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Cranes and their habitats Valuable yet vulnerable Cranes are large beautiful long-lived birds that inspire awe among people since the earliest times. They are the most elegant of all birds and their trumpeting calls and carefree bounding courtship dances are evocative of our wildest places. The lifelong devotion shown by mated pairs has resulted in them traditionally being revered as symbols of peace happiness and longevity of a 9 part brochure series 1 Due to their large size distinctive behaviour extensive territories and cultural significance cranes have served as flagship species in many conservation efforts throughout the world. They provide the incentive to conserve wetlands and grasslands upon which many other less charismatic but equally important species also depend. Sadly cranes are rapidly retreating in the face of man s relentless exploitation of our planet and over the past two centuries crane populations have plummeted. Without our concern and careful management many crane species are doomed to slip into extinction. Already seven of the world s 15 species of cranes are Critically Endangered. This decline is evident in all three of South Africa s crane species 1 the Blue Crane (Anthropoides paradiseus) South Africa s national bird the population of which has declined by almost 80% in the eastern parts of the country during the past half century 2 the Grey Crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum) of which the numbers have also decreased dramatically 3 the Wattled Crane (Bugeranus carunculatus) the decline of which has been catastrophic and it is now Critically Endangered in South Africa 1 South Africa s national bird the Blue Crane 2 The culturally significant Grey Crowned Crane 3 South Africa s most threatened crane species the Wattled Crane 4 Poisoned Wattled Cranes a devastating effect to their small population 5 Cranes being beautiful birds are vulnerable to being taken from the wild and kept as pets Why conserve cranes The Blue Crane is our national bird Cranes are large conspicuous birds and are often the first to disappear when the environment is disturbed. They are thus indicators of the health of our environment particularly grasslands and wetlands on which cranes other wildlife and humans depend for continued existence Although cranes have been accused of crop damage in the past these birds are beneficial to farmers as they eat insects and weed seeds found near crops Cranes depend on grasslands and wetlands two of South Africa s most threatened habitat types. Only 2% of our grasslands are conserved and more than 50% of our country s wetlands have been lost. By conserving these ecosystems for the cranes we at the same time contribute to the overall conservation and sustainable use of our environment The Blue and Grey Crowned Cranes have symbolic significance for both the Zulu and Xhosa cultures Ecotourism with birding trips in particular is blossoming in South Africa and cranes being sought after by birders further boost the industry Most importantly South Africa has the third highest biodiversity in the world. In conserving cranes we contribute to the conservation of our biodiversity 6 Once were grasslands now croplands leaving no natural habitat for the cranes Why the cranes are in danger The decline of cranes Many human activities have lead to the decline of cranes Habitat destruction and alteration grassland and wetland habitat is lost due to mining forestry crop farming overgrazing draining damming of wetlands industrial developments urbanisation and tourism developments. Pic 6 Poisoning poisoning can occur through intentional poisoning of cranes that cause crop damage the inadvertent poisoning aimed at killing other species causing crop damage or accidentally through the normal application of agrochemicals to croplands. Currently poisoning cases are most often as a result of farm workers either directly poisoning cranes or unintentionally poisoning them when baiting grain for gamebirds for extra food. Pic 4 Illegal trade crane chicks are stolen from the wild to be kept as pets for food or to sell to bird breeders. Pic 5 Power lines cranes are injured or killed when colliding with power lines or are electrocuted on pylons Farm fences cranes get entangled in farm fences Baling twine when left in the veld often it gets entangled with the cranes long legs resulting in amputation of the leg Hunting dogs can harm or kill crane chicks still unable to fly away To add to the negative human impacts above cranes have low reproductive capabilities making it difficult for them to replace losses due to the above-mentioned unnatural causes of death. With 99% of cranes found outside of nature reserves and national parks it is almost impossible to ensure effective protection of them. They fly large distances to forage or to maintain contact with other members of the species. Protection of cranes therefore relies heavily on landowner concern and participation in conservation 7 A wetland provides us with clean water Farming with cranes and nature Seeing the bigger picture crane conservation ecosystems and biodiversity Humans don t always realise how dependent we are on a healthy environment. Our environment provides us with ecosystem services such as air water and food. In order for an ecosystem to function properly it needs to have most of its components in place. The species that inhabit these ecosystems are collectively referred to as the biodiversity component. A grassland ecosystem consists of the grasses cranes insects and the physical environment such as the soil. By conserving ecosystems for cranes humans derive the following benefits Clean water from wetlands that purify water and control flooding. Pic 7 Food and clothing from grasslands in the form of meat and wool Clean air plants convert carbon dioxide to oxygen Prevention of air pollution atmospheric carbon gets trapped in vegetation Insects living in these ecosystems pollinate our crops Birds and spiders in these ecosystems control crop pests It is for these reasons that it is so important that we utilise our land in a conservation-friendly manner. The hidden benefits we receive far outweigh short term financial gains that destroy the environment. These are other indirect ways in which people benefit from crane conservation North West Crane project Gauteng Crane project Highveld Grasslands region Wakkerstroom Crane project KZN Crane Foundation Central Karoo region Eastern Cape region Overberg Crane group 8 Map showing the location of the regional projects in South Africa where the SACWG s activities are performed What is being done to address the problem The Endangered Wildlife Trust comes to the rescue The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) co-ordinates fullyfledged crane projects in all key crane regions in South Africa. The combined efforts of the participants involved in crane conservation has resulted in the EWT achieving a reputation as one of the most dynamic motivated and successful conservation organisations working at a local national and international level. 5. Reducing unnatural crane mortalities Crane conservation within the EWT focuses on 1. Crane habitat conservation 2. Conservation-based scientific research 3. Environmental education and awareness 4. Risk assessments and threat mitigation What you can do See the front of this book for fact sheets on how to help us minimise the threats to cranes or the back of this book on how to become a sponsor or member of crane conservation. 9 Crane Custodian boards are awarded to landowners to recognise their participation in crane conservation Our crane projects (1) Education and awareness The IUCN (World Conservation Union) defines Environmental Education as The process of recognising values and clarifying concepts in order to develop skills and attitudes necessary to understand and appreciate the interrelatedness among man his culture and his biophysical surroundings. Environmental education also entails practise in decision-making and self-formulation of a code of behaviour about issues concerning environmental quality. (IUCN 1980) Farmer and landowner awareness The EWT builds non-confrontational and mutuallybeneficial relationships with landowners acknowledging the possible impact of cranes on agriculture but stressing that the presence of cranes on their farm is an indicator of good farming practices. These relationships are established through regular farm visits. Advice is given on correct veld and wetland management mitigating crop damage and dealing with other threats to cranes such as baling twine entanglement. In recognition landowners that conserve cranes on their property in collaboration with the EWT are presented with a Crane Custodian signboard which they fix to their farm gates. It installs a sense of land stewardship amongst landowners and serves as advertisements for crane conservation. Presentations and talks are given at farmers association meetings conservancy meetings and other local landowner gatherings to spread the message of crane and ecosystem conservation and to gain public support. Why is crane awareness necessary In the past misunderstandings about cranes and their potential negative impact on crops led to widespread persecution of all three South African crane species within agricultural regions. The EWT and the crane field officers therefore identified education and awareness as a critical activity. The EWT s crane education and awareness programme aims to raise awareness amongst our target groups of the plight of our cranes and the need to protect their habitats. Various farming techniques are recommended to farmers that enable them to run their farms profitably and which at the same time encourage cranes to co-exist on their land. 10 Children are an important focus they are our future custodians of the land Farm worker awareness Farm workers are the ears and eyes of the farmer. Constantly on the land they notice wildlife movements and landscape changes. The farm worker can make vital contributions to crane conservation working with the EWT field workers who monitor the birds daily. The project aims to Decrease the deliberate and accidental killing of cranes by farm workers rural communities and farming practices Encourage the responsible use of agrochemicals and create awareness of the long-term ill effects of eating poisoned birds Involve workers in conserving the cranes on the farms by reporting sightings or mortalities and protecting nest sites Raise farm workers awareness about crane water and general conservation issues Develop local capacity for crane conservation particularly among previously disadvantaged groups by employing people from the local communities to implement this programme. In many instances it is the first time this group of people has been asked for their opinion or to actively participate in a conservation programme and the response has been positive. Pic 11 Rural schools education Information about cranes and crane habitat is presented mainly at rural schools. This programme fills a vital link in crane conservation as it is children who will become our future farmers and custodians of the land. Using cranes as a flagship species the vital concept of water conservation can be addressed. Furthermore spreading crane awareness in rural schools is a valuable method of reaching the pupils parents many of whom are farm workers and for whom this information is also intended. The school lessons take the form of talks games competitions and interactive projects. Pic 10 11 Rural communities are communicated to at their homesteads Our crane projects (1) Education and awareness (continued) Capacity development and community involvement The EWT crane field officers have the skills people and capacity to train and mentor future environmental awareness officers from previously disadvantaged communities. These people can then educate these communities about conservation practices that will improve their living conditions. The way forward The interest in cranes their habitat and conservation in general is developing. Farmers farm workers and people from rural communities are emerging as committed crane custodians these are the people who will spread the conservation message among their families who may previously never have been reached. Although it is easier to measure an attitude change crane conservation is aiming ultimately at a behavioural change which is a longterm process. Resources available This brochure series Crane conservation-Sasol Save our Cranes posters incorporating information about the three crane species their habitats and their threats ideal for the classroom as an education aid The EWT Crane Journal INDWA Our website www.ewt.org.za These resources are available from the EWT. The EWT crane conservation project acknowledges your interest and support Although spreading awareness about cranes is vital effective crane and habitat conservation cannot be achieved effectively without the active support of the farming and rural communities. We acknowledge the dedication of all the people involved in crane conservation on their land and in their everyday lives and encourage others to join them in helping to secure the future survival of our crane species in South Africa. 