7 October 2010


I had a strange start to my work career and spent the first 5 years of my working life as a Committee Secretary in Parliament in South Africa. Because I have always had an interest in nature it was natural that I should have Environmental Affairs in my committee portfolio. I had to sit at the chairman’s left and do secretarial things like taking minutes and the like. I remember looking down at the chairman’s shoes and noticing that he liked ostrich and crocodile leather. From an early age my scepticism regarding politicians and the environment started growing.

The African Black Oystercatcher (Haematopus moquini) is either Threatened, Near Threatened or Vulnerable depending on which website you look. They are down to between 5000 and 6000 birds which is not a lot and they are in trouble. I always felt sorry for the Oystercatchers as their nest is just a scrape in the sand somewhere above the high-water mark. They also have the most unfortunate breeding time of all – during the peak summer during the school holidays when the beaches are under most pressure. South Africa also had a severe problem with vehicles on beaches with joy riders and fishermen putting their car tracks on all beaches and in the process crushing eggs or just generally disturbing oystercatchers and scarring the beaches.

Then, with the new government in South Africa in 1994, came Minister Valli Moosa who, in his wisdom, (and to the credit of his department), powered legislation through Parliament effectively banning vehicles on beaches. Since then the African Black Oystercatcher is pulling itself out of trouble and the population has stabilised and is increasing! Shows what a bit of relevant and intelligent legislation can do.

Of course it doesn’t end there. The population of Oiks (as the birdwatchers call them) is still low and much research is being done. The research is very noticeable when you spot an Oystercatcher as most of them seem to have rings on their legs. This one you see above has so many rings I thought of calling it the “African Bling Oystercatcher.” I personally think that a lot of the disturbing of animals in the name of research is unnecessary. I also thought of suggesting they call the Oystercatcher after Minister Moosa but as a leopard was caught on a farm belonging to him in a gin trap I won't consider it. I am still sceptical about 99.9% of politicians but appreciate what was done for the African Black Oystercatcher.

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