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The Cranes

Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan

Wattled Crane

(Bugeranus carunculatus)

by

Ann Burke


JPG-Wattled Cranes

Subjects:
Summary
Subspecies/populations
Population Numbers and Trends
Conservation Status
Historic and Present Distribution
Distribution by Country
Habitat and Ecology
Principal Threats
Current Conservation Measures
Priority Conservation Measures

Summary

The Wattled Crane is the largest and rarest of the six crane species that occur in Africa. There are no subspecies. Three main populations are recognized. Most are found in south-central Africa. Smaller populations are found in Ethiopia and South Africa. Over the last several decades, the species has been declining over much of its range. The total population estimate of 13,000-15,000 has remained constant over the last decade, but this is due largely to the discovery of some 2500 birds in Mozambique in the early 1990s. Historically, the species was more abundant and more widely distributed across southern Africa than at present, with the greatest losses occurring in South Africa. The species is classified as Endangered under the revised IUCN Red List Categories. The South Africa population is Critically Endangered.

The Wattled Crane is the most wetland-dependent of Africa’s cranes. The extensive riparian wetlands of southern Africa’s large river basins (especially the Zambezi and Okavango) are their preferred habitat, but they also use smaller upland wetlands throughout their range. The Ethiopian birds may make greater use of drier habitats during the non-breeding season. Nesting pairs establish large (often >1 km2) territories, generally in shallow wetlands with minimal human disturbance. Their diet consists primarily of aquatic vegetation, but also includes seeds, insects, and waste grain in drier habitats. Wattled Cranes are non-migratory, but do undertake irregular local movements in response to water availability.

Loss and degradation of wetland habitats constitute the most important threats to the species. The decline of the species in South Africa is due mainly to the loss of wetlands to intensified agriculture, dam construction, industrialization, and other pressures. In other portions of the range, dams and other water development schemes have caused fundamental changes in the species’ floodplain habitats. Human disturbance at or near breeding sites is also a major threat. Breeding success can be hindered by the establishment of human settlements too close to wetlands and by indiscriminate resource use within the wetlands. Because Wattled Cranes occasionally forage on agricultural fields alongside Blue and Grey Crowned Cranes, they are also vulnerable to poisoning.

Conservation measures have been undertaken most extensively in South Africa, but are increasing in other range countries. These measures include: strict legal protection in South Africa and other range countries; establishment of protected areas in several of the key wetlands used by the species, especially in Zambia, Namibia, and Botswana; identification and communication of appropriate habitat conservation practices for farmers and other private landholders; marking and relocation of utility lines; expanded counts and surveys (especially since the early 1980s); expanded research, especially in South Africa, Zambia, and Namibia; establishment, in 1982, of a Wattled Crane Steering Group in South Africa; and development (mainly by non-governmental organizations) of education and public awareness programs. A limited release program for the species has been initiated in South Africa.

Priority conservation measures for the species include: transfer of the species to CITES Appendix I; enforcement of existing legislation protecting cranes; strengthening of key protected areas, especially in the Bangweulu Swamps and Kafue Flats in Zambia; surveys to identify additional areas of critical habitat for designation as protected areas; assessment of large-scale habitat threats (mainly from water development schemes) in the Kafue Flats, Okavango Delta, Makgadikgadi Pans, and Zambezi Delta; development of a coordinated protection program for the protection of breeding habitat on privately owned farmland; organization of a range-wide census; expanded field research outside of the South African portion of the range; organization of local Wattled Crane counts; and development of education programs aimed at farmers and other private landowners, farm laborers, and students.

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Subspecies/populations

No subspecies. Three main populations are recognized. All but a few hundred birds occur in south-central Africa (Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Zaire, Zambia, and Zimbabwe). A small isolated northern population is found in the highlands of Ethiopia. South Africa’s population of several hundred birds is isolated from those further north. At present no genetic analysis has been undertaken to determine the degrees of divergence among these populations. The Ethiopian population may be distinct. The more southern populations include both cold upland residents and semi-nomadic lowland birds, but further research is needed to ascertain whether these differences are taxonomically significant (D. Johnson pers. comm.).

