Providing relief and resilience for Community Bird Guides in South Africa faced with national lockdowns and tourism declines

BirdLife South Africa
Published: 03 May 2022
Last edited: 03 May 2022
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BirdLife South Africa's Community Bird Guide Project has trained 200 individuals from underprivileged backgrounds to become professional bird guides. Over 50 guides remain active, while others have transitioned into other careers such as education, conservation, and hospitality. Graduates are not employed by BLSA, but rather empowered to become freelance operators. However, a strong relationship is maintained through multiple forms of support, including marketing on the BLSA website, provision of uniforms and business cards, and loan pairs of Swarovski Optik binoculars.


During the COVID-19 travel bans in South Africa, the guides had no prospect of income. BLSA started the Community Bird Guide Relief Fund, appealing to the public. They raised R800 000 which was paid in monthly contributions over 8 months until travel reopened. The contributions did not replace all income but provided enough for food, electricity, medical bills, and other essential costs.


East and South Africa
Scale of implementation
Coastal forest
Forest ecosystems
Freshwater ecosystems
Grassland ecosystems
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Pool, lake, pond
River, stream
Salt marsh
Temperate evergreen forest
Temperate grassland, savanna, shrubland
Tropical evergreen forest
Tropical grassland, savanna, shrubland
Tundra or montane grassland
Wetland (swamp, marsh, peatland)
Access and benefit sharing
Indigenous people
Outreach & communications
Sustainable livelihoods
Traditional knowledge
Vector and water borne diseases
Lack of access to long-term funding
Changes in socio-cultural context


17 Hume Road, Randburg, Johannesburg, Gauteng 2196, South Africa


During the lengthy COVID-19 lockdown travel bans in South Africa, the BirdLife South Africa Community Bird Guides were stuck without any prospect of income from guiding.


Over 40 BirdLife South Africa Community Bird Guides situated in rural areas across the northeast of South Africa.

How do the building blocks interact?

The ability of BirdLife South Africa to reach many people through an effective communications strategy that are already familiar with the people in need and the benefits of the project for local communities allowed for a very successful campaign.


The bird guides inspire respect and trust among the birders in South Africa. They have built friendly, close relationships together. And this positive and supportive attitude towards the guides is multiplied within their extensive network. An effective communications strategy has been instrumental for both the guides’ reputation themselves and for consolidating and strengthening the network they belong to.


  • 200 individuals from rural and underprivileged backgrounds have been trained in becoming bird and nature guides over the last 20 years
  • 150 of the guides found new job opportunities in the tourism sector
  • 50 specialist bird guides remain active and provide a localized service to birders
  • During the pandemic, over 40 BirdLife South Africa Community Bird Guides were saved from a desperate situation and were able to weather the travel bans during the national lockdowns. This ensured that they were able to resume guiding once these lifted as they had not needed to pivot to other livelihoods.

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Andrew de Blocq BirdLife South Africa