Zambian fish working together to get food

This 2013 aquarium video is called Neolamprologus obscurus.

From ScienceDaily:

How a fish species in Lake Tanganyika works together to secure additional food sources

March 6, 2018

Cooperative behaviour to acquire food resources has been observed in hunting carnivores and web-building social spiders. Now researchers have found comparable behaviours in a fish species. A tiny striped fish called Neolamprologus obscurus only found in Lake Tanganyika in Zambia excavates stones to create shelter and increase the abundance of food for all fish in the group. Led by Hirokazu Tanaka of the University of Bern in Switzerland and the Osaka City University in Japan, this study is the first to document how team work in fish helps them to acquire more food. The research is published in Springer’s journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

Neolamprologus obscurus is a highly sociable species of cichlid found only in the southern reaches of Lake Tanyanika. These zebra-striped fish feed mainly on shrimp and other invertebrates found along the bottom of the lake. At night, shrimp move into the water column, but by dawn they sink back to the lake bottom to hide in crevices and holes, including the shelters that the fish have dug out under stones. Such excavation work is always done as a group, as is subsequent maintenance efforts. Breeding fish seldom leave these safe havens and are supported by up to ten helpers from their family group. The helpers protect the brood, and constantly remove sand and debris that fall into the cavities.

“The function of these excavated cavities is much like that of the webs of social spiders, which live in groups and share the trapped prey among group members,” explains Tanaka.

In this study, Tanaka and his colleagues wanted to find out if the size of the cavities at the bottom of the lake relate to the abundance of food available in the area, and if the presence of helpers influences the size. Through hours of scuba diving in Lake Tanyanika, the researchers created artificial cavities and examined the stomach contents of some of the fish. In another experiment, the researchers removed helpers that were assisting breeding fish. Within a week, enough sand had fallen into the cavities to decidedly shrink these spaces. This effect was augmented when the helpers removed were big.

One of the key findings was that the size of an excavated crevice had an influence on the amount of shrimps that subsequently gathered in it. When there were more helpers around, the space that could be created was bigger and more shrimps could be gathered.

“Helpers in Neolamprologus obscurus extend and maintain the excavated cavities, and by doing so, contribute to an increase in food abundance inside the territory of breeding females”, explains Tanaka.

“Fish living in groups may be able to increase and maintain considerably larger excavated cavities per capita compared to solitary living fish. Consequently, group living enables Neolamprologus obscurus to efficiently increase the prey abundance in their territory. This increases the body condition and future reproductive success of breeders and/or helpers”, adds Tanaka, who suggests that there is a clear benefit to group living for this species of fish.


Vultures in Zambia news

This video is about vultures and hyenas at a buffalo kill in Zambia in 2014.

From BirdLife:

12 Sep 2017

BirdWatch Zambia collects data about vulture movements

By Chaona Phiri

In July 2016, BirdWatch Zambia (BirdLife Partner in Zambia) embarked on a project to establish safe feeding and roosting areas for vultures – known as Vulture Safe Zones. This was accomplished through partnership and dialogue with farm owners to influence farm management practices, to protect and allow vultures to thrive in these farmland areas.

With funding from BirdLife International, BirdWatch Zambia (BWZ) was able to conduct population surveys covering 73000 hectares and 475km of transects within and around Chisamba, an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA). The surveys that were first conducted in December 2016 and repeated in June 2017, recorded well over 1300 vultures, specifically 3 species; the White-backed Vulture, Hooded Vulture and Lappet-faced Vulture.

To date, approximately 35000 hectares of private farmland is a safe feeding area for vultures through influencing farm management practices in and around Chisamba IBA. Furthermore, additional funding has been secured from the Isdell Family Foundation targeting 20000 hectares between Chisamba and Kafue Flats IBAs (Blue Lagoon and Lochinvar national parks) so that a safe feeding corridor is created from the protected area where these birds are most likely breeding.

From 10–16 August 2017, BWZ conducted ground nest surveys on the Kafue Flats IBA, a wetland surrounded by seasonally flooded savanna woodlands and flat-topped Acacia species. An average nest density of 7nests/km² in a survey of 9000km² was recorded. Results showed that the nesting habitat was not continuous but fragmented with the largest fragment covering about 2500km². At least 50 active vulture nests (49 White-backed vulture and 1 Lappet-faced vulture) were found. The Kafue flats which is about 85km away from the Chisamba vulture safe zone appears to be a key site for breeding vultures. BWZ hopes to secure funding for aerial surveys in the future to compliment the information gathered from ground surveys.

In addition to conducting ground surveys, Global System for Mobile communication (GSM) and satellite tracking units were put on one Hooded Vulture and 2 White-backed Vultures in Chisamba. Wing tags were also put on these birds to track their movement.

Saving vultures in Zambia

This video says about itself:

31 August 2014

Lion playing “Statues game” with vultures in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia.

From BirdLife:

Helping farmers create a safe haven for vultures in Zambia

By Chaona Phiri, 27 Jan 2017

When human activity in biodiverse forests is uncontrolled, the survival of plants, animals and other micro-organisms is at risk.

In a bid to secure Zambia’s Chisamba Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA), a safe haven for endangered vultures, BirdWatch Zambia (BirdLife Partner) has educated farm owners, managers and workers who operate within the IBA on why it is important to protect natural habitats from man-made threats.