12 Assistance is given to landowners regarding the management of crane habitats in an agricultural landscape Our crane projects (2) Habitat conservation Crane habitat has been severely affected over the past two decades. We are experiencing huge losses of wetlands and grasslands. For this reason the EWT crane conservation 1. Works with land-users especially farmers to encourage management practices that benefit cranes their environment and the people who utilise the land. Pic 12 2. Builds relationships with other stakeholders in conservation. These are Conservancies other EWT working groups BirdLife South Africa Provincial Nature Conservation Authorities Municipalities Environmental consultants performing Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) Provincial Environmental Affairs Department Provincial Agricultural Departments Catchment management agencies Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Department of Water Affairs and Forestry National Grassland Initiative 3. Keeps a comprehensive Geographical Information Systems (GIS) database of threats to cranes and their environment 4. Influences national conservation and environmental legislation 5. Contributes to EIA processes regarding developments or change of land use in crane environments 6. Ensures no further loss of Wattled Crane nest sites (current and past) 7. Minimises risks and mitigates crane poisonings and overhead power line collisions in critical areas Working for Wetlands wetland forums and Mondi Wetlands Project The Ekangala Grassland Trust 13 Important research information is gathered through the capture of crane chicks to colour ring and obtain genetics samples 14 Wattled Crane chicks are reared using the isolation costume technique for release into the wild as part of the Wattled Crane Recovery Programme Our crane projects (3) Research and monitoring The EWT crane conservation coordinates and implements the following research 1. Threats to cranes such as disease poisonings illegal trade power line collisions and electrocutions 2. Genetics to understand the genetic structure of South Africa s three crane species 3. A National Annual Crane Count 4. Participation in the Avian Demography Unit s Co-ordinated Avifaunal Roadcounts (CAR) in the key cranes areas 5. Aerial surveys 6. Crane movement studies using both satellite telemetry and colour ringing. Pic 13 7. The behaviour and requirements of the three South African crane species and the status of their natural habitats 8. Work with other research organisations (e.g. universities) to ensure scientifically sound research and keep up to date with national and international crane research 9. Identification of critical crane regions with the aid of a detailed Geographical Information Systems (GIS) model 10. Crop damage 11. Publication of all relevant findings in magazines and scientific journals Our projects (4) International links The EWT crane conservation is developing an extensive international network. We work closely with the International Crane Foundation in the United States and this links us to crane programmes around the world. We are building good working relations with zoological organisations in the US and Europe. In southern Africa we work alongside the International Crane Foundation (ICF) assisting with the African Wattled Crane Programme s research projects throughout Africa. 15 Captive privately-owned cranes (permit allowed) kept as pets are not encouraged by the EWT and those kept illegally are confiscated subject to fines Our crane projects (5) Captive cranes trade of cranes and the Wattled Crane Recovery Programme The Wattled Crane Recovery Programme Due to desperately low numbers of Wattled Cranes in the wild the EWT crane conservation together with the KwaZulu-Natal Crane Foundation the African Association of Zoos and Aquaria (PAAZAB) and private bird breeders have initiated a Wattled Crane Recovery Programme. This project aims to develop a captive flock of Wattled Cranes and it has successfully developed the methodology for supplementing the wild population with appropriately raised crane chicks. Pic 14 Develop a national Grey Crowned Crane studbook Give advice to facilities that apply for a first permit to keep cranes Encourage all keepers of cranes to register with national studbooks Illegal trade of cranes The EWT crane conservation aims to minimise the illegal trade by Monitoring this threat Ensuring confiscation of illegally removed cranes Legal trade and captive cranes The EWT crane conservation aims to Ensure that the crane Captive and Trade Guidelines are implemented nationally and provincially. Pic 15 Ensure parentage tests are conducted by provincial nature conservation authorities Ensure that crane breeding and trade programmes do not compromise wild populations from the wild and placing confiscated birds at suitable facilities Working with the SAPS Traffic and Provincial Nature Conservation Authorities Encouraging conservation authorities to enforce maximum penalties for illegal trade of cranes Using media campaigns as a tool to discourage such practices 16 Pairs display courtship by running dancing (leaping into air with wings flapping) calling and tossing (vegetation and mammal dung) into the air with their beaks approximately two weeks before the onset of laying General facts about cranes Cranes are large beautiful graceful birds. Other similar looking birds include herons storks and spoonbills but they are not closely related to cranes. Rather these different families of wading birds have evolved similar adaptations to utilising wetlands. Cranes pursue small prey and sometimes each other by running. They can easily outrun humans. Cranes do not have webbed feet but they can swim. Chicks are good swimmers. Cranes are aggressive birds. When fighting they leap into the air to rake opponents with their sharp claws or stab at an opponent with their bills. Fighting is dangerous to both participants so cranes use a complex system of threat behaviour to prevent fighting. Individual and social behaviour Cranes are known for their elaborate dancing displays. The most common reason for dancing is courtship during the breeding season. However it may also be a way of exercising communicating making alarm or just displaying good spirits. Cranes dance in pairs and the dance consists of a frenetic series of running bouts with the male chasing the female often in circles. This is punctuated by an interlude of loud calling while the birds stand close together as well as high jumps kicking and the throwing of grass bunches in the air. Whatever the reasons for dancing it is a delight to observe. Pic 16 Vocalisations You often hear cranes long before you see them. A haunting trumpet like call announces their presence even though they may be a long distance away. This call apparently helps to keep the flock together during their migration flights. Pic 17. The most significant vocalisation is the unison call. This carefully orchestrated duet performed by a mated pair of cranes helps to form or reinforce pair bonds and also acts as a territorial warning to other nearby cranes. 17 Blue Cranes flying their trumpeting calls heard from a great distance Feeding Cranes eat seeds small mammals and reptiles eggs of other birds and invertebrates such as worms clams and insects as well as roots and the starchy swellings (tubers) found on certain plants. Population dynamics Cranes do not begin nesting until they are 3 7 years old and then they generally lay just two eggs each year. Of the two eggs one or both chicks will survive depending on the crane species. Cranes however may live for 25 30 years in the wild and the one chick they raise each year will likely fledge and join the migratory flock. The survival strategy of cranes therefore is the opposite of animals like rabbits or mice that have short lives and high reproductive rates. It does however mean that crane populations do not recover easily after drastic declines. Nesting and reproduction Cranes are territorial during the breeding season. The Wattled and Grey Crowned Cranes nest in shallow marshes but the Blue Crane builds scant nests in dry grasslands although usually within a few hundred metres of a water source. Once the female lays the eggs the pair shares incubation duties exchanging the incubating responsibilities about every two hours during the day. The family leaves the nest after the second chick hatches (the first in the case of Wattled Cranes) but may return to the nest for several evenings to brood the chicks during the cool of the night. 18 Map showing the distribution of the Blue Crane in South Africa Blue Crane (Anthropoides paradiseus) As they forage in wheat fields or gather alongside a vlei Blue Cranes are a graceful sight. With their shimmering pale-blue plumes their imposing heads and their long legs they are the ballerinas of the veld. distinctive white forehead and crown is paler overall especially on the head with buffy feathers on wings flanks belly and thighs it lacks the bulbous head-shape and elongated tail which develops at one year it does not achieve full adult size until over one year old. The Blue Crane occurs mainly in South Africa with a small population of about 60 birds occurring in Namibia. It is South Africa s national bird. Due to it having such a restricted range and the fact that it has declined rapidly over large areas of the country during the last half-century it is classified as Vulnerable in the latest Eskom Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa Lesotho and Swaziland (Barnes 2000). Distribution and abundance At present there are between 21 000 and 25 000 Blue Cranes in South Africa Historically the Blue Crane population was estimated to be approximately 100 000 centred in the grassland biome. While locally abundant in limited parts of the country it is now rare in most parts. It occurs in three core regions namely the eastern grassland region the central Karoo and the south Western Cape (Overberg Swartland regions). Blue Cranes have largely disappeared from Lesotho and the former Transkei. Their numbers have declined by about 80% in the eastern grasslands but since the mid 1960s they have colonised the agricultural areas of the Description It is an unmistakable large and uniformly blue-grey crane with a bulbous head-shape pale head and long flowing underwing feathers extending like a tail almost to the ground. Their legs are dark-grey to black and the bill is relatively short compared to most other cranes as it is adapted for dryland foraging. The juvenile lacks the 19 & 20 Blue Cranes show the highest population numbers in the Karoo region and the wheat and barley agricultural lands of the Western Cape Western Cape in high densities due to a change in landuse practices from cultivated fallow to cultivated pastures. The distribution and abundance in the Karoo has probably changed little from historical times. Blue Cranes show the highest population numbers in the Karoo region as well as the wheat and barley agricultural lands of the Western Cape. Foraging and diet Habitat The Blue Crane prefers short grasslands and is the least dependent on wetland habitats for breeding and foraging. In the eastern sour grasslands it prefers areas where livestock grazing is the predominant land use. In the arid Karoo the species is found in the grassier eastern areas. Pic 19. In the Western Cape they inhabit cereal crop fields Blue Cranes mostly forage in grasslands and wetlands with their natural diet consisting of small bulbs seeds and sedges roots insects (bollworm caterpillars grasshoppers locusts and termites) worms crabs fish frogs reptiles and small mammals. They also feed on crops such as wheat oats sorghum sunflower groundnut and lucerne pastures. e.g. wheat oats and barley and planted pastures e.g. grasses lucerne clover and Medic sp.. Pic 20. They tend to avoid natural fynbos renosterveld and strandveld. The Blue Crane is a partial migrant gathering in large flocks during winter having moved out of their breeding territories. Movements are localised with flocks moving within their subpopulations and not mixing. In the eastern grassland region of the country Blue Cranes tend to return to their breeding areas in spring. 21 Blue Cranes exhibit elaborate courtship displays prior to nesting 22 A Blue Crane nest consists of a simple construction on the ground Breeding behaviour Blue Cranes are monogamous pairing at approximately 3 to 4 years of age. They are summer breeders nesting from late September through to April. Pairs are strictly territorial often driving off intruders from the breeding area. Blue Cranes exhibit elaborate courtship displays prior to nesting. Pic 21 Preferred nesting sites in the eastern grasslands are open short grasslands with a full view around the nest for predator detection. Occasionally Blue Cranes may nest in shallow wetlands. Nests in the Karoo are in natural veld while those in the Western Cape are established in agricultural fields. Eggs are either laid directly on the ground or on a padded nest consisting of twigs grasses small stones and dung. Pic 22. A clutch of 2 4 eggs is laid generally 2 to 3 days apart. Incubation period is approximately 30 days with both sexes sharing the incubation. Newly hatched young are mobile after a few hours to a day when parents lead them into foraging areas. Strong sibling aggression has been noted resulting in parents keeping the chicks highly mobile splitting them between parents. The young fledge at approximately 3 months of age. Most pairs with fledged young leave their territories by the time the young are 5 months old. When families join flocks for the winter months fledged young still remain in close proximity to the parents. Just before the new breeding season young are left in the non-breeding flock while the parents return in spring to their breeding territory. 23 Two Blue Crane chicks hatched by breeding pair 24 Blue Cranes roost overnight in shallow water bodies To successfully breed Blue Cranes require Extensive open veld areas (excepting the Western Cape where breeding pairs utilise agricultural lands) Areas that are free of disturbance during the courtship and incubation periods Unfragmented habitats as the chicks walk and forage over extensive distances Areas that have relatively low densities of predators Water on a daily basis as they often stay within close proximity of dams or water troughs during the midday heat Suitable roosting sites particularly open shallow bodies of water. Pic 24 The Blue Crane is our national bird and considered by many to be the most graceful of all cranes. It therefore deserves our special attention. It will be a national tragedy and a blemish on South Africa s proud conservation track record if we allow this majestic bird to become extinct Wattled Crane (Bugeranus carunculatus) South Africa s Wattled Crane population faces extinction with only 235 individuals (2004) remaining classifying it as Critically Endangered. They have a low reproductive potential and require very specific wetlands for breeding (latest Eskom Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa Lesotho and Swaziland and Vulnerable in the global assessment (Barnes 2000)). The last strongholds of Wattled Cranes are the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands and the Mpumalanga highveld and it is here that wetland habitat loss on privately-owned land needs to urgently be addressed to secure their survival. 