----- Original Message -----
From: Mark Anderson <mailto:torgos.t@gmail.com>  
To: sabirdnet@lists.ukzn.ac.za
Sent: Monday, September 11, 2006 8:34 AM
Subject: [SABN] African Fish-Eagle research

You may be interested in some work that we have been doing on African Fish-Eagles along the Vaal River (press release below). We have managed to obtain blood samples from 14 African Fish-Eagle nestlings.
American scientists train Northern Cape conservationists

Two scientists from the United States are currently visiting Kimberley. Dr William Bowerman from Clemson University and David Best from the US Fish & Wildlife Service are in Kimberley to initiate an exciting new project on African Fish-Eagles.

Working in collaboration with Mark Anderson, ornithologist with the Department of Tourism, Environment & Conservation, the aim of the project is to use African Fish-Eagles as an indicator of the health of the Vaal River ecosystem. Mark Anderson met Dr Bowerman at a conference in Israel in 2000 and over the years they have discussed the possibility of initiating this important project. Dr Bowerman recently raised the funds for this research, so the project has now become a reality.

African Fish-Eagles are at the top of the food chain and thus, by analysing small blood samples collected from nestling eagles, one can determine the levels of various toxicants, providing an indicator of the health of the river. It is well known that the Vaal River is one of the most polluted rivers in South Africa but thus far no information is available on the effect of the pollutants on birds, especially African Fish-Eagles.

In early-July 2006 Mark Anderson and Peter Hohne conducted a helicopter survey along the Vaal River, finding 14 pairs of breeding African Fish-Eagles between Warrenton and Douglas. The American and Kimberley scientists are currently visiting these nest sites and taking blood samples from the young African Fish-Eagles. The blood samples will be sent to the USA where the blood analyses will be conducted.
According to Dr Bowerman "If the level of organochlorines, PCBs and other compounds in the blood is high, a long-term monitoring programme will be initiated", possibly involving both South African and American post-graduate researchers. The results of the analyses, which will cost thousands of dollars, will be available during early-2007.

During his visit to Kimberley, Dr Bowerman also presented a course on how to use fish-eating eagles as biomonitors. The course was attended by 22 scientists and conservationists from a variety of organizations, including the Department of Tourism, Environment & Conservation, Department of Agriculture & Land Reform, SANParks, University of Cape Town, and Birds of Prey Working Group. Two of De Beers' bird guides were also trained.  The training programme consisted of lectures as well as field training.
William Bowerman and David Best have been working on a variety of fish-eating eagles around the world, including White-tailed Sea-Eagles in Sweden and Steller's Sea-Eagle in Russia. Their research has however focused on the Bald Eagle in North America, a species that was very threatened a few decades ago. Their research showed that the eagles were threatened by various pollutants, with the pairs that lived and fed on the Great Lakes experiencing the greatest problems. Subsequent to the banning of many of the noxious chemicals that caused the decline in the Bald Eagle population, they have monitored the increase in the population size of these eagles. The improvement in the status of these eagles has been remarkable. The analysis of blood samples has shown a significant decline in the harmful toxicants.

Mark Anderson is marking the nestling African Fish-Eagles, with engraved metal rings and numbered, yellow wing tags. Please report sightings of these birds, as well as eagle nest sites, to Mark at 082-7880961.