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Population Numbers and Trends

Population Number Trend Source
Ethiopia several hundred     Unknown Y. Dellelegn pers. comm.,
Yohannes in press
South-central Africa     13,000-15,000 Declining     Urban in press
South Africa approx. 250 Declining McCann and Wilkins 1995,
D. Johnson pers. comm.,
Urban in press
Total 13,000-15,000 Declining

The population of Wattled Cranes has declined over the last decade, although more thorough field surveys have allowed estimates of the total population to remain constant. In Mozambique, population estimates have increased considerably due to the discovery of some 2500 birds in the Zambezi Delta in the early 1990s (Goodman 1992). In Zambia, the population has fallen from an estimated 11,000 in 1985 to 7,000-8,000 in 1994 (T. Dodman pers. comm., Urban in press).

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Conservation Status

Species
IUCN category     Endangered, under criteria
A1b,c,d,e   A2c,d,e
CITES Appendix II
    
Population IUCN Category
Ethiopia Endangered, under criterion
D
South-central Africa     Endangered, under criteria
A2c
South Africa Critically Endangered, under criterion
D

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Historic and Present Distribution

GIF-Distribution Map

The Wattled Crane is found in Ethiopia and south-central Africa. More than 1000 km separate those in the Ethiopian population from those further south. The species is most abundant in southern Zambia, Mozambique, and Botswana. The largest recorded concentration—more than 2500—was reported in the Zambezi Delta in Mozambique (Goodman 1992; see also McCann and Wilkins 1995). A recent survey of the Marromeu Complex in the delta suggested that substantially fewer birds are breeding in the area (Beilfuss 1995). Smaller (<500) scattered populations occur in southern Zaire, western and southwestern Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa, northern Namibia, and southern Angola (Urban and Gichuki 1988, Urban in press). Wattled Cranes are non-migratory, but exhibit irregular nomadism in response to water availability.

Historically, the Wattled Crane was more numerous than at present and distributed more widely across southern Africa. In southern Africa the species formerly ranged from southern Tanzania to the southwestern Cape Province1 (West 1976, 1977; Vernon and Boshoff 1986, 1987; Brooke and Vernon 1988). The greatest changes in the historic range have occurred in South Africa. The species formerly occurred in all four former South African provinces, and was widespread from the Eastern Cape to as far south as Somerset West and Caledon in the Western Cape. Prior to European settlement, disturbance by cattle herders and food gatherers may have contributed to the local extirpation of the species from apparently suitable habitat in what is now Cape Province (Brooke and Vernon 1988). Brooke and Vernon (1988) conclude that before 1800 the Wattled Crane occurred throughout Orange Free State and Lesotho, and that these birds were connected to populations in northeastern Cape Province, Transkei, Natal, and eastern Transvaal.

After European settlement, accelerated habitat destruction and human disturbance led to the species’ demise in western Cape Province, eastern Cape Province and Transkei, and northern Cape Province and Orange Free State. In South Africa, Wattled Cranes now occur only in Natal and Transvaal, although occasional breeding pairs have been reported in Cape Province (Vernon and Boshoff 1986) and Transkei (Allan 1994). The Wattled Crane has also been extirpated from Swaziland (West 1976, Konrad 1981).

1See note 1 in the Grey Crowned Crane species account regarding the political realignment of the South African provinces.

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Distribution by Country

Angola r
Botswana R
Ethiopia r
Malawi r
Mozambique     R
Namibia r
South Africa r
Swaziland X
Tanzania r
Zaire r
Zambia R
Zimbabwe r
    
R = Resident (populations > 1000)
r = Resident (populations < 1000)
X = Extirpated

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Habitat and Ecology

JPG-Pair at nest, Steenskampsburg, South Africa

The Wattled Crane is the most aquatic of Africa’s cranes. Extensive sedge/grass wetlands in riparian floodplains are their preferred feeding and nesting habitat, but they also rely on smaller wetlands throughout their range (Konrad 1981). Large wetlands along major river systems that are extremely important to the Wattled Crane include: the Kafue Flats, Bangweulu Swamp, Busanga Flats, Liuwa Flats, Lukanga Swamp, and Sioma-ngwezi Plain in the Zambezi basin in Zambia; the Mweru Wantipa area, upper Chambeshi basin, Luangwa Valley, and Nyika Plateau, also in Zambia; the Okavango Delta and Makgadikgadi Pans in Botswana; and the Marromeu Complex in Mozambique’s Zambezi Delta.