25 Wattled Cranes have a very restricted distribution in South Africa Description Males are slightly larger than females. They weigh between 7 and 9 kg. They are unmistakably large and stately with a distinctive white head and neck predominantly white under parts with ashy grey wings and black tail reaching almost to the ground. The bill is long and pointed with red skin between the eyes and bill with white wattles extending on either side of the face. The juvenile is paler with more overall tawny plumage than the adult and lacks the grey forehead and crown that develop at 12 months. It initially appears streaked and lacks an elongated tail and wattles. It is identical to the adult at 16 to 17 months. Distribution and abundance The Wattled Crane is restricted to Africa with three core populations being recognised. The main population is found in south-central Africa (Zambia Botswana Angola DRC Namibia Malawi Tanzania Mozambique and Zimbabwe) while the other two smaller populations are found in Ethiopia and South Africa respectively. Historically this species was widespread in the eastern grassland parts of South Africa extending into the Western Cape (Somerset West Caledon) but is now restricted to a small part of the Mpumalanga Highveld and the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. A few breeding pairs are also present within the Wakkerstroom region the Eastern Cape as well as the north-eastern Free State. 26 The Wattled Crane is one of South Africa s most threatened bird species 27 Wattled Cranes are highly wetland dependent utilising high altitude wetlands in which to live 28 Nests are constructed predominantly during the winter months in permanently saturated wetlands Habitat The Wattled Crane requires wetlands for both breeding and foraging. Permanently inundated wetlands with primarily sedge-based vegetation is preferred. Pic 27. Foraging does however also take place in open grasslands and agricultural fields. residents of highland marsh wetlands. The pairs are strongly territorial defending territories several hectares in size. The highly extended breeding period allows individuals unsuccessful in their first attempt to re-nest the same season. Nests are constructed in permanently saturated wetlands with breeding pairs building a nest mound using wetland vegetation surrounded by an open-water moat for protection. Pic 28. Nests may be five to six feet across and high enough that the water does not reach the eggs. Nest construction takes from one to seven days. The Wattled Crane s reproductive rate is low with the average clutch size being the lowest of any of the cranes. Pairs may lay either one or two eggs in a clutch laid at three to four day intervals with the majority of the two egg clutches occurring in the KwaZulu-Natal population. However only one chick is raised. The incubation period is the longest of any crane at 36 to 40 days. The second egg acts as an insurance policy if the first egg does not hatch. Pic 29. Foraging and diet It is primarily a specialised vegetarian foraging in wetland habitats for sedge tubers rhizomes water-lilies nutgrass and water grass. They forage in surrounding grassland habitats for grass seeds. Occasionally it feeds on fallen grain and digs up newly planted maize in agricultural fields. It also feeds on grasshoppers crickets and locusts small aquatic snails and frogs. Breeding behaviour Wattled Cranes mainly breed in winter between May and August although breeding activity has been recorded in all months of the year. Active breeding pairs are year-round 29 Wattled Cranes only hatch out and raise a single chick The chicks fledge after 110 to 130 days. Juveniles remain with their parents for almost 12 months after which they are expelled from the breeding territory or are taken to a non-breeding floater flock. Juveniles obtain full adult plumage after the first year but only mature and breed for the first time at 7 or 8 years of age. There is one record of a female breeding at 3 5 years. Immature individuals move into flocks and move between traditional feeding sites throughout the year. To successfully breed Wattled Cranes require Home ranges of approximately 16.5 km2 Approximately 40 ha of undisturbed suitable wetland and grassland habitat Permanently wet high altitude wetlands with short sedge vegetation An undisturbed wetland during the courtship and incubation period Wetlands that are not drained or dammed That burning of wetlands during the winter spring periods be done with the utmost care so as not to burn nests eggs or unfledged chicks Many people ask us about the value of conserving cranes and whether in the larger scheme of things they are so important. Our answer to them is that cranes are indicators of the state of our environment. The Wattled Cranes rely on wetlands and water for breeding roosting and feeding. They are so critically endangered that there are only 235 left in South Africa. Surely this confirms that we are not looking after our most important resource water Grey Crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum) That shining golden crown the beautiful burst of feathers around the head the spectacular appearance of the birds makes them vulnerable to removal from their homes in the wild. The Grey Crowned Crane is classified as Vulnerable in the latest Eskom Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa Lesotho and Swaziland (Barnes 2000). The loss of wetland breeding habitat direct poisoning of birds in agricultural lands and the removal of chicks from the wild has led to this culturally significant bird s reduced population. 31 Map showing the Grey Crowned Crane s distribution within South Africa Description Sexes are alike in appearance with the male slightly larger than the female. This species is unmistakable different from the other crane species with its short-legged and short-tailed appearance. The adult s forehead and crown are both black with a golden crest. It has a bare white face patch that is red-rimmed. The throat has a large red gular wattle. The neck and mantle are pale grey. The remainder of upperparts and underparts are dark grey. The wings are primarily black with white and chestnut colouring on the lower wing section. The tail is short and black. Juveniles are browner with the face patch covered by fine cream feathering rufous tipped crown and the crest is less well developed. The Grey Crowned Crane s call is a characteristic mournful and double-syllabled ma-hem. Distribution and abundance Within South Africa the largest populations of Grey Crowned Cranes occur in four main regions the Eastern Cape grasslands the western parts of KwaZulu-Natal and north-eastern Free State and the south-eastern regions of Mpumalanga. This species now no longer breeds in the North West Province. A recent crane count in South Africa (2004) puts the numbers of Grey Crowned Crane at 4 000 individuals. 30 The Grey Crowned Crane a culturally significant crane species in South Africa 32 Despite Grey Crowned Cranes being highly wetland-dependent they utilise and have become well adapted to intensive agricultural systems 33 Grey Crowned Cranes often nest in wetlands with tall vegetation flattening out areas around the nest Habitat Grey Crowned Cranes require mixed wetland-grassland habitats. They breed in wetlands and have adapted well to agricultural fields. Pic 32. The birds forage in cultivated lands including pastures ploughed lands and newly sprouting croplands. Their preferred foraging habitat consists of expanses of short to medium height open grasslands adjacent to wetlands. Non-breeding birds roost on trees overhead utility structures and in shallow open dams. non-breeders occur throughout the year and are smaller during the breeding season. Actively breeding pairs roost on the ground in wetlands at the nest or with the young. If trees occur nearby non-incubating birds are likely to roost in these elevated positions. Grey Crowned Cranes are territorial breeders. They typically nest within or on the edges of wetlands with tall reed beds so that the nest is concealed from predators. Nests are constructed by trampling an area in the vegetation where the eggs can be laid. Pic 33. The Grey Crowned Crane has the largest average clutch size of any crane with up to four eggs being laid. Both parents incubate the eggs for a period of 28 to 31 days. Unlike Wattled Cranes Grey Crowned Cranes hatch all their eggs and raise all chicks. The youngsters fledge at 9 to 12 weeks and the family group then joins the resident non-breeding flock for the winter months. They remain with their parents in this flock until the following breeding season when the parents leave to breed again and the offspring are left with the flock. Foraging and diet Their diet is generally omnivorous consisting of insects seeds and other invertebrates in their natural habitat. They also forage in pastures irrigated areas fallow fields newly planted cereal crop fields and harvested fields. Their preference for foraging in agricultural lands of sprouting or ripening maize other cereal crops or even cabbage causes them to be widely regarded as a crop pest. Breeding behaviour Grey Crowned cranes breed in the summer months with a peak in egg laying around November December. Flocks of 34 Grey Crowned Cranes are the only cranes that can roost in structures or trees due to their specific foot morphology Breeding success is variable depending on seasonal rainfall burning of the breeding wetland predator levels and the condition of the wetland. To breed successfully Grey Crowned Cranes require Extensive wetland areas preferably with stands of tall reed beds Wetlands free of disturbance during the courtship and incubation periods Wetlands that are not drained or dammed That burning of wetland during the spring summer periods be done with the utmost care so as not to burn nests eggs or unfledged chicks As with the Blue Crane Grey Crowned Cranes have adapted well to some cultivated fields such as wheat oats sorghum sunflower groundnut and lucerne pastures. They do however still require intact wetlands to breed. Unfortunately they often damage crops but the impact is thought to be low. With some tolerance from farmers these birds with their elaborate plumage will continue to grace our skies About our organisation The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) is one of the most effective conservation non-government organisations in southern Africa and is dedicated to sustainable development and the conservation of biodiversity in southern Africa to the benefit of all the people of the sub-region. The Endangered Wildlife Trust (crane conservation) aims to ensure the harmonious coexistence of natural crane populations and people on the same land and to ensure the survival of South Africa s three crane species and their natural habitats. Contact details Endangered Wildlife Trust Goldfields Environmental Centre the Johannesburg Zoological Gardens Erlswold Way Saxonwold 2196 Private Bag X11 Parkview 2122 Tel 27 (0)11 486 1102 Fax 27 (0)11 486 1506 Email crane ewt.org.za Website www.ewt.org.za Other crane conservation groups in South Africa affiliated to the EWT The Overberg Crane Group Tel 27 (0)82 676 1734 www.bluecrane.org.za The KwaZulu-Natal Crane Foundation 27 (0)33 266 6268 www.kzncrane.co.za International Crane Foundation www.savingcranes.org T E R N AT IO IN N A L C R A N E F O U AT I O N N D Cranes and you The Endangered Wildlife Trust is a non-profit organisation (NPO no. 015-502). We rely solely on the private sector and the public for funding to implement our projects. We owe the conservation of our cranes to future generations that they too can be thrilled by the grace of these peaceful birds. Most of South Africa s cranes and crane habitats exist on farmland and therefore their future lies largely in the hands of private landowers and the public. Please report sightings of cranes to us and of damage done to wetlands and grasslands. You too can contribute to this cause. Please contact us to find out how you can become a member or donor. This brochure series has been developed for farmers and the public to use in conserving the three cranes species and their habitats. For more information about the EWT and cranes call (011) 486 1102 or email crane ewt.org.za Wetlands and cranes 2 of a 9 part brochure series Water South Africa s scarcest resource is the essence of life. Without water there is no sustained agriculture industrial growth or development of a tourism industry some of the main pillars of our economy. Wetlands protect our water resources they are the earth s water factories . With the current supply and demand for water we will not have enough to meet the rising demands by 2030. Farmers who have wetlands on their land are therefore extremely fortunate. The added benefit is they can use their wetlands wisely for other purposes and still retain their essential water-protecting function. Cover pic What wetlands do and why they are so important A wetland works like a natural dam that slows down water absorbing flood waters and slowly releasing water in drier periods. A wetland works like a sponge. Wetlands are however superior to dams in many aspects as they also purify water. This cleansing action is often why scientists refer to wetlands as the lungs of an ecosystem . What do wetlands give us Wetlands Ensure a constant water supply by storing water Purify water by filtering out pollutants such as heavy metals and disease causing bacteria Hold the water in times of flood and prevent damage Prevent soil erosion Provide drought relief as a result of regulating the stream-flow Offer wildlife protection What is a wetland Wetlands are biological crossroads where water and land overlap. They are wet areas that occur from the top to the bottom of a river system such as Springs and seeps (where water comes out of the ground) Marshes (shallow standing water with vegetation) Floodplains (flat areas next to rivers) Swamp forests (trees in shallow water) Inland wetlands form where rainwater collects in low areas where rivers back up or where ground water seeps up from below. Wetlands team with life. Often called nature s nurseries they are filled with unique plant and animal life that can be found nowhere else. Water supply the main reason to care about wetlands Despite the importance of wetlands for managing water crucial for our survival it is estimated that over 50% of South Africa s wetlands have already been destroyed by poor land management The less water there is the less viable farming 2 Wetlands are vital habitats for breeding and foraging for Wattled Cranes Cover Wetlands are valuable components of our landscape not only as crane habitats but also as managers of our precious water supplies 3 Wetlands are dammed for agricultural purposes causing a loss of suitable crane habitats is in the long term. Some farmers depend directly on the water they take out of their wetlands for irrigation. Perhaps you have a borehole on your land. It may well be fed by a wetland. If you drain your wetland you will lose borehole water. Are there agricultural benefits Wetlands provide mainly winter grazing and some opportunities for cropping and harvesting. In fact