancing act, and marketing to the right avi-tourism consumer is critical.”
Another benefit of birding is that the availability, number and variety of birds is also a good indication of the general health of the surrounding ecosystem – something every farmer can benefit from.
Birdwatching could become a lucrative source of revenue for South Africa provided the right steps are taken to attract this well-heeled segment of the tourist market.
Bird-watching: how to take flight
Since the birder-bug bit alumna Ronel Röscher back in 2008, she has spotted and identified no fewer than 411 different bird species, which means that she has now seen more or less half of the South African bird species.
Ronel explains that her love for birdwatching started when she tried to identify the birds on the photographs that she took on her first visit to a game reserve. Since then, her holiday photos have included more and more birds.
Here are her tips on how to become a successful bird watcher:
Ronel says every region has its own unique species. “You have to visit as many areas as possible to be able to expand your list of identified birds.”
Some of the scarce bird species on her “lifer” list (a record kept of all birds sighted and identified by a birder) are the Pel’s fishing owl, the African broadbill and the blue korhaan.
This is according to the NWU’s Tourism Research in Economic Environs and Society (TREES) unit.
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