In South Africa, Malawi, and parts of Zimbabwe, Wattled Cranes are year-round residents of small permanent highland marshes. Ephemeral and seasonal wetlands may be used opportunistically by breeding pairs or serve as important post-breeding dispersal areas. The Ethiopian population is somewhat less dependent on wetlands (except during the breeding season), using montane grasslands, wet meadows, savannahs, small lakes, streams, and marshes, as well as riparian areas in the Rift valley (Yohannes in press, Newton et al. in press). During the dry (non-breeding) season, the Ethiopian birds may migrate locally to drier, lower elevation habitats, including plowed fields (J. Hillman pers. comm.).

The majority of Wattled Cranes nests in the floodplains of Zambia, Botswana, and Mozambique at the peak of the floods (August and September), when the risk of nest drowning is lowest. Chicks are reared in the shallows as the water recedes. Wattled Cranes that nest in smaller and more widely scattered wetlands in southern Africa usually breed in July and August, when conditions are drier and colder. Chicks are fledged in the rainy season (November-February), during which time the Grey Crowned Cranes nest in the same areas (Walkinshaw 1964). The Ethiopian population’s breeding season begins in May or June, as the high altitude wet season begins (Hillman 1993). Changes in photoperiod may also influence the timing of breeding in the species (G. Archibald pers. obs.).

The Wattled Crane’s diet is composed primarily of aquatic vegetation, including the tubers and rhizomes of submerged sedges (Cyperus and Eleocharis spp.) and water lilies (Nymphaea spp.) (Douthwaite 1974). Wattled Cranes also forage for grain, grass seeds, and insects in drier upland habitats and utilize agricultural fields when convenient. In Ethiopia’s Bale Mountains, the population’s main breeding area, Wattled Cranes take advantage of beetle larvae and other invertebrates that occur in the spoil heaps created by the giant molerat (J. Hillman pers. comm.).

Nesting pairs generally require wetlands with minimal human disturbance. Pairs are strongly territorial and may defend territories >1 km2 in size (Konrad 1981). These territories are highly specialized, comprising shallow wetlands with predominantly sedge-based vegetation. Nests are typically built in open grass and sedge marshes bordered by drier flat to sloping grassland meadows, with medium-height vegetation, and water up to 1 meter in depth (Johnsgard 1983). There have been several accounts of Wattled Crane using artificially constructed impoundments (usually dams built across vleis) in South Africa (Filmer and Holtshausen 1992). West (1976) notes that the Wattled Crane population is limited by the availability of suitable habitat, the scarcity of acceptable nest sites in shallow water, and the territorial requirements of breeding pairs.

The Wattled Crane’s reproductive rate is low. The average clutch size is lowest of any of the cranes (Johnsgard 1983). Pairs usually produce just one egg per clutch. Occasionally two eggs are laid, but only one chick is reared. The incubation period (usually 33-36 days) is the longest of any crane. Chicks do not fledge until at least 90-130 days of age. This is the longest fledging period of any crane, and render the young particularly vulnerable to predation by people and animals.

In many parts of the range, Wattled Cranes exhibit irregular nomadism, apparently in response to water availability. Birds using perennial rivers and associated seasonal wetlands tend to be more nomadic than those inhabiting permanent wetlands. The degree of movement between countries is unknown. At certain times of the year, Wattled Cranes leave the Kafue Flats for unknown destinations. They are believed to join the resident Wattled Cranes of the Okavango Delta and Makgadikgadi Pans in Botswana (Urban and Gichuki 1991). Wattled Cranes are also thought to move between Bangweulu Swamp, the Kafue flats, and other wetlands in the Zambezi basin during unusually high water levels, and to move downstream into the Morremou wetland complex in Mozambique as the waters recede (R. Douthwaite pers. comm., R. Beilfuss pers. comm.).

A distinctly seasonal population of Wattled Cranes occurs in northern Namibia during the wet season (October-April). The origins of these birds are not known, but it is surmised that the birds from Bushmanland and Grootfontein are part of the Okavango Delta (and possibly the Zambian) subpopulation, while the birds of the Oshana Region are thought to be part of the southern Angolan subpopulation (Hines in press).