a wetland can carry up to five times as many animals as dry land but this has to be managed carefully to avoid overgrazing. Wetlands can provide rich beds for crops but once again great care must be taken. Permits are needed for planting crops in wetlands. Without sufficient protection of our water resources by wetlands our already stressed agricultural regions will be characterised by water shortages increased soil erosion and ultimately loss of agricultural potential as a result of continued wetland loss. More reasons to value wetlands Biodiversity Besides providing you with water wetlands protect biodiversity which means many different kinds of creatures depend on them from those that live in the water to insects frogs and birds. Frogs and birds are useful predators of pests. Foods For the last three decades many different foods have been obtained from wetlands including crops (amadumbe) edible flowers (waterblommetjies) wild grains fish and waterfowl. Fish trapping in Kosi Bay is a good example of how indigenous South African people use their cultural knowledge to get food from wetlands in a sustainable way. If you visit Kosi Bay in northern Zululand you will see a network of traditional wooden fish traps built and maintained by local fisherman. Water management rather be safe than sorry If we drain or over-utilise our wetlands the resulting negative effect is most notable during heavy rains. Wetlands hold water. If your wetland no longer has the plants which give stability to hold water the precious topsoil will simply wash away leaving behind a hollow scar in the earth s surface offering no possibilities for grazing cropping or any other function. Heavy rains and floods will cause more damage on your farm than if your wetland were intact. The wise use of wetlands is therefore almost like an insurance policy. Cover pic Grazing for livestock Medicine Many wetland plants are used as medicine. For example river pumpkin is commonly used to ease childbirth. Wetlands and cranes Apart from their importance within the agricultural sector wetlands play a vital role as a wildlife habitat most notably for our crane species. Cranes are highly dependent on wetlands for their survival. All three of our crane species forage in wetlands. Grey Crowned Cranes and Wattled Crafts and building materials Harvesting and weaving of wetland plants to produce crafts is a common practice in rural communities. Wetlands provide material for housing roofing mats baskets and clothing. 4 Wetlands have been extensively drained in the past resulting in the loss of significant areas of wetland Cranes breed in wetlands. Blue Cranes occasionally breed in wetlands. Pic 2 For Wattled Cranes to nest in a wetland the wetland needs to be Undisturbed by human activity Fairly pristine Permanently inundated with water as breeding peaks in winter Have short sedge vegetation These type of marsh wetlands typically occur in our upper catchment areas. Grey Crowned Cranes typically prefer low lying wetlands with tall reed stands and they even utilise reed stands along the edges of dams. The dense reed stands offer protection to the nesting birds. The fact that Grey Crowned Cranes will nest in reed beds along dams make them more adaptable to human alterations of wetlands than Wattled Cranes. In this case human-induced disturbance can have a positive impact. Blue Cranes usually only nest in small shallow wetlands in cases where grasslands are heavily stocked with cattle during the summer breeding season. This reduces the chances of the eggs being trampled by cattle. Of all the threats to cranes throughout the world possibly the most significant has been the loss of their wetland habitat through agricultural related activities within wetlands and the unsustainable use of these vital ecosystems. Pic 3 Conservation of wetland habitats for cranes is in reality conservation of an entire ecosystem with all its benefits for wildlife and mankind. Threats to wetlands Wetlands are severely threatened and it is estimated that South Africa has already lost about 50% of its wetlands due to intensified agricultural practices excessive development and poor land management. In a water-poor country such as South Africa continued destruction of wetlands will result in Lower agricultural productivity Fewer pure and reliable water supplies Increased downstream flooding Increasingly threatened plant and animal species When converted to other uses the free services provided by wetlands are lost to humanity and wildlife declines. Therefore management is crucial for wetland conservation. The main threats to wetlands are Draining of wetlands Intensive agriculture has often resulted in wetlands being drained and converted into crop or planted pasture lands. This is probably the most severe agricultural impact and usually involves the removal of the native vegetation and results in changes in the hydrological regime of the wetland. Its effects are most severe on Wattled Cranes because they breed in the driest time of the year when the water table is at its lowest. Therefore any draining of a wetland would render the habitat insufficiently wet for breeding. Pic 4 Dams vs Wetlands Water storage and loss Water purification Wetland Vegetation Flood attenuation Stream flow regulation Quantity of runoff Biodiversity Ability to trap sediment Ability to remove pollutants Wetlands No conclusive answer on option Dams (if dam does not break) (lost in deep water) (only if dam remains intact) Varies depending on amount of dams and abstraction (specialist wetland species lost) Poorly managed grazing mowing and harvesting Our wetlands have evolved with and are adapted to large herbivore grazing. In certain wetland types trampling and grazing enhances wetland biodiversity. In the absence of wild large herbivores grazing by cattle is a suitable substitute to enhance such wetlands. Not all wetland types were utilised to the same degree by wild herbivores. Marsh wetlands (the type preferred by Wattled Cranes) are less palatable and the soft soils prevent access. They are thus not that well adapted to grazing and are at greater risk of being damaged by incorrect grazing management. Similar to grasslands heavy grazing in wetlands can result in palatable species being replaced by unpalatable species. Heavy grazing can also cause erosion. Wetlands with unstable soils or where the water flows in a channel are particularly prone to erosion. If the channel cuts up into the wetland (head cut erosion) the wetland can dry out which ultimately destroys it. The only threat that grazing poses in wetlands to breeding cranes is trampling of the nest. Fortunately Wattled and Grey Crowned Cranes usually breed in the deepest parts that are inaccessible to livestock. Poorly managed burning Fire has always been a part of wetland systems especially within the sourveld grassland regions of the country. However the timing frequency and type of burn performed determine the effectiveness as a management tool and its impact on wetland dependent species. Surface fires are by far the most common types of fire where only the above-ground vegetation burns. The recovery of the vegetation after such a fire is rapid. It does however increase the evapo-transpiration (water loss) rate of the wetland thus affecting the water storage function if burnt too often or in early winter. Extremely hot fires can kill wetland plant root systems and destroy the organic material in the soil. This can lead to severe erosion of the wetland the death of breeding animals and a change in the plant species composition resulting in a dramatic reduction in the grazing potential of the wetland. Infrequent burning causes the accumulation of standing dead surface plant material which in turn reduces the vigour of the vegetation increasing its susceptibility to invasion by alien plants. Wetlands fires burn at higher temperatures in the drier winter months and can adversely affect winter breeding animals such as Wattled Cranes. The juveniles are particularly vulnerable to heat asphyxiation and direct burning. In KwaZulu-Natal and the Mpumalanga highlands fire is often the most severe and significant cause of egg failure and chick mortality. Due to their nature of hiding unfledged chicks in the wetland vegetation during a disturbance these chicks are often burnt if landowners are unaware of their presence. The damming of wetlands Whether dams are built for recreational purposes such as flyfishing or as a supply of water for an agricultural operation they can have both positive and negative effects on the environment. Conservationists farmers and other interested parties have hotly debated these effects for many years. Dams need to be built in a position that will ensure an adequate supply of water in order for the dam to remain full. The dam is therefore very often placed within a wetland. 5 Dams alter the wetland habitat structure although still performing a water storage function 6 Wetlands need to be burnt although landowners must be aware of the potential hazards to breeding cranes in these systems The effects of the dam on the wetland and the catchment as a whole will depend largely on the exact positioning of the dam in a wetland the type of wetland and the size of the dam. There are however no hard and fast rules and most situations are unique. Pic 5 Dams are good substitutes for certain wetland functions but are poor substitutes for others. The table on page 2 summarises how these functions compare. Dams often control water in a rush producing sudden bursts of water for agriculture or industry alternating with periods of complete dryness. A man-made dam works like a gigantic concrete water block equipped with spigots versus a wetland working like a sponge. A badly positioned dam can have a serious impact on the wetland. Although some wetland area will be created the characteristics of the original wetland can change to such an extent that the hydrological and structural components are destroyed. These types of dams are a serious cause for concern. Other threats The following activities can also have a negative impact on wetlands Crop production (both agricultural and forestry crops) extending into wetlands Poorly managed forestry plantations that lead to reduced runoff that dries out wetlands Alien plant invasion Intensive animal production resulting in effluent disposal into wetlands Large-scale destruction caused by mining Management suggestions for wetlands The hydrology of a wetland is the most important factor determining its functioning. As a general rule the more you alter the hydrology of a wetland the greater the effect on its functioning will be. The following information will help managers decrease the affect of activities on wetlands. Burning When planning the burning of wetlands the critical issues to consider are Which wetland type to burn The climatic conditions under which to burn The desired frequency of burning Burn a wetland every second year if the rainfall is more than 800 mm per year but every third or fourth year if the rainfall is less than 800 mm per year. Pic 6 Apply a cool patchy burn by burning when the wetland is moist after rain or in the evenings or early mornings after dew when there is a high relative humidity and low air temperature Burn at the onset of the growing season to ensure rapid plant re-growth. Burning a wetland when it is dry can result in underground fires if the wetland soils have a high organic content Use a head-fire (burn with the wind) as this is more controllable and less damaging to plant growing points. Back burns (burning against the wind) raises ground temperatures which has a greater impact on the growing points of plants and encourages the fire to move laterally making control more difficult. If in a dry year there is a danger of soil ignition delay burning to another day or postpone it by a year or two 7 It is illegal to construct a road through a wetland as it seriously affects the hydrological functioning of the wetland If Wattled Cranes are known to breed in a wetland particular care must be taken when burning during the winter. It is best to rather burn in late winter or early spring. If not possible avoid burning the area around the nest site. Alternatively apply cool patchy burns so as to allow for refuge sites. These unburnt patches are vitally important for Wattled Crane chicks after the burn as they still require areas of long vegetation to hide from predators. The feeding potential of a wetland is enhanced immediately after a fire. Wattled Cranes for example have been known to utilise wetlands in the first few weeks after a fire. Other birds also congregate on burnt areas immediately after a fire. Pic 6 discontinued when the soils are waterlogged as this is when erosion can set in. The exclusion of grazing when soils are waterlogged can usually be accommodated in a rotational grazing system. Use non-wetland grazing when the wetland soils are sodden. Once they dry out it is safe to use the wetlands for grazing again. Cultivation In South Africa wetlands are protected by the Conservation of Agricultural Resources (Act 43 of 1983 administered by the Directorate Resource Conservation) that prevents land users from cultivating or draining wetlands without a permit. Grazing It is imperative to manage the grazing correctly. The critical issues are Which wetland to graze When to graze and For how long to allow stock grazing to continue before resting the area On average the grazing capacity in a wetland is 1.5 times higher than in a non-wetland area but this is dependent on many factors such as species composition and the water regime of the wetland. Either graze the entire wetland and allow a full growing season rest period every four years or graze three quarters of the wetland excluding one quarter from stock on an annual rotational basis. One way of introducing this rest is to make use of a patchy burn which leaves approximately one quarter of the vegetation unburnt and encourages stock to graze on the remaining post-burn areas. All grazing must be Alien plants All alien plant species should be removed by identifying the relevant species and applying the appropriate removal method (burn or herbicide) including follow-up work. Roads Roads should not be constructed through wetlands as it causes a damming effect upstream and concentrated erosion downstream especially if insufficient culverts are used. Pic 7 Dams The success of any dam in maintaining some of the original wetland functions and having a minimal impact on the environment will depend solely on the position and structure of the dam. Therefore source the necessary expertise when building a