Exploring the interplay of ecological and social factors in human-induced disturbance of the African Oystercatcher (Haematopus moquini): insights and management recommendations for conservation

Thesis / Dissertation


Permanent link to this Item
Journal Title
Link to Journal
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
It is well-established that nature-based recreation can pose a significant threat to wildlife. However, certain activities may have greater impacts than others, such as dog walking. Estuarine and coastal ecosystems are frequented by dog walkers, and they are also home to shorebird populations that are facing mounting pressure due to human disturbance. African Oystercatchers (Haematopus moquini) are vulnerable to human disturbance because they are a ground-nesting species that breeds during the height of the South African holiday and tourist season (October-March). Domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) are heavily implicated in the lower breeding success rates evident in mainland African Oystercatcher populations. Therefore, this research focussed on both the ecological (flight initiation distances) and social dimensions (beach user surveys) of human disturbance of African Oystercatchers. The results of the ecological dimension showed that treatment type (dog vs. no dog treatment), location, incubation status, and the interaction between location and incubation status had a significant effect on African Oystercatcher flight initiation distances. Most importantly, African Oystercatchers had longer flight initiation distances on average in response to the dog treatment (a walker approaching with a leashed dog) compared to the no dog treatment. The results of the social dimension revealed ‘ambivalence' and ‘contradiction' themes. The ambivalence theme centred around the recreationists being uncertain about or disliking the majority of the hypothetical regulations aimed at protecting shorebirds, despite strongly agreeing that shorebird protection and regulations are important. The contradiction theme centred around two sub-themes. Firstly, the species literacy gap that emerged when the recreationists agreed that they were familiar with local shorebirds, while being unable to substantiate this belief by naming the species. Secondly, the cognitive dissonance displayed by the recreationists when they showed good awareness of the threats that human activities pose to shorebirds, while also strongly agreeing that their dogs pose no threat, and many also indicating that larger buffer zones are required to protect shorebirds from dog walkers. Three evidence-based management recommendations were provided, namely implementing buffer zones during the breeding season, tackling the poor leashing compliance rate, and installing signage to educate recreationists and persuade them to adopt pro-social behaviours.