The movements of the Ethiopian population appear to be migratory rather than nomadic. The departure of the birds from the Bale Mountain breeding area in November/December coincides with seasonal reductions in water levels, when the high altitude wetlands may dry completely. The birds reappear in May/June, as the rains return to fill in the wetlands (J. Hillman pers. comm.).

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Principal Threats

The destruction, alteration, and degradation of wetland habitats constitute the most significant threats to the Wattled Crane (Konrad 1981, Johnson 1984, Allan 1994, McCann and Wilkins 1994). Hydroelectric power projects and other water development schemes have caused fundamental changes in the species’ expansive floodplain habitats. Hydroelectric dams alter natural flooding regimes, reducing streamflow during the rainy season and increasing it during the dry season. This not only diminishes the extent of the floodplain habitat, but alters vegetation and facilitates burning of grasslands, thus reducing suitable breeding and feeding areas.

Douthwaite (1974) noted that the number of pairs attempting to nest on the Kafue Flats depended upon the degree of flooding. After an average flood (6.4 m), 40% of all pairs attempted to breed. After negligible flooding (5.0 m), only 3% of all pairs bred. The Kariba and Cahura-Bassa dam projects on the Zambezi River have altered the hydrological and ecological processes of the Zambezi Delta, with unknown impacts on Wattled Crane habitat. In Botswana, proposals for alternative uses of the waters of the Okavango Delta may, if carried forward, have serious impacts on that important stronghold for the species.

Loss of smaller wetlands has also been detrimental. The present breeding range of the Wattled Crane in South Africa falls wholly within the grassland biome, a region that has undergone (and remains subject to) massive changes as a result of intensified agricultural practices, mining, exploitation, afforestation, damming for water storage, industrialization, and urbanization (Macdonald 1989). In portions of South Africa and Zimbabwe, widespread irrigation has caused ground water levels to drop, altering the hydrology of wetlands to such an extent that cranes are no longer able to breed within them (Rockingham-Gill in press). Increased cattle grazing in Ethiopia’s higher altitude grasslands may be having direct and indirect impacts on the region’s Wattled Cranes (J. Hillman pers. comm.).

Disturbance due to human activity at or near breeding sites is a second major threat to the Wattled Crane (West 1977, Konrad 1981, Tarboton 1984, Eksteen in press). Establishment of human settlements close to wetlands and the activities of hunters, fisherman, cultivators, and pastoralists can hinder successful breeding. Accidental or intentional setting of grass fires during the dry season (i.e., the winter months) frequently kills pre-fledged chicks, while non-seasonal fires set in wetlands and floodplains are also a threat to successful breeding (Namibia Crane Action Plan in press).

As Wattled Cranes occasionally forage on agricultural fields alongside Blue and Grey Crowned Cranes, they are also vulnerable to accidental and purposeful poisoning (Allan 1994). Additional anthropogenic threats include: collision with utility lines; illegal collection of eggs, chicks, and adults for food; and disturbance from livestock and domestic dogs (Douthwaite 1974, Johnson 1984, Allan 1994). In South Africa, important crane habitat in the Natal midlands is threatened by plans for construction of a large new utility line (D. Johnson pers. comm.). Mass aerial spraying associated with the tsetse-fly control program is also suspected to have had negative effects on Wattled Cranes, particularly in the Okavango region (Mangubuli in press). Among natural threats, fires, hail, flooding, desiccation of floodplains, and extended droughts are probably the most significant throughout the species’ range.

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Current Conservation Measures

JPG-Wattled cranes and lechwe in the Okavango delta, Botswana

Note: many of the current and priority conservation measures described below for the Wattled Crane also apply to the Grey Crowned Crane and Blue Crane in areas where their ranges overlap.

Legal and Cultural Protection

The Wattled Crane is legally protected by the Provincial Nature Conservation Ordinances in all four provinces of South Africa. It is a statutory and punishable offence to interfere with crane nests, eggs, or chicks; to keep cranes in captivity; or to shoot, trap, poison or in any other way kill or injure them without a permit from the local conservation authority (Allan 1994). In Malawi, cranes are protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Act. In Zambia, the National Parks and Wildlife Act restricts the hunting of wild animals and forbids disturbance or removal of any bird’s nest within national park boundaries. Designated Game Management Areas afford some protection, although human settlement and other activities are permitted within these areas.

