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Gamebirds: Responsible Use and Abuse - Part One by Charles Mackie
In Zimbabwe, Doublebanded Sandgrouse have a protracted breeding season from May to October but they are capable of breeding at any time of the year. The peak is in early spring (August) which is the peak of our big game hunting season, when most sandgrouse are shot. The breeding season exactly spans the big game hunting season and considerable numbers of sandgrouse are being shot.
The gonads of a male Doublebanded Sandgrouse showing enlarged testes. This condition indicates breeding activity. The gonads of a female Doublebanded Sandgrouse showing enlarged ovule. This condition indicates breeding activity.
The gonads of a male Doublebanded Sandgrouse showing enlarged testes (left). The gonads of a female Doublebanded Sandgrouse showing enlarged ovule (right). These conditions indicate breeding activity. (Photo: C. Mackie)

The other sandgrouse species which occur in Zimbabwe, Yellow-throated Sandgrouse (Pterocles gutturalis), Namaqua and Burchell’s are localized, mostly in protected areas and are not therefore important commercial species, but they have similar breeding biology.

The breeding season is likely to shift slightly according to climatic conditions which will influence food availability, in turn influencing breeding, but there is very little room to maneuver or manipulate shooting in order to avoid killing sandgrouse during the breeding season.

The responsibility to avoid abuse therefore rests with the landholder who usually transfers this responsibility in the form of an agreement to the hunter or safari operator, and the safari operator is responsible for the conduct of his guests. It is clear that sandgrouse are easily subject to unintentional abuse and that hunters and Safari Operators should think seriously about what they are doing.

Article continues below.

Current knowledge dictates a list of recommendations (some of which are provisional) governing their use.
  1. Not more than 10% of birds visiting a waterhole should be shot. Respect bag limits and be prepared to “self adjust” downwards if necessary.
  2. No shooting of sandgrouse from the beginning of August to the end of October as this appears to be the peak of breeding.
  3. Shooting positions should be at least 100m from the water source to give the birds the best chance of escape and reduces disturbance at the water source.
  4. Only shoot if alternate water points exist in the area to allow birds an alternate option.
  5. Monitor numbers of birds flighting to one or more non-shooting points in order to monitor trends in numbers of birds.
  6. Reserve a sanctuary drinking point at which no sandgrouse are shot.
  7. Consider rough or walk up shooting of sandgrouse as a less disruptive activity.
  8. Inspect shot birds to observe breeding activity or better still get them to one of the people mentioned below. The gonads of both sexes sit in the same position, located on the spine opposite the vent. (Enlarged testes over 3mm in length indicates breeding activity. In females inactive ovules of about 1.5 mm turn from colourless to yellow, increasing in size when they are active. Brooding birds however have inactive ovules and may not have any sign of breeding activity).

It would be helpful if Zimbabwean hunters and safari operators would forward shot sandgrouse for dissection to myself in Harare, Ron Hartley at Falcon College, Esigodini or to Peter Mundy, the Department of National Parks & Wildlife Managements’ ornithologist at Bulawayo. This would be particularly useful for sandgrouse shot early in the season. They should be frozen and the whole bag submitted if possible. It would be useful to know the sex ratio of the bag because a skewed sex ratio may allude to breeding activity. Males are easily differentiated by the bands on the breast.

Sandgrouse are traditionally shot during the late dry season when water is concentrated, which is during the breeding season. This research attempts to find out when they are least active, to find out when it is best to shoot them, so it is important to collect birds every month. If collecting is discontinuous, there is a risk of making all the other samples invalid because trend or continuity for the season will be lost.


  1. Shoot 10 sandgrouse each month on the ground preferably both sexes and state how collected.
  2. If clients are shooting over water, collect all of the bag for analysis and state how collected.

Freeze whole as soon as possible in a bag and deliver to C.Mackie at WWF, 10 Lannark Rd., Belgravia, Harare or others (see above).

Position/place killed, number killed, date and collector’s name. If you remove birds from sample for eating take even numbers of each sex and state number removed from bag. (Males have two bars on the chest, females without). Attach the following information.

(Tick applicable and place this in bag with birds)

NO OF BIRDS SHOT (BAG): .............


COLLECTORS NAME: ................................................

SHOT AT (PLACE): ................................................

REF: ...............

APPROX NUMBER SEEN AT WATERHOLE: .....................

Charles Mackie
P O Box 1409
Causeway, Harare
Go to Page: 1 2 3 Related Articles: Hunting Gamebirds Part 2
African Hunter Vol.5 No.3 June 1999
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