The Chisamba IBA in Zambia covers an area of 55,000 hectares and more than 72% of it falls within private farms. Activities like cattle ranching, game farming, dairy farming and crocodile farming attract hundreds of vultures to the farms, where the birds benefit from large trees that offer suitable perching, roosting and breeding sites. The large privately owned commercial farms also offer a safe haven for vultures that are attracted by the waste from meat processing, and the harvesting of crocodiles.

Much of the Chisamba IBA land falls within local and national forests and serves as home to Zambia’s only true endemic bird species, the Zambian Barbet Lybius chaplini. However, encroachment by human settlement, fuelwood and charcoal production are threats to conservation efforts in the area.

BirdWatch Zambia is working to secure 4,000 hectares of the Chisamba IBA for the benefit of vultures and natural ecosystems in general. They have engaged in dialogue with private farm owners in Chisamba to create a Vulture Safe Zone (VSZ) in the properties within the IBA. The initiative recognizes the movement of vultures from one farm to another depending on the feeding opportunity.

An education and awareness campaign around the area has also targeted school children and their parents who either own, manage or work in farms in the area. The campaign and dialogue seek to change local perceptions about vultures and also influence farm management practices.

“They [vultures] are ugly birds that spoil good meat,” said Chanda, a Chisamba secondary school child residing in a cattle ranch within the zone before attending the campaign.

After learning about the environmental importance of vultures through the project, Chanda now describes vultures as “lifesaving birds”.

Through this project, BirdWatch Zambia has established and sustained strong relationships with private land owners to facilitate consistent research on vultures and several other bird species within the area.

BirdWatch Zambia will hold a survey in 2017 to establish the population of vultures in the Chisamba IBA and perform mapping and geo-referencing of breeding sites. Tagging to improve an understanding of vulture movements is also on schedule.

Chisamba is Zambia’s closest IBA to the main city Lusaka, which is about 97km away. This proximity has made it easy for BirdWatch Zambia staff based in the city to monitor and tour the various farms.

Zambian children save barn swallow’s life

This video is called [Barn] Swallows return home to England – from the BBC’s “Earth Flight Europe”.

From BirdLife:

A little story from Spring Alive

By Shaun Hurrell, Wed, 09/12/2015 – 15:38

Every once in a while, you come across a little story that makes you smile, makes you breathe a sigh of hope. A small act that could be easily missed, but which represents something a lot bigger. This story is one of those stories.

Spring Alive is an amazing movement started by BirdLife that encourages kids to be interested in and act for nature by teaching them about the wonder of bird migration and more.

Last week marked the end of the African season of Spring Alive, and already we have some impressive statistics from this educational conservation initiative (see below). However, I think this little story from Victor Siingwa in Zambia epitomizes the project in a way that statistics cannot capture:

Sometime around the year 2010 in the province of Luapula, Zambia, I heard that a bird was burnt by local people, as they suspected a metal ring on the bird’s leg to be associated with witchcraft.

Certain birds such as owls are believed by some local people to be associated with witchcraft, however the bird they burnt was a Lesser Spotted Eagle which had been ringed in Romania and migrated to Zambia.

Of course, bird ‘ringing’ (or ‘banding’) is a way scientists study bird distribution and migration patterns. At the time I worked as a Spring Alive Coordinator in Zambia so, capitalizing on the story of the poor eagle, I explained the concepts of bird ringing and migration to school children through a Spring Alive project.

One of the teachers asked a question about whether birds with dark colouring are associated with witchcraft. Realizing one of the Spring Alive focal species is black (Common Swift), I used this as an example and wrote notes about bird migration and ringing for school newsletters.

During the 2014 spring migration, a Barn Swallow was picked up by school children after it had hit a communications tower. The swallow had a ring on its leg. However this time, when the kids saw the ring they reported it to their school nature conservation club patron and let the bird go.

It was very exciting when I heard the success of the migration lessons to the local people. And how citizen science can be helpful in conservation efforts.

The school children had participated in Spring Alive and discovered from the ring that the swallow they rescued was originally ringed in Bulgaria.

School kids are amazing.”

Victor Siingwa, Spring Alive in Zambia

It was only one Barn Swallow that was saved in this little story, but who knows who these children will grow up to be and what they – and other children who have been involved with Spring Alive in Europe, Asia and Africa – will do in the future.

Spring Alive projects have supported teachers in Europe and Asia too, totalling 3,400 teachers helping children learn about birds and nature conservation.

“Spring Alive has been a great addition to my classroom. I have always been interested in nature, but wasn’t sure how to get my pupils interested as well.” Máire O’Connor, teacher, Ireland.

This year, Spring Alive urged children to make their gardens, balconies and school yards bird-friendly.

Other Spring Alive activities in Zambia have included nature walks, tree planting, snake identification and handling. One of the school children who won a Spring Alive drawing competition even has another little story where a brown house snake was retrieved from the school yard!

Spring Alive 2015 in numbers:

  • 14 African countries involved
  • 40 European and Asian countries involved
  • Over 6.4 million people reached
  • 106,734 observations
  • At least 629 events and 55 conservation actions
  • Nearly 500 volunteers involved
  • Over 1400 Facebook fans
  • 35,000 views on YouTube

Spring Alive is an international campaign to encourage children’s interest in nature and the conservation of migratory birds. Spring Alive is organised by OTOP, the BirdLife Partner in Poland, on behalf of the BirdLife Partnership. Wildlife groups, teachers and others who would like to become more involved in Spring Alive should contact the International Manager, Karolina Kalinowska, at

For more information go to:

Follow Spring Alive on facebookYouTube and flickr.