dam. Consult the local Department of Agriculture 8 Dams have been found to be very poor substitutes for natural wetlands and lead to the degradation of the crane s natural wetland habitat Soil Conservation Officer or an engineer to plan the dam and spillway. Also remember that a permit is required to build a dam. Guidelines for the responsible placement of dams Place the dam at the lowest part of the wetland. This allows the wetlands to carry on performing its functions The number of dams in the wetland has a cumulative effect on the wetland The dam and spillway should be built to withstand one in 50 year flooding to prevent bursting. Bursting dams have high environmental costs such as erosion and increased sediment loss. The financial losses could also be substantial Construct a dam and its spillway to allow for movement of aquatic species season flow is often retained. This may impact both on the river biota and the downstream users. Ensure that at least 50% of the early season flow entering the dam is released. In managing the outflow control it is essential that the needs of the downstream water users and the natural environment are accounted for. Wetland rehabilitation Recognising the value of wetlands and their threatened status government has invested significant resources in rehabilitation efforts primarily through the Working for Wetlands programme. Working for Wetlands is managed by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) on behalf of the departments of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Water Affairs and Forestry and Agriculture together with Working for Water and the Mondi Wetlands Project. Currently at least R40 million per year is being allocated towards priority wetland rehabilitation projects around the country. These wetlands are identified as being of national significance in terms of biodiversity conservation hydrological functioning and social needs including employment creation and skills transfer. Rehabilitation is the reinstatement of the wetland s underlying driving forces to a level close to the original system (but seldom fully attaining it) so as to improve the wetland s capacity for providing services to society. The goal of wetland rehabilitation should not be to maintain a wetland in a static state but rather to achieve a persistent resilient system that is largely self-maintaining and can respond to change with little human intervention. Wetland rehabilitation must be integrated with the surrounding landscape if it is to address the causes of wetland degradation and not just the symptoms. Artificial wetlands created by dams Most dams have the capacity to create wetlands depending on the way that they are built. If the dam is built with shallower areas around the edges wetlands will be created. In addition every earthen dam leaks to a greater or lesser extent and wetlands are created below the dam. These artificial wetlands will perform some of the wetland functions noted above to some degree. These wetlands however will never be able to replace the original pristine wetland and fulfil the same functions carried out by the original wetland and therefore cannot be seen as a substitute for natural wetland areas. Pic 8 Ongoing management The main factor within the manager s control once the dam or weir has been built is the outflow control. The first wet 9 Wetland rehabilitation is aimed at restoring the hydrological functioning of a wetland in this case through the creation of small damlets within an old wetland which was ridged and furrowed Principles for successful wetland rehabilitation Remove the cause of the damage not the symptoms and manage the resource correctly Re-establish the natural water flow patterns within the wetland Do not concentrate water. Always try and spread it out because this should reduce the possibility of erosion occurring Do not underestimate the force of the water during high flow periods Many wetland soils are highly prone to erosion. Be aware of this when designing structures. Pic 9 There are two ways of deciding what method of rehabilitation to initiate Either stabilise the problem area and maintain the present condition of the wetland or Try to reclaim the wetland area that has been lost Wetland rehabilitation can play a vital role in regaining many hectares of suitable crane habitat for both their breeding and foraging thereby making a positive contribution to crane conservation efforts. Contacts Working for Wetlands John Dini Programme Manager South African National Biodiversity Institute Private Bag X101 Pretoria 0001 South Africa Tel 27 12 843 5292 Fax 27 12 843 5205 Email dini sanbi.org www.sanbi.org Mondi Wetland Project The EWT works closely with the Mondi Wetland Project a group whose aim is the conservation of South Africa s wetland resources. For more information on wetlands and their management please contact David Lindley Mondi Wetlands Project Manager PO Box 338 Irene 0062 South Africa Tel 27 12 667 6597 Email info wetland.org.za www.wetland.org.za Further reading Wetland Fix 1995 J. Wyatt. Renfreight Wetlands Campaign available from the Mondi Wetland Project Agricultural land-use impacts on wetland functional values 1994 D.C. Kotze and C.M. Breen WRC Report No 501 3 94 This brochure series has been developed for farmers and the public to use in conserving the three cranes species and their habitats. For more information about EWT and cranes call (011) 486 1102 or email crane ewt.org.za This folder has been printed on paper manufactured from wood fibre obtained from sustainable forests and which is chlorine-free. Grasslands and cranes 3 of a 9 part brochure series Our grassland biome is South Africa s most threatened ecosystem and yet less than 2% of our grasslands are formally conserved. The rest of the remaining grassland is in private ownership. Threats to grasslands A great deal of destructive human activity is concentrated in the grassland biome Maize and wheat production. Pic 4 Most of South Africa s timber production South Africa s largest urban and industrial centre Gauteng Major power stations and other industries resulting in high pollution particularly in Mpumalanga The majority of gold and coal mines Extensive livestock production Once destroyed it is impossible to recreate the structure and mix of species originally found in the grassland. What is a grassland Grasslands are a vegetation type dominated by grasses and herbaceous vegetation. Grasslands cover most of the high central plateau of South Africa and inland areas of KwaZuluNatal and the Eastern Cape. Grasslands cover 16% of the land area in South Africa. Here the summer rainfall is generally between 600 and 1 000 mm per annum the summers are mild or warm and the winters are dry and cold with some frost and snow. Rainfall is the most important factor influencing the density and cover of a grassland. Cover pic Cranes and grasslands The Blue Crane icon of grasslands The graceful and beautiful Blue Crane is South Africa s national bird. It can be seen from a great distance elegantly moving across the open grasslands. However it s population is decreasing in grassland areas. They are becoming a pride and joy to landowners who are fortunate enough to have them on their lands. Blue Cranes need large open areas to forage and breed. As our grasslands become more fragmented through overgrazing afforestation crop production alien plant invasion and mining so the suitable habitat for Blue Cranes decreases. Pic 2 and 3 Disappearing grasslands Apart from their vast economic agricultural importance to the country grasslands are also vitally important for our natural heritage. Although conservationists have long tried to draw attention to their destruction their pleas have mainly fallen on deaf ears. However there is a sudden awakening to the plight of this very necessary resource. Of all biomes in South Africa grasslands have been affected to the greatest extent about 50% have been destroyed and much of the remainder is in poor condition. 2 Grasslands are valuable components of the livestock industry as a source of much needed grazing Cover Natural grasslands are a unique ecosystem yet receive little formal protection 3 Blue Cranes are known as grassland dependent species with the decline in their numbers representing the steady loss of grasslands due to overgrazing In contrast Blue Cranes are still fairly common in the grassy Karoo regions of the Northern and Eastern Cape provinces while the artificial grasslands of the Overberg and Swartland of the Western Cape are the stronghold of the world s population of Blue Cranes. The Grey Crowned Crane and Wattled Crane forage in grasslands. Both species need fairly large continuous grasslands around the wetlands where they breed. All three crane species prefer shorter vigorous grasslands. They tend to avoid grasslands that have become moribund due to the absence of burning. important grasses include oats barley rye maize rice sugar cane teff and oulandsgras many of which are grown in the grassland biome. Biodiversity There are about 10 000 different species of grasses worldwide these constitute about 30% of all plants. The grasslands of South Africa have a diversity of about 81 species per 1 000 m2 with about 3 378 plant species in total. Most of these are in fact not grasses but bulbous plants herbs and shrubs. Pic 5 Grasslands have a very rich diversity of bird reptile amphibian and mammal species 33 amphibians 104 reptiles 417 birds and 94 mammals Of the 34 mammals endemic to South Africa 15 are found in the grasslands. Of the threatened reptiles and amphibians 13 of the 93 species live in grasslands and 11 are endemic to them. There are 40 endemic bird species of which 21 are found in grasslands and 12 of these are endemic to the biome. The value of grasslands Agriculture Grazing It is within the grassland biome that the livestock industry of South Africa is extensively practised. African grasses and grazing animals have co-evolved in a way that allows the grazers to sustainably utilise the food provided by grasses. The grasslands in their natural state are not a food source for people but we use domestic animals to convert the energy trapped in grasslands into something useful namely meat and wool. The remaining grasslands of Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal alone provide natural grazing to sheep producing more than 8 million kilograms of wool annually with a value exceeding R52 million in 1995. Intact grasslands are arguably our most valuable source of grazing. Pic 2 and 3 Crops and pastures Grasses are the world s most important source of food and have been in cultivation so long that their origins and wild ancestors are obscure. Wheat is one of the most important grain crops worldwide but other Tourism As travellers worldwide become more informed about nature and bird watching continues to grow as the biggest sector of the world s ecotourism market there is great potential to introduce the astute traveller looking for new experiences to our grassland endemics. 4 Large areas of natural grasslands have been transformed into agricultural lands for the production of food and timber Soil and water conservation Grasslands play a vital role in the hydrological cycle in that the vegetation cover protects the soil surface from the impact of rain. It slows down rain drops thereby increasing the amount of water available to infiltrate the soil. If there is no cover the water will simply run off in gushing torrents taking soil with it. With grassland cover however slow running perennial rivers are created. Grasslands constitute the vital water catchments of the country supplying most of the water for domestic use and even for electricity production at the power stations on the Highveld generating about 70% of the country s electricity. and stocking rates may have a detrimental effect on grassland species over and above the severe effect it has on the basic grassland structure and future productivity. Extensive overgrazing leads to the dominance of species such as Aristida junciformis (ngongoni grass) which is unpalatable. In degraded grassland the runoff and hence soil and biodiversity loss is high. Bush encroachment can also result from overgrazing. The reduced grass load does not burn hot enough to kill emerging trees. In order to ensure that the grasslands remain sustainable for optimal grazing it is imperative that stocking rates are kept within an environmentally sustainable level. Stocking rates differ from one area to another and varies with rainfall. Stocking rate guidelines are available but these are not always reliable because of varying local conditions. It is therefore important that each farmer has a monitoring system in place to ensure that the condition of his her farm is not deteriorating. Crafts and shelter The use of grassland vegetation for crafts and shelter was common in the past and is still widespread in rural communities today. Hats belts mats bowls pots and storage containers are made from grassland plants. Of the approximately 20 million rural people in South Africa an estimated 5 million still rely on thatching grass for basic shelter. Burning Fire is a natural and integral part of a grassland and regular burning is important to keep the grassland in a good condition. Grasses are well adapted to frequent fires by having their growing points near one ground. Their survival often depends on fires which also prevents invasion by trees and shrubs. Fire removes old plant material allowing light to penetrate the growing points of grass. Annual burns result in a tendency for dominance by a few grass species eg Themeda triandra (Red Grass) that are adapted to regular burning. Because these grasses are palatable overgrazing will occur which in turn will lead to further loss of biodiversity and erosion control properties. Plant diversity is much lower in grasslands burnt annually than in those burnt every two to three years. However dry sweet veld areas characteristically Medicinal plants Approximately 27 million people use traditional medicines. Most medicines are derived from indigenous plants harvested from the wild. Nearly 20 000 tons of plants are traded annually at a value of R400 million. 