Protected Areas

Few protected areas have been established primarily to protect Wattled Cranes and their habitats. In many range countries, however, establishment of national parks and game management areas has coincidentally provided protection for Wattled Cranes.

Habitat Protection and Management

Community-based habitat conservation programs have been developed in some portions of the Wattled Crane’s range. In northern Namibia, the Ministry of Wildlife is developing a Communal Resource Management initiative that seeks to address the conservation needs of Wattled Crane populations outside of formal conservation areas (specifically, in the Nyae-Nyae Pans region) (Hines in press). At the 1993 African Crane and Wetland Training Workshop, several assessments of habitat protection and management needs were presented (Banda in press, Kamweneshe in press b, Mangubuli in press), and eight of the twelve range countries produced national crane and crane habitat action plans.

Habitat conservation efforts have been intensively pursued in South Africa, where (as noted above) the long-term viability of the Wattled Crane population will depend almost entirely on the actions of private landowners. Johnson (1992c) notes that the land-use practices that favor cranes (e.g., appropriate fallow periods, planting of lure crops, baiting of roost sites with waste grain) are now generally well understood, and that landowners may easily be able to accommodate cranes without disruption of farming practices (see also the “Habitat Management and Protection” discussion in the Blue Crane species account in this volume). At present, however, no incentive or extension programs exist to encourage farmers to adopt such conservation measures. Allan (1994a) provides an overview of these required measures.

In an effort to reduce the incidence of crane mortality due to collisions with utility lines, Eskom (South Africa’s main energy producer) has added markers to transmission lines to make them more visible. In one area, Eskom has re-routed the utility line responsible for killing adult Wattled Cranes. Eskom has also created a Wildlife Advisory Committee, which is collaborating in studies of the impact of utility lines on crane injury and mortality rates (McCann and Wilkins 1994, 1995). Eskom has postponed plans for a controversial new utility line in Natal pending a study of its potential impacts. If built, this utility line would cross through the heart of Natal’s crane habitat (D. Johnson pers. comm).

Surveys/Censuses/Monitoring

Counts and surveys of the Wattled Crane have been undertaken in various portions of the species range. Mundy et al. (1984) reported 83 birds in a 1983 survey of Zimbabwe. In 1986 and 1987, the Wildlife Trust of Zimbabwe conducted aerial censuses of Wattled Cranes, finding a maximum total of 94 birds within Zimbabwe (Mundy et al. 1988). Bousfield (1986) studied the distribution and breeding status of the Wattled Crane in the Okavango Delta and found approximately 200 pairs. Aerial surveys of the Okavango Delta have recently been undertaken by Mangubuli and Motaloate (in press) and Archibald and Garba (pers. comm.).

From 1971-1973, aerial surveys of Wattled Cranes were conducted on the Kafue Flats, Busanaga Plain, and Lukanga Swamp (Douthwaite 1974). In 1987, 369 Wattled Cranes were counted in an aerial survey of the Kafue Flats, allowing an estimate of more than 2500 birds for the entire area (Anon. 1988). Banda (in press) reports the results of surveys conducted in 1985-1987, 1990-1991, and 1992 in Nyika National Park, Malawi. Dodman (in press) reports results of surveys conducted in the Kafue Flats, Zambia, from 1982-1993. Kamweneshe (in press a) reports results of ground and aerial surveys in the Bangweulu region of Zambia in 1984, 1991, and 1993.

Goodman reported an estimated 2570 Wattled cranes in the Marromeu Complex of the Zambezi Delta during a wet season (23-30 September) survey conducted in 1990. A recent (March 1995) aerial survey of the same area during the dry season resulted in a total count of 156 birds, and at least 58 pairs (Beilfuss 1995).

From 1978-1982, Wattled Crane breeding sites in South Africa were surveyed by the Natal and Transvaal Provincial Administrations (Tarboton et al. 1987a). In November and December 1985, and in January and July 1986, a census of cranes was conducted in South Africa; this included casual sightings, road censusing, detailed weekend crane counts, and aerial surveys (Filmer and Holtshausen 1992). In Natal, an annual aerial census of breeding sites is conducted in July (D. Johnson pers. comm). Wattled Cranes have also been counted during the African Waterfowl Census conducted by the IWRB (Taylor and Rose 1994, Davies in press).

