Human-wildlife Conflict: A View on Red-Billed Quelea (Quelea quelea)  

Oduntan O.O. , Shotuyo A.L.A. , Akinyemi A.F. , Soaga J.A.
1. Department of Forestry and Wildlife Mgt, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta
2. Department of Wildlife & Ecotourism Mgt, University of Ibadan
Author    Correspondence author
International Journal of Molecular Evolution and Biodiversity, 2015, Vol. 5, No. 2   doi: 10.5376/ijmeb.2015.05.0002
Received: 03 Feb., 2015    Accepted: 04 Mar., 2015    Published: 15 Mar., 2015
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Oduntan et al., 2015, Human-wildlife Conflict: A View on Red-Billed Quelea (Quelea quelea), International Journal of Molecular Evolution and Biodiversity, Vol.5, No.1, 1-4 (doi: 10.5376/ijmeb.2015.05.0002)


Human-wildlife Conflict (HWC) is any interaction between humans and wildlife resulting in negative consequences on humans, wildlife conservation and the environment. Red-billed Quelea Quelea quelea (RBQ) of the family Ploceidae are gregarious and breed in large colonies. They pose a serious problem to the development and expansion of mechanized cereal (rice, millet, sorghum and wheat) schemes. It is estimated that RBQ feed and destroy grains equivalent to their average weight per day. Thus, a flock of 2 million birds can destroy up to 50 tons of grain in a day worth an equivalent of $600,000. As a result of their enormous numbers, high reproductive potential, and the vast often inaccessible range and habitat they occupy, RBQ are extremely difficult to control. Control of RBQ by spraying its breeding colonies and roosts with organophosphate pesticides is often associated with detrimental effects on non-targeted organisms. This study evaluates the conflicts resulting from RBQand its economic damages on farmlands, consequences of this interaction, and control methods. Study of food shortage periods and Quelea migrations are highlighted as most efficient in predicting crop damage. Furthermore varying planting times and selection of short-cycle cereals may avoid damage in some situations.

Human-Wildlife Conflicts; Quelea Birds; Avian Pests; Crop Damage

Human-Wildlife Conflict (HWC) is any interaction between humans and wildlife resulting in negative consequences on humans, wildlife conservation and the environment. According to the IUCN World Park Congress (2003), HWC occurs when wildlife requirements overlap with those of human populations, creating costs both to residents and wild animals. Red-billed Queleas are nomadic birds, forming huge colonies up to 30 million individuals (Jungle Photos, 2006). They are approximately 12.5 cm long and weigh 15-20 g. They are mostly brown, with conical, red bills and legs. Juveniles have a pale brown bill. During the breeding season, the females’ bill colour changes from red to a waxy bright yellow. Males develop colourful plumage and a bright red bill (Plate 1). Male breeding plumage is variable, comprising a facial mask ringed with pink or dull yellow (which ranges from black to white) and breast and crown plumage that varies from yellow to bright red. After the breeding season, males revert to plain brown plumage (Burton & Burton, 2002; Sinclair et al. 2005; Wikipedia 2008).

Plate 1 Male Red-billed Quelea (left) and female (right) showing sexual dimorphism

The Quelea ranks as one of the world’s most abundant wild birds and has a breeding population in excess of 1.5 billion (Jungle Photos, 2006). The IUCN ‘Red List’ lists Queleas as a Species of Least Concern (IUCN, 2003).

The native range of queleas extends over an estimates 9 400 000 km² in Africa (Bird Life International, 2004), including Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Congo, The Democratic Republic of the Côte d’Ivoire, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, United Republic of Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
In Nigeria, they are abundant in the North, including Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Yobe, Jigawa and Katsina States.
Colonies feed in the early morning and late afternoon, gathering in the middle of the day in a shady area to preen. Overnight, members of the colony roost together (Burton and Burton, 2002). Red-billed Quelea is called avian locust. They are one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s crop pests. They attack small-grain crops (Table 1) throughout Semi-Arid zones, feeding mainly on Wheat, Rice and Sorghum/Millet in dry season, early raining season and rainy season respectively (Cheke et al, 2007). Red-billed Queleas are gregarious. Adewoye (1997) reported that Quelea birds have been part of the ecosystem of Jigawa, Yobe and Borno States for years. They are extremely difficult pest to control due to their enormous numbers, high reproductive potential and vast inaccessible range that they occupy (Jackson, 1974). They are abundant in agricultural lands compared with natural grasslands (Berruti, 2000). Red-billed Queleas are migratory. In agricultural areas, Quelea has also become less migratory, in response to a year-round food source (Berruti, 2000). This paper studied the conflicts resulting from Red-billed Quelea interaction with human and resource use, the consequences of this interaction as well as its control.