30% of these plants are from the grassland biome although only about six are considered grasses. Grassland management Grazing With the increase in the human population livestock numbers have increased dramatically. This is placing huge pressure on our natural grassland resources. Increased livestock numbers 5 Most of the plants in grasslands are in fact not grasses but bulbs shrubs and herbs have vegetation with a slower growth rate and lower fuel load. The grasses also do not lose their nutritive value as they mature and hence these grasslands do better if the burning regime is less frequent than in sourveld areas. It is best to burn sourveld every two or three years. Failure to burn a grassland results in a dominance of plant species that are fire-sensitive. The diversity of the grassland will decline and bush encroachment will often occur. The spread of alien vegetation is prevented Cranes need intact continuous grasslands. For their continued existence landowners should try and limit the fragmentation of grasslands and also implement an ecologically sound burning regime to maintain the vigour and structure of the grassland. The grassland biome provides us with our staple diet maize and other important food crops such as wheat. We must however realise the economic and ecological importance of intact grasslands. Their unique role in the water cycle cannot be replaced by crops or forestry. It is for this reason alone that grasslands need protection. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong we may begin to use it with love and respect . Aldo Leopold A Sand County Almanac What you can do Understand and acknowledge the importance of the grassland biome for our natural heritage as well as for the significant role it plays in our agricultural economics in the form of high potential grazing Understand the importance of these grassland areas for our national bird the Blue Crane and the negative effects on these populations by reducing our grassland biome Observe the Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act 1983 (Act 43 of 1983) and the Environmental Conservation Act 1989 (Act 73 of 1989) Also make sure that The correct livestock stocking rates are maintained to prevent overgrazing You apply for permits for the cultivation of virgin land The loss of remaining grassland on your property is prevented as much as possible Consideration of environmental impacts of all developments is given however small Contacts The National Grassland Initiative Anthea Stevens Bioregional Projects Officer South African National Biodiversity Institute Tel (012) 843 5000 Private Bag X101 Pretoria 0001 www.sanbi.org This brochure series has been developed for farmers and the public to use in conserving the three cranes species and their habitats. For more information about EWT and cranes call (011) 486 1102 or email crane ewt.org.za This folder has been printed on paper manufactured from wood fibre obtained from sustainable forests and which is chlorine-free. Agriculture and cranes 4 of a 9 part brochure series The South African landscape has over the years been changed by human activities such as agriculture mining forestry and industrial and tourism developments. The three species of cranes occurring in South Africa the Blue Wattled and Grey Crowned Crane have had to adapt to this changed environment or possibly face extinction. In most cases the changes have been detrimental but in some cases they have proven to be beneficial. Land uses that can negatively affect cranes are Forestry Certain types of crop farming e.g. potatoes Draining of wetlands Mining Urbanisation Land uses that can benefit cranes Wheat and sheep farming in the Overberg See brochure 5 on Poisonings for more information. Stock farming. Pic 2 Certain forms of crop farming e.g. maize and wheat Grass pastures Threats that cranes encounter in agricultural areas Agrochemicals The first hazard associated with agriculture practices is the use of AGROCHEMICALS. There is no doubt that agrochemicals played a significant role in the decline of the populations of cranes in the past. The current situation has fortunately changed as fewer poison cases are being reported. This is due to the work done by various working groups of the Endangered Wildlife Trust that have lobbied for the production of more environmentally friendly agrochemicals. The threat of agrochemicals will never disappear and continuous work to educate and inform both the suppliers and users is required to ensure that these products do not pose a threat to cranes. 2 Cranes often frequent agricultural lands in which to forage or even nest exposing them to specific agricultural threats Cover Cranes are vulnerable to entanglement with livestock fences 3 Cranes nesting in agricultural lands are vulnerable to potential trampling during harvesting Power lines One of the biggest threats to cranes and other large terrestrial birds is collisions with power lines. Fortunately the ESKOM-EWT Partnership has devised a mitigation measure the bird flapper which reduces the number of collisions at sites where incidents have been recorded. The downside of this problem is that most marking is done reactively which means that a number of cranes have to collide with powerlines before the line is registered as a problem site. Proactive marking projects have been developed so as to identify potentially hazardous sites before collisions occur allowing these powerlines to be proactively marked. Harvesting season In the Western Cape Blue Cranes breed in wheatlands. In this region Blue Cranes begin breeding in the artificial grassland created when the wheat barley is cut into windrows to allow it to dry. But these lands still need to be harvested resulting in the potential for nests to be squashed during this process. Pic 3. Landowners have devised a system to protect nests by marking them before harvesting takes place but they need to be aware that any crane nests left exposed for too long will attract crows or other predators that may eat the eggs. Baling twine See brochure 7 on Power lines for more information. Farm fences Unfortunately very little can be done about this threat. Fencing is an integral part of agricultural management and it is unlikely that an alternative to fencing will be found in the foreseeable future. Fences pose a threat to unfledged cranes trying to climb through the fence they often become entangled as well as to fledged birds they sometimes collide with the fences when taking off and landing. Cover pic Cranes can get entangled in baling twine (used for hay bales) left lying in the field. In severe cases cranes die from starvation while others have their limbs amputated. The solution to this problem is simple do not leave baling twine lying around. Landowners must be aware that this is a significant threat to cranes and that by simply removing the twine a contribution is made to crane conservation. Pic 6 4 Crane chicks can fall into drinking troughs and drown 5 Place stones rocks in troughs to enable crane chicks to climb out Water troughs Crane chicks can fall into drinking troughs and drown. It is easy to prevent this by permanently keeping a rock or branch in the trough so that the chick can climb out. Pic 4 and 5 Fire Burning is an important veld management tool. It could however adversely affect nesting cranes. If possible try not to burn camps that have nesting cranes in them or burn after the crane breeding season. Disturbance This is one of the most difficult threats to measure. Cranes tolerance to disturbance differs not only between species but also between individuals of the same species. Cranes are most sensitive to disturbance during the breeding season which may lead to the loss of breeding effort. However disturbance outside the breeding season can alienate cranes from an area. In the agricultural context disturbance is caused by vehicles humans and dogs. In some cases it may not be possible to avoid disturbance but where possible it See brochure 2 and 3 for more information. As can be seen the threats that agriculture poses to cranes are numerous but are not insurmountable. Some can be solved within a fairly short length of time while some may not be resolved in our lifetime. However the foundations for the solutions have been laid for future generations of environmentally aware citizens to continue with 6 Baling twine often becomes entangled in the crane s legs if left lying in the lands should be kept to a minimum. Nowadays farms are offering accommodation for tourists and use cranes as draw cards especially if they are nesting. While such eco-tourism is good disturbance to the cranes at their nest should be kept to a minimum by not approaching so closely that they become agitated and move off. Repeated visits of this nature may lead either to the nest being abandoned and or the eggs being taken by predators. Be aware of cranes breeding in croplands which require harvesting mark the nests so as to prevent damaging the nests and prevent predation of the eggs during the process Do not leave baling twine in the veld. Please be responsible and collect all excess baling twine Place stones rocks in livestock watering troughs to allow crane chicks to climb out if they fall in while drinking Be aware of cranes breeding in areas that require burning burn appropriately or delay the burn until the cranes have finished breeding Minimise disturbance to nesting cranes Farmers that participate in crane conservation by employing the above mitigation measures are valued by the EWT and acknowledged for their contribution through our Crane Custodian Programme. (See Education and Awareness Project in main brochure) What you can do Use agrochemicals responsibly Contact the Wildlife Conflict Prevention Group on (011) 486 1151 (office hours) or the Nashua Wildlife Poisoning Helpline on 082 446 8946 for advice on the responsible use of agrochemicals Report all crane and wildlife interactions with powerlines to the Eskom EWT Partnership on 0860 111 535 or email megand ewt.org.za Regularly check your farm fences in the vicinity of crane breeding sites during the breeding season This brochure series has been developed for farmers and the public to use in conserving the three cranes species and their habitats. For more information about EWT and cranes call (011) 486 1102 or email crane ewt.org.za This folder has been printed on paper manufactured from wood fibre obtained from sustainable forests and which is chlorine-free. Poisonings of cranes and wildlife 5 of a 9 part brochure series Farmers are increasingly aware of how privileged they are to have cranes on their farms as cranes are among the world s most graceful yet threatened groups of birds. Having to depend on the agricultural landscape due to less and less of their habitat remaining cranes often come into contact with agrochemicals. This often results in poisoning incidents. Our national bird the Blue Crane is a prime example of this because the use of agrochemicals is considered one of the reasons for the declining population. Fortunately horrifying news headlines portraying mass crane poisonings are rare now thanks to a great team effort by farming communities crane conservationists agrochemical companies the Endangered Wildlife Trust s Poison Working Group sponsors as well as other interested and concerned people. Unfortunately crane poisonings still occur and addressing this threat is an ongoing task. Cover pic no one word answer to this and it is never advisable to generalise because different chemicals have different effects on each species individuals within a species and the environment. It is also often forgotten that chemicals can be absorbed not only by ingestion but also through the lungs and the skin. Depending on the circumstances cranes or humans for that matter could be poisoned just by skin contact when walking through a newly sprayed field or by inhalation after aerial application. Why do crane poisonings occur The main reasons include Deliberate misuse of products to kill wildlife for food Incorrect agrochemical application methods Using products for applications other than what they are registered for Ignorance Other wildlife poisonings Certain game and waterfowl can be harvested in a sustainable manner using the correct capture method (i.e. cages shooting) adhering to the nature conservation ordinances and by obtaining the landowner s permission. Cranes and poisoning Farmers often ask How are the cranes affected when they eat insects or grain treated with an agrochemical There is 2 In the past Blue Cranes have been killed through both deliberate and accidental poisoning Cover Several Grey Crowned Cranes accidentally poisoned by an organophosphate Guinea fowl or Egyptian Geese are examples of the most commonly targeted species for food purposes. However the use of poison to kill wildlife for food is widely used with severely detrimental effects to both people and wildlife. Most commonly grain or any other bait is soaked in a pesticide and laid out on the ground in areas where the birds forage or roost. Pic 4 The consequences of eating poisoned meat (These vary according to the type of agrochemical used.) With acute poisoning there is an immediate onset of symptoms often followed by death if left untreated. Symptoms such of poisoning include Nausea vomiting frothing salivation Muscular weakness paralysis and tremors or convulsions This practice is ILLEGAL Guilty parties can face a fine of up to R40 000.00 or 6 years in jail under the Fertilisers Farm Feeds Agricultural Remedies and Stock Remedies Act 1947 (Act 36 of 1947) as well as face charges under the Nature Conservation Ordinances UNSUSTAINABLE An entire flock of birds is often killed instantly leaving no breeding adults to rebuild the numbers for future utilisation. Pic 2 NON-TARGET SPECIFIC Ingestion of the poisoned bait or carcasses may result in secondary poisoning. Livestock people and wildlife can then get killed unnecessarily DETRIMENTAL TO HUMAN HEALTH Cooking or removing the crop or stomach before eating the meat of poisoned birds does not get rid of the pesticide. The flesh still contains poison which is absorbed when eaten. The human body may accumulate certain pesticides that may have long-term detrimental effects on people Blurred vision widening and narrowing of pupils Loss of respiratory function coma heart failure With chronic poisoning the effect is delayed. When poisoned meat is eaten regularly over extended periods of time the poison accumulates in the body especially in the liver kidneys spleen eyes lungs and nervous systems. This results in long-term ill health and diseases such as organ failure Parkinson s disease respiratory problems infertility cataracts cancer and death. NB Seek medical or veterinary assistance immediately if poisoning is suspected. Know your agrochemicals Agrochemicals are an essential part of most agricultural practices and with a little effort and knowledge they can be applied with minimal detriment to the whole environment including the cranes. In preventing wildlife poisonings it is vital that every person