Research

West (1963), studying a pair of Wattled Cranes in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia), was the first field researcher to provide detailed information on the biology of the species in the wild. Walkinshaw (1965) studied the crane in northern and southern Rhodesia and in Natal, South Africa. In 1967, Urban and Walkinshaw described the distribution of Wattled Cranes in Ethiopia. Walkinshaw (1973) and Johnsgard (1983) provided general accounts of the species in their monographs of the family.

Douthwaite (1974) described the distribution and biology of the large population of Wattled Cranes in the Kafue Flats of Zambia. In order to verify information on the biology of the species, define conservation problems, and propose solutions, Konrad (1981) investigated the status of the species and their wetland habitats in Zambia, Botswana, and South Africa. Additional publications have assessed the overall status of the species (Urban 1988, Urban in press).

Most of the research on Wattled Crane habitat and biology has been conducted in South Africa (Johnson and Barnes 1985, 1991; Tarboton et al. 1987a), Malawi (Banda in press), Zambia (Dodman in press, Kamweneshe in press a), and Namibia (Hines in press). Eskom and the Endangered Wildlife Trust are now collaborating in a research program involving the Wattled, Blue, and Southern Crowned Crane in the Natal midlands. In particular, researchers are focusing on studies of the movements of cranes (McCann and Wilkins 1995). These studies are expected to contribute to the development of a management plan for these three species (McCann and Wilkins 1994, 1995). The status and ecology of Wattled Cranes in the other range countries are not well documented. An ethogram for the species has been prepared by Davenport and Urban (in press).

Working Groups and Management Plans

In 1982 a Wattled Crane Steering Group, composed of members of the Natal Parks Board, Transvaal Nature Conservation Division, Endangered Wildlife Trust, Southern African Ornithological Society, and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, was established in South Africa. In addition to educational projects, it developed a Management Plan for the Conservation of the Wattled Crane in South Africa (Tarboton and Johnson 1992). This blueprint for Wattled Crane survival set a goal of maintaining a population of 300 Wattled Cranes in natural areas in South Africa. The plan called for establishment of a breeding site register, additional protected reserves, improved legislation and law enforcement, research, public education, and captive propagation. The Southern African Crane Foundation has since taken over the functions of the steering group (D. Johnson pers. comm).

In 1992 preliminary modeling was undertaken in South Africa in preparation for a full PHVA for the species. This step involved gathering existing information on the status of the species, but did not entail a full workshop or widespread communication and review of findings. A full PHVA has been planned but not yet undertaken (C. Mirande pers. comm.).

At the 1993 African Crane and Wetland Training Workshop in Maun, Botswana, 9 of the 11 range countries prepared national crane and wetland action plans. These are to be published in the workshop proceedings (Beilfuss et al. in press).

Non-governmental Organizations

See Allan (1994a) and the Blue and Grey Crowned Crane species accounts in this volume for discussion of NGOs active in the preservation of South Africa’s cranes. The Wakkerstroom Natural Heritage Association has been especially active in the conservation of this species and its habitats. Farmers in South Africa who support breeding pairs on their land are now being urged to have their farms registered as Natural Heritage Sites under the South African Natural Heritage Program. Registration allows for crane management plans to be incorporated into the title deeds (Johnson 1992c). The Highlands Crane Group of the Endangered Wildlife Trust has sponsored special “farmers’ days” to stimulate cooperative conservation activities among farmers (Rodwell 1994).

Dodman (in press) describes the WWF-Zambia Wetlands Project, which has operated in the Kafue Flats since 1986 at Lochinvar and Blue Lagoon National Parks. The main aim of the project is to establish a fair system by which local communities and governments may share the costs and benefits of sustainable conservation and the management of wetlands (World Wide Fund for Nature 1992). Training courses are offered to community leaders and members, project and governmental employees, and school groups. A conservation component is included in all programs in the hope that participants will link their training to the value and benefits of wetlands and wildlife, and will seek out alternatives to poaching and other illegal activities in the area. Courses in bird identification, conservation, and study are also offered, allowing community members to understand better the population status of the Wattled Crane and other wetland species. The Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society has developed conservation and education programs pertinent to the cranes in Ethiopia.

