Conservation of the Blue Swallow in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe

© Fadzai MatsvimboBonn,
1 March 2013
- The Blue Swallow (Hirundo atrocaerulea)
is an intra-African migratory species that is threatened
by destruction and degradation of its grassland and wetland
habitats on both its breeding and non-breeding grounds.
The destruction of its natural habitat has led to a rapid
reduction of its already small population, which is projected
to continue in the future unless immediate conservation
action is taken across its entire distribution range.

The Blue Swallow is included in CMS Appendices
I and II and classified as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List.
Its range in Africa covers the Democratic Republic of Congo,
Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda,
the United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The
total population is estimated at around 4,000 pairs.

During the 2012 round of the CMS Small
Grant Programme, a project on the conservation of the Blue
Swallow in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe was selected
for funding. The project is implemented by BirdLife Zimbabwe
in collaboration with the Parks and Wildlife Management
Authority. The main aim of the project is to investigate
the status and distribution of blue swallows in the Eastern
Highlands of Zimbabwe, an area where between 20 and 25 per
cent of the global population is supposed to live.

The Eastern Highlands is a mountain range
that extends 260 km from north to south. It is a unique
area with ecological conditions that can only be found there
in Zimbabwe. Rainfall can be as high as 3,000 mm per year
and the altitude of some mountain peaks exceeds 2,000 metres.
Many endemic plants and animals are present in this area
and are dependent on the wet montane grasslands, which is
also the habitat of the Blue Swallow. The major threat to
the species is the reduction of this habitat due to the
extension of agriculture, mainly potato farming, and plantations
of deciduous fruits and other tree species. Uncontrolled
fire is also a problem.

The current project undertakes surveys
of the Blue Swallow in the region and trains rangers to
monitor the species, including through a protocol for protected
areas. The project also evaluates the extent of invasive
plant species that are occupying the key habitats.

With the aim of raising the profile of
the Blue Swallow, children from local schools are being
engaged as part of a bird awareness programme that is run
by BirdLife Zimbabwe. Local communities are being assisted
on the issue of how to combine agriculture and nature conservation,
a model that will be replicated with other communities in
the Eastern Highlands. The model will use the Blue Swallow
as a flagship species to involve local people in the conservation
of the natural resources of the area.

Ms Fadzai Matsvimbo, Conservation Officer
of BirdLife Zimbabwe, is confident that the project is going
to find new populations of Blue Swallow and greatly improve
the knowledge of the species in the Eastern Highlands. She
also expressed her expectation that the associated bird
awareness programme will be essential for involving local
communities in proper land management measures and for increasing
the capacity of the staff working at the National Parks
present in the region.


During the 2012 round
of the Small Grant Programme a total of 75 applications
was received and 12 projects were selected for funding.
In the coming months each of these projects will be featured
on the CMS website in a new “Project of the Month”
series that will show the activities that are taking place
within each project and the conservation impact on the species

The Small Grant Programme
supports projects that are implemented on the ground with
a strong focus on the conservation of species listed in
the CMS Appendixes. It shows that CMS can really make a
difference when it comes to improving the status of the
species concerned working in close contact with the local

During the period 2012-2014
the Programme is generously funded by UNEP.


Last updated on 16 June 2014