ever using agrochemicals has a basic understanding of such products. When looking at the broad 3 There is a wide variety of pesticides available know the application of each and store correctly spectrum of agrochemicals it is most often the pesticides rather than the herbicide or fungicide groups that result in avian poisonings. Within the pesticide class organophosphates primarily then carbomates are responsible for most crane mortalities. Modern compounds such as the pyrethroid group tend to be more target specific which means they are specifically made to control a particular pest in a certain situation. Thus when used correctly these products pose a minimal threat to the cranes. Other products that are a major threat to cranes are those containing diazinon as an active ingredient. Diazinon (trade name is Dazzle) is found in certain animal dips is detrimental to wildlife and not environmentally compatible. Most often if diazinon is indicated as the cause of wildlife poisoning it is not accidental but intentional as the chances of cranes accidentally coming into contact with a dip is minimal. Culprits scatter diazinon soaked grain to attract birds and other wildlife. The dead animals are later collected and either consumed by the culprit or the meat is sold to unsuspecting customers. The only other way cranes will come into contact with diazinon is if they eat maggots in wool clippings that have been treated with diazinon. Cranes are also susceptible to poisoning from lead shot and urea but not much is known about the extent of these incidents in South Africa. More about agrochemicals Agrochemicals are target specific which means they are specifically made to kill a particular pest in a specific situation. Pic 3 It is illegal to use agrochemicals for a purpose other than that stated on the label An agrochemical must be registered with the government and can be identified by the L or G number e.g. G723 that must be indicated on the container Nowadays the chemical class to which the active ingredient belongs is often indicated on the label and potential threats of the product to wildlife are also noted Each agrochemical reacts differently to the environment Once one understands the basic principles of safe and responsible handling of these products the chances of wildlife poisonings will be minimal 4 Mealie kernels are soaked in poison and scattered near crane roosting sites What you can do Read the label on all agrochemicals before use Do not eat poisoned meat or buy meat from unknown sources Ensure that all agrochemicals are stored under lock and key so as to prevent the illegal use of the chemicals Protect yourself when using these products. It is your responsibility to do so Protect our wildlife and community from poisonings by practising the above safe and responsible use of agrochemicals To minimise crane mortalities due to poisonings people have to gain a respect for agrochemicals and their own health. Once one understands the basic principles of safe and responsible handling of these products the chances of wildlife poisonings will be minimal. Contacts For information on wildlife crane poisoning the effects of agrochemicals on the environment advice on problem animal and pest control contact the Wildlife Conflict Prevention Group on (011) 486 1102 (office hours) or the Nashua Mobile Pesticides Help line on 082 802 6223 For information on the safe and responsible use of agrochemicals and procedures or training contact the Wildlife Conflict Prevention Group on (011) 486 1102 For information on human poisonings contact Tygerberg Poison Info Centre National 24 hour emergency help line (021) 931 6129 Unitas Hospital National 24 hour emergency help line on 0800 111 9900 This brochure series has been developed for farmers and the public to use in conserving the three cranes species and their habitats. For more information about EWT and cranes call (011) 486 1102 or email crane ewt.org.za This folder has been printed on paper manufactured from wood fibre obtained from sustainable forests and which is chlorine-free. Crop Damage by cranes 6 of a 9 part brochure series The crane conservationist not only has to contend with the negative impact of agriculture on cranes but also the negative impact cranes can have on agriculture. The damage caused to crops by cranes can constitute an actual or perceived economic loss to agriculture. Birds damage small grain crops resulting in conflict between farmers and the birds. Cranes have been shot and poisoned in the past when found to be eating crop seedlings. They have often been viewed as a pest along with crows and other wildlife. As the pressure on farming to be more profitable increases even minor crop losses caused by birds could become a serious problem. Finding new crane friendly solutions to prevent crop damage is therefore a priority. What damage is done Cranes often frequent newly planted cereal crops particularly maize pulling out the newly sprouting seedlings to forage on the nutritious kernel Vegetable crops are often trampled by cranes e.g. cabbage plants. Pic 2 When does crop damage occur In general crop damage by cranes only takes place when A large flock of cranes not less than 50 cranes is present as damage by one or two birds is seldomly significant A crop is seen as an easy readily available source of food by the cranes The crop is reasonably close to the flocks roost sites and water It is winter and there is very often little other food available. Cover pic Cover Grey Crowned Cranes frequently forage in agricultural lands at certain times of the year potentially causing damage to crops 2 Cranes often forage in cabbage fields feeding on the nutritious heart of the vegetable 3 Large flocks of Blue Crane congregate around sheep feed troughs in the Western Cape Cranes forage in large numbers at sheep and ostrich feed troughs often excluding the livestock from the feed. Pic 3 Large flocks of cranes foraging for insects in lucerne fields may trample the pasture preventing the landowner from baling it It is not always cranes 1. Realise that the crop damage does not carry on forever as the cranes are normally only in the area for a few weeks. 2. Make sure you know that it is the cranes that are doing the damage. Cranes seen in lands are not necessarily eating the crop. In many cases the cranes are beneficial to the farmer by eating insects old seeds and weeds such as nutsedge or uintjies. This is why they are often seen in newly ploughed lands prior to planting. 3. Other factors that cause crop damage include cutworm black maize beetle poor germination variable soils Egyptian and Spurwing Geese and Crows. 4. Put the damage in perspective by estimating what percentage the damage makes up of your entire crop not just that particular land. Solutions for crop damage There are various methods employed to control crop damage by focusing either on the crops or on the cranes themselves. Control efforts may be more complicated with more smaller subsistence farms where damage will have a greater impact on each farmer. Once you have determined that it is the cranes that are damaging the crop you need to apply an effective solution before the damage gets too great and before the birds establish a feeding pattern as they will then become more difficult to deter. The four methods for reducing crop damage are 1. Chemical methods Several substances serve as bird repellents when added to the seed. Research has been done around the world on a variety of bird species and the results are that methiocarb and thiram are effective non-lethal repellants that can reduce crop damage. Anthraquinone has also shown promise as a detterent. Anthraquinone is less toxic than thiram and methiocarb and so should be favoured. The downside of using these substances is that they require an adhesive (which requires some research) and their use would add to the planting costs of the crop. 4 Chevron tape may be placed in small fields to scare cranes 2. Lure crops This involves planting a suitable crop that will not be used for harvesting in order to attract the birds away from the commercial crops. In most of the international examples they are generally paid for by governmental wildlife departments particularly where protected species are concerned. 3. Compensation Compensation to landowners for damage is generally very expensive and often leads to fraudulent claims. In addition it is almost impossible to prove which bird species present (e.g. cranes or Egyptian Geese) caused the damage. It also does not address the root of the problem. 4. Scare techniques A host of scare techniques have been invented for scaring birds from crop lands. These include gas cannons scarecrows revolving scarecrows inflated scarecrows mirrors predator simulating kites and taped vocal screeches. Most of these are very effective but are not permanent solutions as birds gradually become accustomed to them. Since most of them have been developed in the UK and the US they are relatively expensive in this country. 4.1. Human scarecrows Possibly the most effective method of deterring birds from croplands is the use of human scarecrows people in the fields physically chasing the birds out of the lands. Obviously as the volume of a particular vulnerable crop on a farm increases this becomes less practical because the individuals have to cover too great an area. 4.2. The chevron tape method This involves tying two to three metre strips of red and white chevron tape to droppers and pegging these throughout the land. The plastic is light enough to be blown by the slightest breeze and also makes a rustling sound. On average 10 of these streamers are used per hectare of crop and this takes 15 to 25 minutes per hectare to set up. On smaller lands the streamers are put closer together since the more streamers there are the more effective they are. The method does become impractical on large lands of 25 ha or more unless more than one person is available to set it up. Although the birds become accustomed to the streamers it can take at least two weeks before they venture back into the land. For maize crops this is generally 5 Gas cannons have proven to be highly effective in scaring cranes out of agricultural lands thereby reducing potential crop damage long enough to cover the vulnerable period. Factors affecting the effectiveness of the method are the concentration of the streamers and the degree of wind. This method has also been used very successfully in the Free State to deter geese in lucerne lands. Pic 4 4.3. Gas cannons The gas cannon is probably the most effective deterrent. The gas cannon consists of two separate cannons that fire independently. The intervals between explosions is determined by the speed of the gas flow into each cannon so by setting this gas flow the intervals can be set differently thereby introducing a degree of variability. It is effective over large areas and birds are scared off from lands at far distances from the cannon. It also does not need to be used for long periods as the birds are frightened away immediately and then may return in the late afternoon again. Switching the cannon on in the early morning and again in the late afternoon is sufficient. Apart from the capital cost it appears to be relatively cheap if used intermittently as it does not use much gas. Pic 5 At present there is no quick fix solution to prevent cranes from damaging crops. The most important thing to do is to ascertain whether cranes are in fact causing the damage and what the extent is. As situations will differ from farm to farm the solutions will also differ. It is best to experiment with the different suggested methods. Most have proven to be cost effective solutions and will most certainly prove to be cheaper than poisoning or shooting both of which are illegal. Contact Contact the crane field coordinator in your region or the EWT head office for further assistance should you experience crop damage. This brochure series has been developed for farmers and the public to use in conserving the three cranes species and their habitats. For more information about EWT and cranes call (011) 486 1102 or email crane ewt.org.za This folder has been printed on paper manufactured from wood fibre obtained from sustainable forests and which is chlorine-free. Powerlines and cranes 7 of a 9 part brochure series Bird collisions with earth wires and electrocutions on pylons have become more prolific with the increased demand for electricity. Access to affordable electricity in South Africa is now regarded as a fundamental human right and so enormous pressure is being placed on electricity suppliers to provide energy at the lowest cost to as much of our population as possible. The greatest challenge to Eskom Southern Africa s largest electricity supplier is to find a balance between the interests of industry the demands of residential electrification and acting as a responsible steward of our natural resources. Pic 2 Collisions and electrocutions often involve bird species that have already low population numbers so this is rapidly pushing these species toward a threatened status or even extinction. Cover pic Bird collisions causing death or injury take place when the bird fails to see the conductor and or earthwire while in flight and collides with it. Data gathered over the past decade is proving that collisions are as much a major cause of unnatural Bird electrocutions occur when a bird is perched on electrical infrastructure. This can cause an electrical short circuit by physically bridging the air gap between live components and or live and earthed components. Among the cranes only the Grey Crowned Crane is vulnerable to electrocutions because only they have the ability to perch on structures including transformer poles that expose them to live components. Electrocutions and collisions Many different types of interactions take place between birds and power line infrastructure the most significant being electrocutions on and collisions with power lines. 