Counting KZN’s cranes

2008-10-17 00:00

After almost 24 hours in the air, the people who make it their business to count cranes can confirm that the numbers of the three species in KwaZulu-Natal are on the up.

Spread over five days in July, the aerial census identified 564 Blue Cranes, 2 637 Grey Crowned Cranes and 206 Wattled Cranes.

For good measure, the spotters also observed 96 oribi, 67 Denham’s Bustards and nine secretary birds.

The annual survey is conducted in five distinct areas spanning the midlands, Drakensberg foothills and the northern parts of the province under the auspices of the KZN Biodiversity Programme of the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

Speaking on behalf of the programme, Andre Rossouw said the survey is critically important as far as the conservation of the province’s crane populations are concerned.

“This survey is really the only scientific way to monitor the health of the three crane species, and its importance is underscored by the support and participation of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife that made available its Cessna plane and pilot Greg Nanni,” he said.

The number of Blue Cranes spotted during the 2008 survey is the highest count over the past eight years, the Grey Crowned Cranes are the second highest, while the number of Wattled Cranes, the most vulnerable species, compares well with previous counts to indicate a stable population.

The news about the Wattled Cranes is particularly encouraging in that 63 of the 68 known breeding pairs in the province were observed during the 2008 survey.

Moreover, 24 pairs are on nests, 15 pairs have a clutch of one egg, five pairs have a clutch size of two eggs, while the clutch size of four pairs cannot be determined.

The survey also shows that five pairs of Wattled Crane have unfledged chicks, all less than six weeks old, while three pairs are still accompanied by last year’s youngster on the breeding territory.

Judging by the survey, efforts by the KZN Crane Foundation to inculcate awareness about the plight of cranes are paying off.

Chairman of the foundation, Henry Davies, said that the single biggest threat to cranes is habitat loss.

“Grasslands represent the primary habitat of these birds and the relentless march of human progress poses a serious threat to the viability of crane populations,” he said.

Explaining that the onus of a crane-friendly environment resides with land owners, Davies paid tribute to conservation-minded farmers.

“Credit is due to landowners and farmers who are demonstrating an increased awareness of the need to maintain and indeed, cultivate, an environment conducive to the breeding of cranes,” he said.

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