Red List of South African Species

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Near Threatened (NT)
Assessors: Faansie Peacock
Reviewers: Martin R Taylor


The regional population of the elusive Greater Painted-snipe Rostratula benghalensis may number less than 10 000 mature individuals, which, together with an estimated continiuing decline of 10% within ten years based on degradation of its wetland habitats, would classify the species as regionally Vulnerable. However, its population size is difficult to quantify in view of its erratic and rainfall-dependent occurrence, and population trends are unkown. As such the species is assessed as regionally Near Threatened until further data are available.


The Greater Painted-snipe is widely distributed throughout sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar, the Nile Valley in Egypt, India, and southern Asia (Hockey and Douie 1995). On the African continent, it occurs widely, but in a fragmented pattern south of the Sahara, except in the driest parts of the north-east and south-west (such as coastal Namibia and most of the Karoo in South Africa); it also avoids the forested equatorial regions of central and West Africa (Hockey and Tree 2005). In the region, the species is spatially and temporally erratic in occurrence, with its presence and abundance largely determined by rainfall. Its movements are poorly understood and apparently complex and unpredictable. Furthermore, even in areas where it is reasonably numerous (such as northern Kruger National Park and the Limpopo Valley), it is easily overlooked. It occurs at scattered wetland localities across much of the north-eastern half of the country, as well as sparsely in coastal areas in Eastern Cape, mainly in summer. A small, isolated and apparently contracting population persists in Western Cape (Hockey et al. 1989). Vagrants or nomadic visitors are occasionally recorded in unusual locations, including in the Karoo and Kalahari.


The global population has been quantified at 31 000 to 1 000 000 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2014). Obtaining an accurate estimate of the regional population is very problematic considering the Greater Painted-snipe's mobility and secretive nature (Underhill 2000). In particular, the size of the nomadic population in north-eastern South Africa is likely to vary considerably from year to year, depending on annual rainfall. Although historical descriptions suggest it may have been more numerous historically, changes in its abundance cannot be unambiguously inferred from available literature (Underhill 2000). The mostly sedentary Western Cape population is thought to have undergone a dramatic decline in the past three decades (Hockey et al. 1989) and, although once considered locally common in Western Cape, the provincial population may now number less than 200 (Hockey and Tree 2005). The regional population is tentatively estimated at less than 10 000 mature individuals, which makes the species a candidate for classification as Vulnerable, but confidence in this estimate is low.

Population trend

There is considerable uncertainty as to the size of the regional population, and population trends are not expressly documented. However, several different authors have mentioned that the regional population may be in decline (Hockey and Douie 1995) although the rate of decline is unknown. There has been a c. 42% reduction in the AoO of this species since SABAP1, and this is detectable in the increasingly fragmented distribution as shown in the accompanying map. This reduction suggests a downward population trend, but this may not be valid due to the secretiveness of this species, as well as its erratic, rainfall-dependent movements influencing detection. It is likely that due to the loss and degradation of its wetlands habitat, the Greater Painted-snipe has undergone an estimated continuing decline of at least 10% within 10 years. Confidence in this estimate is low.


The main threat faced by this species is transformation, degradation and loss of its wetland habitat due to increasing human pressures (Navarro 1997). The isolated Western Cape population is especially vulnerable as much suitable wetland habitat has been destroyed on the Cape Flats, an area that was until recently the core of the distribution of this species in that province (Underhill 2000). Threats to wetlands include drainage and clearing for development and agriculture, and invasion of bulrushes Typha capensis due to regulation of stream flow reducing the extent of flooding and drying cycles (Hockey and Tree 2005). Direct water abstraction and damming may also lead to reed overgrowth and salinisation. The construction of farm dams has likely been of relatively little benefit to the Greater Painted-snipe (Hockey and Douie 1995). Other general threats include organic pollution, overgrazing, cutting of reeds and thatch grass, trampling by cattle and disturbance. The potential effects of climate change have not been thoroughly investigated.



No specific conservation measures focusing on the Greater Painted-snipe are currently underway.


Monitoring the population trends of this secretive, cryptic, partly nocturnal and nomadic wader is challenging, but more accurate insight into the true status of the species is required before sensible conservation actions can be proposed. The possibility of establishing new protected wetland areas in the range of the Western Cape population should be investigated. Parts of existing protected wetlands known to support this species can be managed appropriately based on the ecological requirements of the Greater Painted-snipe.


* An assessment of population size and trends is required.

* A review of its microhabitat requirements is needed to enable suitable management of wetlands, particularly to preserve the threatened Western Cape population.

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