Steps to Protect South Africa’s Wattled Cranes

(The first article in a three-part series for Inter Press Service I recently tied up about Kwa-Zulu Natal’s Umgeni River).

There are an estimated 80 breeding pairs of wattled cranes remaining in South Africa, and the total population is less than 260. Credit: Ian White/CC 2.0

There are an estimated 80 breeding pairs of wattled cranes remaining in South Africa, and the total population is less than 260. Credit: Ian White/CC 2.0

KWAZULU-NATAL MIDLANDS, South Africa, Aug 5 2013 (IPS) – On a winter’s afternoon in late July, potato farmer John Campbell and the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Tanya Smith surveyed the Umgeni Vlei Nature Reserve from a hilltop on Ivanhoe Farm in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.

Separated from Smith’s binoculars by a swathe of golden brown grass, the water pooled in the wetland basin that sources the Umgeni River glistens in the mild sunshine as it winds its way for 265 km to meet the ocean at Durban’s coastline.

“We’ve got two pairs [of wattled cranes] nesting in here at the moment,” Smith, a senior field officer with the African Crane Conservation Programme told IPS. A week earlier she had flown over the wetland for an annual aerial survey of the critically endangered birds. The birds can grow taller than five feet and are characterised by a bumpy red patch of skin between their beaks and eyes.

There are an estimated 80 breeding pairs of wattled cranes remaining in South Africa. The total South African population is less than 260.

To maintain Umgeni Vlei’s biodiversity and protect the regal cranes’ habitat, the South African government declared the reserve a Ramsar Site in April this year, giving it special protection as a “wetland of international importance” under the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty on the protection of wetlands.

“On the Ramsar-designated wetland we’ve had up to seven breeding pairs of wattled cranes, but the number fluctuates every year,” said Smith. “If you include [the surrounding] wetlands we’ve had up to 13 breeding pairs – it’s a huge proportion of the country’s breeding population.”

Wetlands on the land owned by Ivanhoe Farming Company, of which Campbell is a director, serve as home to up to six breeding pairs of wattled cranes. To help conserve them, Campbell has designated 800 hectares of farmland which buttress the reserve.

This is a protected area with nature reserve status through the KwaZulu-Natal Biodiversity Stewardship Programme run by provincial government body Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife.

“I think cranes and agriculture can co-exist,” Campbell told IPS. “Most farmers, I find, are conservation-minded.”

Read the full article at Inter Press Service.

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