The first Red Data Book for South Africa was published in 1976 and updated in 1984 by Richard Brooke. I remember working through this publication in order to highlight conservation activities that BirdLife's predecessor, the Southern African Ornithological Society, needed to prioritise.
The 2000 update, while superficially similar, constitutes a significant step forward with the adoption of the IUCN Red List Categories. Undoubtedly these categories will be debated among conservationists and scientists, and be subject to ongoing revision. What is important is their adoption, which permits the region's birds to be evaluated according to a well-recognised international standard. The 2000 update also benefits from the inclusion of data from The Atlas of Southern African Birds published in 1997, another example of the value of the atlas for bird conservation in southern Africa.
As one has come to expect from the Avian Demography Unit, the quality of the information is of a high standard and is professionally prepared and presented. Twenty-two different authors have contributed to the species texts and this, coupled with the data from The Atlas of Southern African Birds, ensures authoritative and informative treatment of each species.
The book is essentially divided into three sections. The Introduction provides the history of Red Data books in the region, explains the IUCN criteria and definitions, lists the species treated and outlines the account presentation. Also included is very useful and alarming coverage of the threats facing the birds. The 125 species accounts make up the bulk of the book and are grouped as follows: Regionally extinct species - 2; Critically endangered species - 5; Endangered species - 11; Vulnerable species - 43; and Near-threatened species - 64. Finally, the Appendices and References close the book.
On the face of it this is not a work that will appeal to the majority of birders. However, having worked through it, I believe that it makes very interesting and informative reading, bringing into focus how vulnerable our birds really are. Making the material available to a wider audience can only help to create awareness to the benefit of the birds. It would be really useful if the publishers of bird books in South Africa incorporated the information into popular field guides. Additionally I believe that a smaller and colour illustrated edition would find a market with birders.
Those involved in the production of the Red Data Book are to be commended for this publication. The real challenge now becomes what are we going to do with it?