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The Highlands Crane Group

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The Highlands Crane Group has been in the area since 1992 working on crane conservation. This includes the habitat of cranes: grasslands, which are water catchments areas, and wetlands, which filter and store water. The Highlands Crane Group feels that working with communities and landowners is the answer to looking after vital catchments and cranes. Communities are encouraged to take responsibility for wetland conservation.

The Highlands Crane Group has been concerned about the state of the wetlands and catchments in the Dullstroom / Steenkampsberg area. Dullstroom and its environs have grown dramatically in the last 15 years mainly due to tourism and the fly-fishing industry. As important as these industries are, they have put a great strain on water resources.

The Wattled Crane is the largest African crane and is usually found in flocks of 10 to 40 individuals during non-breeding periods. Once they reach breeding age at 7 or 8 years, Wattled Cranes are monogamous and mating pairs, once established, probably endure through their 20-30 year life span although they can live longer. During the year, these pairs remain in close proximity to one another even when they join larger flocks.

Once their nest site has been carefully chosen, with a minimum of 500m between them and their neighbours, then the complex mating rituals can begin. Wattled cranes have an elaborate courtship dance which is accompanied by a low purring like noise and culminates in a long session of preening. To form their nest, which is fiercely defended by the male, the cranes create a vegetation mound of grasses and sedges, tossing the torn material over their shoulders as they walk away from the nest site, eventually pilling up sufficient vegetation to from a secure, dry, mat.

The Wattled Crane is mostly an opportunist feeder but its long bill has been designed for digging up a remarkably wide variety of plant and animal foods. In the Kafue wetlands the cranes survive on a mixed diet of roots, bulbs, rhizomes, tubers, sprouts, stems, and crustaceans, small fish, and frogs.

The female usually only lays one egg a year and even if the pair do have a second, it is possibly only for insurance as they only ever rear one chick. If the second egg hatches the chick is abandoned and eventually dies.

Some crane conservation projects take advantage of this, adopting the abandoned chick and raising it for eventual release into safe habitats. The survival of the one chick is by no means certain. With the threat of fire, predation and human disturbance the success rate is no better than one in four.

Cranes have strong imprinting instincts and hand reared chicks must be raised by humans wearing crane costumes. A crane chick raised by a chicken thinks it is a chicken and one raised by a person thinks it is human. If this is not done properly unfortunate, and infertile, choices can be made by the cranes when they reach sexual maturity. Feeding on bulbs, corns and insects the chicks are capable of swimming and walking straight after hatching. The chicks grow rapidly, and are as tall as their parents at three months, and can fly by four months.

The threats facing cranes are many. The damming of rivers or water for irrigation, can cause massive habitat destruction; as can drainage of wetlands to provide grazing or arable land; timber plantations in the catchment area also destabilize the breeding grounds.

 

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© Aleo Group 2002 - all rights reserved - Published: 01 March 2002  Last Updated: 28 December 2011