On our map, you’ll find a few different “categories” of conservation activities. There are the green hands that show protected areas, the orange blobs that highlight conservation blogs, and the blue Ps that denote conservation projects. And then there are critical habitats.
Critical habitats are areas like biodiversity hotspots, endemic bird areas, global200 ecoregions and Ramsar wetlands, and are represented on the map by the logo of the organisation that is chiefly responsible for defining, monitoring and sometimes implementing these areas.
Sometimes these areas span entire provinces, sometimes they’re the size of a small wetland. Some of them overlap with protected areas, but often times, they’re entirely unprotected. Different critical habitats are defined by applying different measures of biodiversity richness and focus on different ecological aspects, but in identifying them, conservation scientists and organisations have a common goal: ensure that we protect as much as possible of our natural heritage by prioritising areas that are particularly species rich and valuable.
BirdLife International’s important bird areas programme is no different in this respect, and with more than 10, 000 sites identified worldwide, it plays a pivotal role in directing global conservation effort, and not only those efforts focused on looking after feathered creatures.
Officially, an important bird area is an area that hold significant numbers of one or more threatened species, is one of a set of sites that together hold a suite of restricted range or biome-restricted species, or hosts exceptionally large numbers of migratory or congregatory species. When it comes to IBAs, size does matter! They need to big enough to matter, small enough to be able to be conserved in their entirety.
This is particularly important for sites that are not yet protected, and whose designation as an IBA help the conservationists who work in these areas petition their improved petition status. In Angola, for example, conservation scientists are currently petitioning the Angolan government to declare the Mount Moco IBA a special reserve, an action that will help protect some of Angola’s last remaining Afromontane forest patches, and the rare and specialized birds that depend on them.
As of this week, you can see important bird areas on MAPA’s searchable African conservation map, as well as on our Google Earth map. Find out where these areas are, what it is that makes them special and what bird species you can find there. Each site links to the detailed important bird area fact sheet (like this one, for Mount Moco), where you can find out even more about specific sites. If you would like to see a map of only IBAs, you can download a Google layer of that here. We hope you enjoy exploring!