Providing shade for birds of the Tankwa Karoo desert, South Africa

A martial eagle perches in a tree in Botswana.

Tankwa Karoo National Park spans nearly 340,000 acres in one of the most arid and remote parts of South Africa. The park is home to a diverse array of bird species, including the martial eagle, Ludwig's bustard, karoo lark, large-billed lark, long-billed lark, cinnamon-breasted warbler, black-headed canary, and many more. However, temperatures in Tankwa Karoo are rising and routinely reach levels that can be lethal to birds. In order to survive, birds control their body temperatures by seeking shade, as well as through evaporative cooling, which requires greater intake of water. Water, however, is becoming increasingly scarce due to changes in temperature and rainfall patterns. At the few waterholes that remain, the threat of predation is high, and limited shade means birds risk exposure to high temperatures.

WWF has partnered with SANParks and University of Cape Town’s FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology to identify eight different water points for the experiment, install camera traps at the chosen waterpoints, and monitor bird species using the water points. A shader design will then be developed in collaboration with the park staff and installed at four of the eight water points. Bird species will then be monitored to assess the impact of shade provision on birds’ use of the waterpoints. Black-bulb thermometers will be installed at the edge of each waterpoint to assess the efficacy of the shaders at reducing environmental temperature during hot periods.

Researchers will also assess the influence of water on the avian community in the broader landscape, and whether providing shade at waterpoints influences this. A climate change adaptation plan will then be developed for Tankwa Karoo National Park’s birds.