Making history — two Wattled Cranes are hatched in captivity

2013-10-14 00:00

ENTABENI Communications is proud to announce the historic hatching of two rare Wattled Crane chicks at their captive-care facility located on the Hlatikulu Crane and Wetland Sanctuary in the vicinity of Giants Castle, KwaZulu-Natal.

Wattled Crane parents, Elvi (female) and Amanzi (male — whose name means “water” in Zulu) have been together since January. Entabeni staff were greatly encouraged by the birds’ behaviour as it indicated strong compatibility. Nic Shaw, director of Entabeni, said: “We did everything we could to reduce disturbance to the pair to allow them time to establish a strong pair bond and feel secure in their territory. In May, we began to see increased dancing and unison calling.”

To our delight, Elvi laid two eggs, three days apart in mid-August.

As the days of incubation lengthened, Entabeni staff couldn’t help but speculate, would the new pair produce fertile eggs? Were chicks in the future?

Then in the dark, morning hours of September 15, Carma Shaw, an operations manager, awoke to the sound of Wattled Cranes calling in unison. At first light, the pair was checked and to everyone’s delight, a newly hatched, fuzzy brown chick was being carefully tended by its parents. The chick was named Blake after Robert Blake School in the United Kingdom. The school adopted the pair’s first egg after a visit to Entabeni in July 2013.

Of the world’s 15 crane species, Wattled Cranes are the only species to hatch and rear a single chick in a season — even if the female lays two eggs. Since the eighties, second-laid eggs have been collected from wild Wattled Crane nests and used to build the captive breeding flock. Today, this flock comprises approximately 50 individuals. These naturally fertile eggs produced in captivity mark a milestone in the recovery efforts for this critically endangered bird in South Africa.

The pair was monitored closely to determine when they would stop incubating the second egg.

When Elvi and Amanzi began to devote full-time care to their new chick the following day, they stopped incubating their second egg. It was removed and temporarily placed under a brood hen name Peach for safekeeping.

Peach is a hen rescued by renowned wildlife rehabilitator Pam Stuckenberg and was given to Entabeni for its perma­culture garden (sadly, Stuckenberg died in May). Peach offered the egg warmth and safety until an artificial incubator was delivered by Tanya Smith of the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

Shaw said: “Peach has previously hatched foster eggs — 15 at a time. She is a fantastic brood hen, so we weren’t worried about the safety of the egg at any time.”

The second egg hatched on September 17. This chick, named Trinity, is being hand-reared by Entabeni staff with my help. It was named after Chilton Trinity School in the UK. The school adopted the pair’s second egg after a visit to Entabeni in July.

Lara Jordon, co-ordinator of the Wattled Crane Recovery Programme (WCRP), said: “We are thrilled by Entabeni’s landmark accomplishment. Since the inception of the WCRP in 2000, only one chick has been produced by naturally fertile captive birds. This is the first time in the history of South Africa that a captive pair of Wattled Cranes have hatched and reared their own chick. Wattled Cranes are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity and Entabeni’s years of concerted efforts to breed this critically endangered species has finally paid rich dividends.”

Entabeni Communications has been a WCRP affiliate since 2000 and have been involved with crane conservation since its founding in 2001. Nic Shaw, director of Entabeni, commented: “We have two pairs of Wattled Cranes at our facility. Our approach is to reduce disturbance to the birds as much as possible, to allow them to feel secure on their territories. We are so pleased the pair is fertile. We look forward to additional offspring in the future for the captive-breeding programme while also providing eggs for release back into the wild.” — Midlands Conservancies Forum.

• The Hlatikulu Crane and Wetland Sanctuary is open to the public on weekdays from 8 am to 4 pm, and on Saturdays and Sundays from 9 am to noon. Public holidays are by appointment only. To make a booking, contact the sanctuary at 033 263 2441 or 082 408 6610 or

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