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#Natureology Species of the Day – Ludwig’s Bustard (Neotis ludwigii)

January 17, 2013

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Ludwig’s Bustard is a enigmatic species of bird in the bustard family, and named after Baron von Ludwig. It is a medium-to-large sized species that is endangered it’s native habitat. It is found in Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, and South Africa. Its habitats include semi-arid grasslands.

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Biology

Ludwig’s Bustard is a Karoo species, preferring open, plains country, where
it can wander around, picking insects, small reptiles and bits of vegetation from the stony ground. It can weigh from 3 to 7.3 kg (6.6 to 16 lb), with a mean of 6.3 kg (14 lb) for the much larger male and 3.4 kg (7.5 lb) for the female. Length ranges from 76 to 85 cm (30 to 33 in) in females and 80 to 95 cm (31 to 37 in) in males. It lives largely on large insects (mainly locusts), as well as flowers and seeds. Although it lives in semi-arid areas it seems to shift locally to follow the presence of rainfall. During extreme concentrations of rainfall, as many as 230 Ludwig’s Bustards have been seen at once feeding on locusts.

This semi-desert specialists is endemic to the Namib and Karoo biomes. It appears to undertake seasonal movements, moving to the western winter-rainfall part of its range in winter . The breeding season spans from August to December, with the species nesting on bare ground with a clutch of 2-3 eggs . Chick-rearing is conducted solely by females . The diet includes invertebrates, some small vertebrates and vegetable matter, including the berries of Lycium oxycladum.

Threats

Ludwig’s Bustard is classified as Endangered as recent research has suggested that the population has undergone a very rapid population decline due the primary threat to the species  caused by collisions with power lines. Bustards have limited frontal vision so may not see even power lines, even if they are marked . Recent surveys on low voltage lines have also revealed substantial levels of mortality , and in addition to power lines wind farms are set to be established in many parts of the Karoo in the next few years. Other threats to this species include deliberate hunting, capture in snares set for mammals, poisoning and disturbance, with one satellite tracked bird likely hunted .

The global population has been previously estimated at 56,000 to 81,000 individuals . However, this estimate is now approximately 20 years old, and in this time the species is suspected to have declined rapidly as a result of collisions with overhead power lines, for which there is currently no effective mitigation.

Conservation

A research project is underway to conduct a new census of the Ludwig’s Bustard population in South Africa, thoroughly assess the magnitude of power line mortality through regular line surveys across the Karoo. An extensive line marking experiment was put up near De Aar in 2011 in conjunction with the Eskom – Endangered Wildlife Trust Strategic Partnership to test the two current devices used in mitigation in South Africa. In Namibia, NamPower are also working to implement effective mitigation measures .

Conservationist should continue to raise awareness to stop hunting, and to encourage the public to report mortality from power lines etc. All new infrastructure (power lines, wind turbines) should be sited and mitigated appropriately, and dangerous sections of line should be retrofitted with appropriate mitigation. Further research into mitigation measures for power line collisions.

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