Education and Training

Educational programs and public awareness efforts involving Wattled Cranes and their habitats have been carried out most extensively by NGOs in South Africa. SACF is currently developing an interpretation and education center at Hlatikulu, Natal. An Environmental Education Center and Community Development Program were established in 1992 under the auspices of the Wakkerstroom Natural Heritage Association. The development program focuses on grassland and wetland ecology and sustainable community development projects. In 1994, the Endangered Wildlife Trust published a booklet entitled Cranes and Farmers (Allan 1994) that is now being widely distributed. This booklet also addresses the needs of Blue Cranes and Grey Crowned Cranes.

Professional training related to the conservation of Wattled Cranes and their wetland habitats has been most readily available in South Africa. However, training opportunities involving this and the other African crane species have expanded in recent years, particularly in connection with the 1993 African Crane and Wetland Training Workshop in Botswana.

Captive Propagation and Reintroduction

Beall (in press) provides an overview of the status and management of captive Wattled Cranes for conservation. The first record of Wattled Cranes being held in captivity dates to 1873. The first successful breeding in captivity was recorded in 1944. Captive propagation, however, became more widespread only recently, as birds exported from Africa to Europe and the United States began to reproduce. The GCAR identified 172 Wattled Cranes in captivity worldwide as of 1993 (Mirande et al. in press a). This total includes sixteen breeding pairs in thirteen institutions (Beall in press). The species is relatively difficult to breed in captivity, and fertility rates (especially among wild-caught birds) are low compared to other crane species.

In 1989, the Wattled Crane was included among the crane species to be covered in a Species Survival Plan of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (Beall in press). A SSP Master Plan for Wattled Cranes in North America has also been developed and implemented. Europe, North America, and Asia all have (or are currently preparing) regional management plans (Beall in press). A Global Animal Survival Plan was strongly recommended in the GCAR and is being organized by Fred Beall, the International Studbook Keeper. The GASP effort will be co-chaired by Lindy Rodwell of SACF.

There is strong interest in coordinating captive management and in situ conservation of this species in South Africa and Zimbabwe. Since 1988, the Umgeni River Bird Park in Durban, South Africa has received permission from the Natal Parks Board to collect second eggs from wild nests. These eggs have been successfully hatched and reared (Abrey 1992). Some of these birds will be used to establish a release program. SACF has begun to develop this program and is coordinating training in release techniques and research on potential release sites. The first experimental releases will take place in 1996 at Verloren Vlei, where Wattled Cranes occurred historically and where the original factors behind the species’ decline have been addressed (L. Rodwell pers. comm.).

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Priority Conservation Measures

JPG-1993 African Crane and Wetland Training Workshop, Maun, Botswana

Legal and Cultural Protection

  1. Enforce existing legislation protecting Wattled Cranes from hunting, poisoning, and capture.

  2. Enforce existing measures regulating resource use and settlement within protected areas.

  3. Introduce specific legislation to encourage conservation and to prevent further development of Wattled Crane breeding habitat outside of protected areas.

  4. Develop and enforce requirements for environmental impact assessments in the process of issuing permits for changes in land-use (especially afforestation permits).
International Agreements and Cooperation
  1. Transfer the species from CITES Appendix II to Appendix I.
Protected Areas
  1. Provide greater protection for the following key habitats by expanding existing protected areas, upgrading their protective status, and/or strengthening management capabilities:

  2. Conduct national-level surveys to identify additional areas of critical habitat for designation as protected areas.

  3. Provide improved habitat conditions within existing reserves. Required measures include: restoration of native plant species and communities (in part through the removal of plantation trees and other alien plant species); timing of burning schedules to avoid destruction of eggs or pre-fledged chicks; controlled livestock grazing; and establishment of lure crops and feeding areas.
Habitat Protection and Management
  1. Develop community-based wetland conservation and management programs in several key sites where Wattled Cranes occur. Such demonstration sites are especially needed in the central portion of the species’ range (Mozambique, Botswana, Zambia). The experience of the WWF-Zambia Wetlands Project should be examined for useful and more widely applicable lessons.