2 Thousands of kilometres of power line cross the agricultural landscape to supply electricity to people throughout the region Cover Grey Crowned Crane collides with and is entangled by a utility line 3 Here an adult Blue Crane flew into a distribution powerline mortality for several threatened species as electrocution is. Up to 1996 the latter was thought to be the main cause. Species vulnerable to power line collisions are the slower and less agile birds. These species have a high wing loading (ratio of body weight to wing area) which makes it difficult for them to change course in time when encountering a power line hence the collision becomes unavoidable. Pic 3 electricity supply causes single-phase pumps supplying water to dams and livestock to trip which in turn have to be started manually. Furthermore birds and birding have a substantial local regional and international economic value. The worth of South Africa s birds is presently estimated at about R1.64 billion to R3.48 billion with each bird species being worth between R2.2 million and 4.7 million. Species vulnerable to this threat include all three species of cranes as well as storks bustards and many other large terrestrial bird species. Business risk Bird power line interactions may have serious economic impacts on organisations. e.g system reliability. Nearly all industry sectors are computerised and even with automatic reconnection a flash or dip caused by an electrocuted animal can be destructive to the industry. This can be extremely annoying to customers especially in the agricultural sector since even a flash in the Hence reducing negative interactions between birds and power lines through implementing mitigation measures has benefits for both the electrical industry and society as a whole 4 & 5 Devices termed Bird flight diverters are fitted to overhead power lines to make them more visible to birds thereby reducing the collision risk. Solutions Collisions When powerlines are to be erected the most important aspect is the initial route placement. Avoid routing the power line adjacent to wetlands and farm dams that are bird roost sites or across rivers waterways or valleys. This will decrease the collision hazard significantly. Use the surrounding topography to the advantage of the route planning by using natural obstacles to increase the height at which birds fly thereby assisting the birds to avoid the powerlines. For existing power lines the most accepted method of reducing the collision threat is to mark the power line conductors or earth wires with devices called bird flight diverters . This increases the visibility of the power line for the birds from a distance. Pic 4 and 5 they entail insulating live components cutting the earth wire of 11 22 kV T-structure powerlines or preventing birds perching close to live components through the use of bird guards. As a proactive measure Eskom should be encouraged to build bird-friendly power lines to prevent the interaction from the start. The Eskom-EWT Partnership Eskom is very aware of these problems and is dedicated to reducing these adverse interactions. Eskom has been working with the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) in an attempt to solve bird power line interaction problems since the 1970s. In 1996 the Eskom-EWT Strategic Partnership was formed as a joint venture aimed at solving the problem of negative interactions between birds and powerlines in a systematic manner. One of the main pillars on which this partnership is based Electrocutions Methods of preventing electrocutions are very different for each configuration of powerline structure but in principle is public participation. Bird interactions can only be managed effectively if they are properly reported and investigated. Public liability claims and unwanted negative 6 All incidents reported to the Eskom-EWT Partnership are investigated to determine the cause of the incident and to recommend mitigation action publicity against Eskom around bird mortalities from power lines can be prevented if incidents are timeously investigated and mitigation measures implemented. Pic 6 Contact For more information regarding this issue or to report wildlife killed by power lines please contact the Eskom-EWT Partnership on 0860 111 535 What you can do The public specifically the farming community is urged to contribute to the conservation of our threatened birds by regularly inspecting power lines running across their property and reporting any birds killed by and found under the power lines to the EWT at the number below. or email weig ewt.org.za This brochure series has been developed for farmers and the public to use in conserving the three cranes species and their habitats. For more information about EWT and cranes call (011) 486 1102 or email crane ewt.org.za This folder has been printed on paper manufactured from wood fibre obtained from sustainable forests and which is chlorine-free. Crane Ringing 8 of a 9 part brochure series What is the purpose of a crane colourringing programme The Blue Grey-Crowned and Wattled Cranes all exhibit some degree of nomadic and migratory movement within South Africa. These movements however are not well known or understood. Colour-ringing and the subsequent observation of these marked birds are cost-effective methods to monitor these movements and determine movement patterns. All colour-rings are placed above the knee (the anatomical ankle) of the crane. See diagram A tall 7 cm colour-ring is placed on one leg (if one leg is preferred for this ring it should be stated here but if either leg can be used then don t worry) identifying the area where the bird was hatched. Blue green orange white yellow and red are the colours used for this A unique colour combination of short 2.5 or 3.5 cm colour-rings is placed on the other leg enabling identification of individual birds from a distance. Cover pic How are cranes ringed Crane chicks are ringed just before they can fly Tall 7 cm colour-ring to be placed above the knee on the one leg Left leg Right leg Combination of short 2.5 or 3.5 cm colour-rings to be placed above the knee on the other leg SAFRING on same leg as the tall 7 cm colour ring above the foot 2 Crane ringing kit used to ring Grey-Crowned cranes Cover Every ringed crane has a unique colour code 3 A Blue Crane chick ready for release after being ringed A metal SAFRING (South African Bird Ringing Unit) ring is placed above the foot of the crane on the same leg as the 7 cm colour ring. This ring has a unique identification number which can only be read when the bird has been captured or has died Colour-ring combination on each leg e.g. short red over blue on left leg and tall blue on right leg Please note the legs of the crane are taken as if you are the crane its right leg is the right leg in the colour combination Date Time Location district farm name and GPS coordinates if possible Habitat and land use practices Behaviour roosting feeding nesting flocking Flock size Contact details of observer Please note that the SAFRING ring is usually not visible in the field but check for metal rings on injured or dead birds. What information can be obtained from a resighting The KwaZulu-Natal region by the color of the large ring Specific location of hatching Age of crane Movement distance and direction over time Mortality rates How can landowners and bird clubs help in the programme The areas over which cranes range or move are vast. The more observers there are out in the field the better. More observers also increase the chance of resighting colourringed birds. EVERY resighting is an invaluable record adding to our knowledge of crane movements and aspects of breeding biology (e.g. age at first attempted breeding). Please forward any resightings or rings from dead birds to SAFRING (South African Bird Ringing Unit) Avian Demography Unit University of Cape Town Rondebosch 7701 Tel (021) 650 2421 Fax (021) 650 3434 Email safring adu.uct.ac.za or contact the EWT on details provided below What to report when seeing colour-ringed cranes Crane species This brochure series has been developed for farmers and the public to use in conserving the three cranes species and their habitats. For more information about EWT and cranes call (011) 486 1102 or email crane ewt.org.za This folder has been printed on paper manufactured from wood fibre obtained from sustainable forests and which is chlorine-free. KwaZulu-Natal Crane Foundation 9 of a 9 part brochure series The KwaZulu-Natal Crane Foundation (KZNCF) is committed to promoting the conservation of southern Africa s three crane species and the preservation of their wetland and grassland habitats. Aims of the KwaZulu-Natal Crane Foundation partnerships between provincial conservation To foster and encourage the awareness of and interest in cranes and their habitat through Developing effective collaborative partnerships Working with organisations and venues that can further education Producing resource materials that can be used for crane education Assisting with displays and interpretive materials at exhibitions put on by other organisations To provide facilities for the study and enjoyment of Optimising the current use of the KZNCF venue Promoting and implementing crane and crane habitat research and monitoring cranes and their natural habitat through the development of the USHER Conservation Centre and the Bill Barnes Crane and Oribi Sanctuary agencies birders other NGOs governmental departments (agricultural extension offices regional education offices) tourism initiatives and municipalities involvement in Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) through comments and liaison with DEAT DEAE Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and developers of all kinds that are impacting on crane habitat including private consultants Promoting wise habitat management and restoration through close liaison with all farmers and other landowners to establish good relations toward long-term crane and habitat survival the Crane Custodian Programme KwaZulu-Natal Crane Foundation 2 The landscape of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands a myriad of grassland and agricultural transformation Cover KwaZulu-Natal Midlands is the stronghold for the Wattled Crane To promote facilitate and implement population management strategies of captive and wild cranes Reserve. An ongoing wetland rehabilitation programme there is proving successful and wild cranes are making it their home. The KZNCF focus in the 1990s was Wattled Crane breeding and release but this has progressed to a focus on fieldwork research education and awareness. A fieldworker is employed to cover all crane areas in the province and is based in the Midlands at the Usher Conservation centre Nottingham Road. The KZNCF headquarters moved from Hlatikulu to Nottingham Road in 2001 where the development of the Usher Conservation Centre and the Bill Barnes Crane and Oribi Sanctuary is another success story for the Foundation. Here the public may view cranes and oribi in captivity as well as in the wild learn more about both species their similar needs and the increasing threats they face as endangered species. School groups teachers and other groups will be the target audience of an environmental education programme based on biodiversity education and conservation. Thanks to numerous donations from the general public and the Lady Nora Usher Memorial Trust Mondi Forests and friends the KZNCF is able to work towards its aims and objectives. A brief history Cranes are ambassadors for two of the most vital ecosystems in South Africa grasslands and wetlands that make up our water catchment areas. All South Africans are as dependent upon the good management of these biodiversity hotspots as the cranes that inhabit them. South Africa is world-renowned for its rich biodiversity and the KwaZulu-Natal Crane Foundation is one of the groups answering the call to increase public awareness about cranes and to conserve these special species and their habitats. It all started in 1989 with the support of the International Crane Foundation in the United States the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa and BirdLife-SA. Today partners also include Mondi Forests and the Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife (Nature Conservation Services). Working closely with Crane conservation of the Endangered Wildlife Trust the KZNCF was initially based at the 186 ha Hlatikulu Crane and Wetland Sanctuary in the foothills of the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg near Giants Castle Nature 3 Monitoring Wattled Crane nests for collection of the second egg for the Wattled Crane Recovery Programme Where do our cranes occur KwaZulu-Natal Midlands and North The landscape is rapidly changing from mainly rolling grasslands and pristine wetlands to intense agriculture and eco-tourism developments. Pic 2 Such rapid transformation of natural habitats which are biodiversity hotspots is proving critical for the cranes. Due to economic issues some areas are being converted to game farms while others are being used to grow commercial timber The area is the stronghold of the critically endangered Wattled Crane of which only 234 remain in South Africa (Pic 3) nearly 90% of them in KwaZulu-Natal. Grey Crowned Cranes still inhabit the farmlands and Blue Cranes are becoming increasingly scarce KwaZulu-Natal South and uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Here the landscape is also changing rapidly from rolling grasslands and pristine wetlands to increased agriculture and eco-tourism developments. Pic 4 Transformation of natural habitats unsettles the wild species including cranes and could be their downfall. Environmental education and awareness is the focus in this area including the importance of the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg World Heritage Site as a refuge for biodiversity and cultural heritage The area is home to the only Wattled Crane flock in the country and numerous Grey Crowned Cranes inhabit the region. A Blue Crane flock in the Cedarville Flats is probably the last of its kind in this particular area. 4 The grasslands of KwaZulu-Natal are no more lost to agricultural expansion To become a member please contact The KwaZulu-Natal Crane Foundation on 033 263 1508 Contact details KwaZulu-Natal Crane Foundation Registered Non-profit Organisation 002-553 NPO www.kzncrane.co.za Henry Davies PO Box 487 Hilton 3245 Tel 033 263 1508 Email henry kzncrane.co.za This brochure series has been developed for farmers and the public to use in conserving the three cranes species and their habitats. For more information about EWT and cranes call (011) 486 1102 or email crane ewt.org.za This folder has been printed on paper manufactured from wood fibre obtained from sustainable forests and which is chlorine-free. Thank you to the following sponsors who have made crane and crane habitat conservation in South Africa possible Agricol Amarula Cream Dohmen Family Foundation M-print Millstream SA Hunters Association Molopo Branch Senqu Clothing This brochure is sponsored by Printing Lufthansa Design and production Studio Five This brochure has been printed on paper manufactured from wood fibre obtained from sustainable forests and which is chlorine-free. 9518