Conservation of the Blue Swallow, in the Eastern Highlands, Zimbabwe

The Blue Swallow is an intra-African migrant that breeds in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe.The Eastern Highlands consist of a 260km long highland stretching north to south. The species is distributed southwards from the Nyanga Highlands to the Chimanimani Mountains, though its southernmost range of the species is not known. Several mountain peaks along the chain exceed 2000m. Rainfall received in the area can be as much as 3000mm per year. The Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe are a unique area and the conditions are not replicated anywhere else in the country.

The species is dependent on the wet montane grasslands found only in the Eastern Highlands of the country. Many other endemic plants and animals are found in association with the montane grasslands. There are two endemic and near endemic species of frogs, and at least nine endemic or near-endemic butterfly species that occur in the montane grasslands and shrublands of the Eastern Highlands. The area is also home to many endemic plants and reptiles.

The Blue Swallow is Vulnerable according to the IUCN criteria.This status has not changed in twenty years and yet so many changes have taken place in the habitat. One of the reasons could be because not enough data exists to make any changes to this status. Currently,the global Blue Swallow population is estimated to be around 4000 pairs. The Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe are thought to support a quarter of the breeding the population, making it one of the most significant areas for the survival of Blue Swallows. Important Bird Areas (IBA)s are areas that support globally threatened birds, restricted range species, biome restricted species and congregations of either terrestrial or waterbirds. Zimbabwe has a total of twenty IBAs. Six areas where designated as Important Bird Areas in Zimbabwe because of presence of Blue Swallows. These IBAs are also key areas for other biodiversity, in addition to the birds.

The major threat to Blue Swallows is the reduction of its habitat, mainly due to anthropogenic factors. The montane grasslands are suitable for potato farming, deciduous fruits and tree plantations. Invasive plant species, especially Wattle, Acacia mearnsii and Pine, Pinus patula have spread in this important habitat. Conservation of the montane grassland goes a long way in looking after the unique biodiversity of the area. Conserving the breeding ground of this threatened bird would ensure the continued survival of this species and other biodiversity. It is important to establish the Blue Swallow population utilising the entire Montane Grassland habitat of the eastern Highlands to necessitate the measurement of any impact of future conservation efforts. In the current BirdLife Zimbabwe strategy (2009-2014), one of the goals is to 'Improve the conservation status of birds with emphasis on threatened birds'.

The Blue Swallow is high on the priority list for BirdLife Zimbabwe. The organisation seeks to conserve birds for their intrinsic value and for future generations to enjoy them. After all birds are important indicators of the health of the environment. Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority is the custodian of all wildlife in the country.The Authority has a mandate to manage all willdlife whether on communal or private land, as well as their estates. The Blue Swallow population in Zimbabwe has managed to survive mainly because some of its habitat lies within Parks jurisdiction. These areas include Rhodes Nyanga National Park, Chimanimani National Park and Vumba Botanical Gardens and Reserve. These areas have been managed and protected to conserve the unique flora and fauna in these areas. Hence it is important to ZPWMA to continue with conservation of threatened wildlife.

The project is likely to improve the conservation status of Blue Swallows across its distribution in Zimbabwe. The profile of the Blue Swallow is going to be raised . The outputs are going to be sustainable as the key organisations involved in the conservation of Blue Swallow are working together. The rangers that are going tobe trained to monitor Blue Swallows can train others and this chain will continue. In this way, there will be continued monitoring year after year.In the past, BirdLife Zimbabwe has worked with a community in the Nyanga area to conserve Blue Swallows. The partnership worked very well. Members of the community reported Blue Swallow sightings and nesting locations to one individual who would compile a report. Young children were engaged through the local school. The school became part of the Bird Awareness programme that is run by BirdLife Zimbabwe. The children were taught about birds and biodiversity with emphasis on Blue Swallows. BirdLife Zimbabwe assisted the community with knowledge of how best to combine agriculture with conservation. This model can be replicated to other communities in the Eastern Highlands. In this manner local communities play a role in the conservation of natural resources in their area.

Establish the current population and distribution of Blue Swallows in the Eastern Highlands; Search for new Blue Swallow habitat in the Eastern Highlands outside the known perimeter; Establish the extent of invasive plant species in the Eastern Highlands where Blue Swallows are known to occur; Raise awareness on the conservation of the Blue Swallow; Establish a monitoring protocol for Blue Swallows inside protected Areas

Description:Carry out Blue Swallow surveys Map Blue Swallow breeding sites
Start date:17 September 2012
End date:30 April 2014
Responsibility:BirdLife Zimbabwe
Output:Survey report detailing occurences of Blue Swallows and population status
Description:Search for possible Blue Swallow habitat outside known areas
Start date:17 October 2012
End date:30 April 2014
Responsibility:BirdLife Zimbabwe
Output:Map showing the remaining grassland in the Eastern Highlands
Description:Mapping areas where invasive plants occur
Start date:18 January 2013
End date:01 October 2014
Responsibility:BirdLife Zimbabwe
Output:Map showing extent of invasive plant species in the Blue Swallow habitat
Description:Carry out awareness campaigns in areas where the Blue Swallow occurs Produce posters, brochures with information on Blue Swallows
Start date:01 October 2012
End date:01 April 2014
Responsibility:BirdLife Zimbabwe
Output:Community participation in Blue Swallow conservation
Description:Train rangers to identify Blue Swallows, breeding sites Produce a document on how to monitor Blue Swallows
Start date:01 October 2012
End date:01 April 2014
Responsibility:Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority,Bird Life Zimbabwe
Output:Trained personnel in Blue Swallow monitoring Documented monitoring manual

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Implementing AgencyBirdLife Zimbabwe
Collaborating agenciesParks and Wildlife Management Authority. Dr Hilary Madzikanda,hmadzikanda@zimparks.co.zw, +263 4 707624

Activity start dateSeptember 2012
Activity end dateApril 2014
CMS AppendixAppendix I, Appendix II
Taxonomic groupBirds
Target regionAfrica
Target countryZimbabwe
Final technical reportNo

Habitat loss and degradation
Agriculture and aquaculture
Invasive Species