  2. Assess and ameliorate to the extent possible large-scale threats in the following critical habitats:

  3. Protect breeding habitat on privately owned farmland. This should be accomplished in part through the following steps:
Surveys/Censuses/Monitoring

The following actions should be coordinated with one another, and with priority measures under this category for the Grey Crowned and Blue Cranes.

  1. Organize and conduct a range-wide Wattled Crane census. This effort should entail:

  2. Establish long-term crane monitoring programs in the major wetland complexes throughout the range of the Wattled Crane (including the Kafue Flats, Bangweulu Swamp, Busanga Flats, Liuwa Flats, Lukanga Swamp, and the Sioma-ngwezi Plain in the Zambezi basin; the Okavango Delta; the Makgadikgadi Pans; the Luangwa Valley; the Nyika Plateau; the Zambezi Delta; and known habitats in the highlands and Rift valley of Ethiopia).

  3. Develop a standard method of conducting aerial surveys of Wattled Cranes that will allow for future duplication and reliable comparisons of data.
Research
  1. Study the feasibility of simulating bi-annual flooding in floodplain habitats that have had their natural flooding regimes altered by artificial impoundments. Natural flooding may be simulated through short duration maximum volume releases and other changes in water management policies.

  2. Expand research on Wattled Crane habitat and biology outside of the South African portion of its range. Studies should focus on the distribution, population status, habitat requirements and availability, wetland ecology, and the life history of resident, breeding, and non-breeding cranes. These studies in turn should contribute to improved range maps and facilitate the protection and management of critical habitats.

  3. Describe and study the populations of Wattled Cranes in Angola, Tanzania, and Ethiopia. The status and movements of these populations are poorly known.

  4. Initiate a coordinated program of ringing (banding) pre-fledged chicks to collect information on habitat requirements, population dynamics, seasonal movements, and movements of non-breeding adults and juveniles. This program should involve all range countries. Details of the program (e.g., color banding scheme per country, timing, etc.) need to established, most likely by the same body responsible for the coordination of censuses.

  5. Conduct radio and/or satellite telemetry studies needed to provide data on seasonal movements, territory size, home range, and life history.

  6. Study the connection between hydrological change (as a result of water development projects) and nesting success in floodplain habitats. This data can be used to guide comprehensive water management policies to avoid loss of critical habitat.

  7. Study the role that non-breeding habitat plays in the breeding success and population dynamics of the species. For example, large ephemeral wetlands in Namibia are used on a seasonal basis by large numbers of Wattled Cranes when the availability of habitat in permanent wetlands is limited. The role such dispersal areas play in the breeding success and population dynamics of the Okavango, Zambian, and Angolan population requires further study (see Hines in press).

  8. Determine whether the Ethiopia population is genetically distinct from the rest of the species. If the populations are taxonomically divergent, this may affect future conservation and captive propagation programs, as the majority of captive birds are from the South-central and South Africa populations.
Education and Training
  1. Stimulate local interest in resident crane populations through Wattled Crane counts and other educational programs involving cranes and their habitats. Support should be given to NGOs (such as wildlife clubs and ornithological societies) to sponsor these projects. In some areas (primarily in South Africa), counts of Wattled, Blue, and/or Grey Crowned Cranes can be organized simultaneously.

  2. Develop educational programs aimed at farmers and other private landowners, farm laborers, and students. The recently published booklet Cranes and Farmers should be distributed to all farmers in South Africa whose lands are important to cranes.

  3. Address the poisoning problem specifically through a broad-based information campaign in the mass media.

  4. Enhance awareness of the legal protection of Wattled Cranes through educational efforts throughout its range.

  5. Provide funding agencies, authorities, and local residents with information about the management policies of national parks and game management areas.
Captive Propagation and Reintroduction
  1. Implement the following recommendations outlined in the Crane GCAR and CAMP (Mirande et al. in press a):

  2. Increase the rate of parent-rearing within the captive population.

  3. Identify and assess the suitability of potential release sites in southern Africa.

  4. Move forward with efforts to develop a Global Animal Survival Plan for the species. A full PHVA should be undertaken as part of this process.

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