Table 1 Seasons and crops affected by Red-Billed Quelea

Quelea birds-human conflict
With an estimated adult breeding population of at least 1.5 billion, FAO (2007) estimates agricultural losses attributable to the Quelea in excess of $50 million annually.
In northern parts of Nigeria, Red-billed Quelea has been known to totally destroy many cereal farms. They are capable of destroying entire crops, over areas up to 1 000 ha (Ibrahim, 2007). An individual Quelea consumes an average of 18 grams of grain per day. It is not unusual for flocks to number into the millions, so a flock of 2 million birds can eat up to 50 tonnes of grain in a day, or 1 500 tonnes within 30 days, which is worth approximately US $ 600 000 (Pimentel, 2002)
Also, in 2005, RBQ were driven south by the drought in Niger, and they had their way to the Northern states of Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Yobe, Jigawa and Katsina where they destroyed tens of thousands of hectares of rice fields (Ahemba, 2005).
Furthermore, in 2010, a flock of Quelea birds covering about 2 km2 invaded Borno State, destroying over 1 450 Ha of farmlands of millet, rice and guinea corn in four local councils (Ibrahim 2010). They migrated from the shores of Lake Chad, bordering Niger, Chad and Cameroun to destroy crops in Kala, Ngala, Mafa and Marte councils of Borno State. The affected farmlands included that of millet, rice and guinea corn which the people rely on as their staple food and means of livelihood. In 2009, RBQ destroyed farmlands in nine council areas of Borno State, before the state government engaged a quelea tox spraying firm at the cost of about #25 million (Musa, 2010).
About 120 000 tons of millet, 90 000 tons of sorghum, between 8 000-10 000 tons of rice were lost to Red-billed Quelea between 1993 and 1995 in Jigawa State (Adewoye, 1997). NCF (2001) concluded that depredation of crops by Red-billed Quelea has hardened farmers’ attitudes against bird conservation in the areas.
Consequences of human-Quelea birds conflict
Based on the revelations of this review, the conflicts between human and RBQ could be said to have lead to:
1. A reduced farm output in affected communities and the nation as a whole.
2. Shortage of food for human population
3. Malnutrition and
4. Possibly encouraged poverty
Control methods
Methods of controlling RBQ damages on farmlands include:
Scaring by humans
This is a traditional method of controlling Quelea birds on farmlands. People go into the fields when their grain crop is vulnerable, using anything from banging to noise making (Plate 2). One person can protect a hectare but it is very tedious because the crops are vulnerable from dawn until dusk and could need protection for a whole month (Elliot, 2010). This may be quite effective on a small scale farm but not practical on a large scale. Where farming is more mechanized, such devices may be supplemented or replaced by firecrackers, exploders, or other noisemaking devices. Firing may have to be as often as once every 5 minutes during the feeding periods. The position should be changed every 2 days and the direction of firing every day (Elliot, 2010).

Plate 2 Traditional bird scaring

Slinging stones or small mud balls towards the birds. Some people are quite handy at correct aiming such projectiles with catapults and slings. This is also a traditional method of bird control in affected areas (Elliot, 2010).
This is the erection of human-like features on the farmland to scare away the birds. Scarecrows position must be changed every 2 days in order to be effective. This is only applicable to small scale farming. This is also a traditional method of bird control in affected areas (Oduntan et al., 2009).
Trapping involves covering the farmland of crops by a net with a sufficiently small mesh to prevent the passage of Red-billed Quelea. This method is an expensive technique, only justified for high-value trials and seed plots (Elliot, 2010). This is also a traditional method of bird control in affected areas (Oduntan et al.,2009; Elliot, 2010).
Chemical repellents
Repellents such as methiocarb which causes conditioned food aversion (Rogers, 1974) and 4-aminopyridine, a frightening agent (De Grazio et al., 1972) have been used in the control of Red-billed Quelea. This method appears too costly for practical use in maturing rice. This method is modern and it has great negative environment implication, especially due to its impact on non-targeted biodiversity species (Oduntan et al.,2009; Elliot, 2010). Although the use of avicides such as Fenthion have been recorded (Elliot, 2010) in developed countries for birds control; there is however no record of known in Nigeria hitherto. Avicides are sometimes sprayed aerially with the use of a helicopter or plane particularly on large expanse of land.
There was also no record of biological control method found yet in the country. This involves introduction and boosting of the natural predators of Red-billed Quelea. The natural predators include herons, storks, falcons, goshawks, owls, hornbills, rollers, kingfishers, crows and marabou. This is seen as the best method of controlling these avian pests since this method do not affect the ecosystem negatively.
Farmers need to be adequately educated and made aware of the danger and consequences associated with the use of chemical repellant for Quelea bird control on both man, animal and plant species. Also, the use of natural predators should be encouraged for the good of both human and other biodiversity. Shifting cultivation should also be encouraged as well as campaigning against extension of sowing dates of affected crops in prone areas.
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International Journal of Molecular Evolution and Biodiversity
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