Last month we accompanied members of the Namibia Bird Club on a visit to NARREC (Namibia Animal Rehabilitation Research & Education Centre) close to Windhoek. This wonderful sanctuary, nestled in dense thornveld, cares for and rehabilitates injured, orphaned or misplaced animals and birds with a view to releasing them back into the wild. Liz Komen, the energetic and empathetic owner of the sanctuary, does amazing work with the wildlife with limited resources as NARREC is a non-profit organisation that relies on donations and sponsorships from various individuals and organizations.
It’s never nice seeing beautiful raptors in cages, but it is comforting to know that those that are capable of being released back into the wild, will be, and that the others who could not survive out in nature, are well cared for and safe in their enormous aviaries. The centre is also used for education and awareness purposes and has many unique and interesting displays to enlighten both school-going children and adults on the various aspects of wildlife and its rehabilitation and conservation.
What we enjoyed most was watching Liz and members of the club ring (or band) a few birds. Bird ringing, according to Wikipedia, is “a technique used in the study of wild birds by attaching a small, individually numbered, metal or plastic tag to their legs or wings, so that various aspects of the bird’s life can be studied.” The bird in the photo above was caught in a fine “mist net,” which is the main method used for capturing small birds for ringing. These nets have to be manned and checked often as birds need to be released from them as soon as possible to minimize distress, injury and prevent death.
Raptors are mainly caught in Balchatri traps, lured in with live bait (such as mice or rats), but other trapping methods are also used for birds of prey, like the walk-in traps and drop-in traps. Rehabilitated birds are always ringed before release.
The ringing procedure doesn’t take long, but a fair amount of skill and training (and a permit) is needed to do this. There is a strict ethical code that must be adhered to at all times. The ringers have specialized equipment to do the job and once the actual ringing has been completed, the bird is examined, measured and weighed, and accurate records are taken for submission to the birding data base.
According to the NARREC brochure, ringing projects assist with research and conservation, giving an indication of migration routes and wintering grounds of birds, tracking the movement of species and individuals, giving information on mating systems, population dynamics and the dispersal of fledglings, amongst other things. Various organizations around the world, like SAFRING in South Africa, collate the information gleaned from the recovery of rings from dead birds, or sightings of ringed birds, both captured or in the wild, and this is accessible and shared worldwide.
It was a fascinating visit and we urge our local readers to visit NARREC or, if you’re further afield, support Liz in her work by donating to this worthy cause.