Southern African Bird Atlas Project

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The Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP) was conducted between 1987 and 1991.[1] Because a new bird atlas was started in southern Africa in 2007, the earlier project is now referred to SABAP1. The new atlas project is known as Second Southern African Bird Atlas Project, and is abbreviated to SABAP2.

SABAP covered six countries Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. At the time, Mozambique was engulfed in a civil war, and needed to be excluded. The resolution for SABAP1 was the quarter degree grid cell, QDGC, 15 minutes of latitude by 15 minutes of longitude, 27.4 km north-south and about 25 km east-west, an area about 700 square km. However in Botswana a half degree grid cell was used. The total number of grid cells, taking account of the courser resolution in Botswana, was 3973. Fieldwork was conducted mainly in the five-year period 1987–1991, but the project coordinators included all suitable data collected after 1980. In some areas, particularly those that were remote and inaccessible, data collection continued until 1993.

Fieldwork was undertaken mainly by birders, and most of it was done voluntarily. Fieldwork consisted of compiling bird lists in the grid cells. All the checklists were fully captured into a database. The final dataset consisted of 147 605 checklists containing a total of 7.3 million records of bird distribution. No checklists were available for 88 grid cells (2.2% of the total).[2]

Project coordination was undertaken by the Avian Demography Unit (ADU) at the University of Cape Town. Since 2008, the acronym ADU has stood for the Animal Demography Unit.

The final product of the project was a two-volume set of A4-sized books, covering 932 species, with a total of 1500 pages, and published in 1997 by BirdLife South Africa.[1] The books are now out of print, but the individual species texts are available on the SABAP2 website.[3] Volume 1 also contains a chapter on the relevance of southern African geography to birds.[4] The Atlas of Southern African Birds was, at the time of publication, the largest biodiversity project ever conducted in Africa. Because of the wide diversity of habitats in southern Africa, this project showed that 9% of all bird species are regularly found on only 1.67% of the world's land surface.[1]

The impact of the project on southern African ornithology was considerable. The species texts did not provide information on distribution alone, but also presented new information and analyses on the seasonality of breeding, and the direction and seasonality of migration. SABAP therefore proved an essential reference for all research involving these fundamental aspects of avian biology.[5] It provided much of the information upon which the Important Bird Area selection process in southern Africa was based,[6] and for the IUCN Red List for birds in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.[7]


  1. ^ a b c Harrison, J.A., Allan, D.G., Underhill, L.G., Herrmans, M., Tree, A.J., Parker, V. & Brown, C.J. (1997) The Atlas of Southern African Birds. Vols 1 and 2, BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa
  2. ^ Introduction and methods
  3. ^
  4. ^ Southern African geography: its relevance to birds
  5. ^ Harrison, J.A., Underhill, L.G. & Barnard, P. 2008. The seminal legacy of the Southern African Bird Atlas Project. South African Journal of Science 102: 82–84
  6. ^ Barnes, K.N. (ed.) 1998. The Important Bird Areas of Southern Africa. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg.
  7. ^ Barnes, K.N. (ed.) 2000. The Eskom Red Data Book of Birds in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg.