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Every year thousands of tons of wheat, millet and sorghum is lost as a result of millions of queleas devouring crops both from commercial and subsistence farmers. It is estimated that there are 1.5 billion of these birds in southern Africa alone and flocks ranging from 1 million to 5 million have been reordered. A flock of 5 million can consume 50 tonnes of grain a day.

The quelea finch is a major crop destroyer for both commercial and rural crop farmers throughout Africa.
The quelea is a major crop destroyer for both commercial and rural crop farmers throughout Africa.

In northern Botswana an interesting new and novel, non-chemical way, was piloted to try and get rid of the bird. In a place called Pandamatenga (which is 150 km south of the world famous Chobe river and Game Reserve near Kasane) more than 100 000 hectares is currently being commercially farmed for both wheat and sorghum. Every year just before harvest time in March/April millions of quelea descend on the crops and help themselves. Normally pesticides are sprayed over roosting places and petrol bombs are ignited below them to cull the flocks. These extreme methods are naturally very controversial and costly.

The red-billed quelea finch ( Quelea q.lathumini ) belongs to the weaver family and every year millions of nests are built that virtually drip off trees. Photo Alistair Rae
The red-billed quelea belongs to the weaver family and every year millions of nests are built that virtually drip off trees.  © Alistair Rae

Mr. Michael Matsila, an agronomy officer with the department of agriculture in Botswana recently shared an interesting story with the Rare Finch Conservation Group. In 2013 Megan Stewart, who is a young American falconer, proposed an outline to try and get rid of queleas using an eco-friendly and cost saving approach. Quelea are known to be very predictable and will feed from sunrise to late morning and then return again from 3pm to sunset. In 2014 using an allocated 100 hectare test area to fly her Lanner falcon, Megan was successfully able to scare off the quelea, to search for alternative food supplies. Using the fear factor of her raptor, every day twice a day for a number of weeks, Megan’s test showed that in 97% of the test area grain was saved whereas the unprotected area lost 70% of its yield.

In northern Botswana a pilot test has been done using falconry to try and get rid of the species. © FC Botha

Known as the Bird Abatement Concept it is still very much in its infancy, and again quite controversial. Needless to say Megan’s success has attracted the attention of the Botswana Ministry of Agriculture. Plans to ramp up the project is currently being considered with the various government departments as well as being discussed with BirdLife Botswana.

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Africa Geographic Travel
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