By / 24th May, 2016 / Experience / Off

South Africa’s national bird, the Blue Crane, listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, is breeding in the Welgevonden Game Reserve.

Guests at Makweti Safari Lodge have been enjoying sightings of the unassuming Blue Cranes (Anthropoides paradiseus), made extra special because of the two chicks accompanying their parents.

Phillipa Myram, assistant volunteer research co-ordinator for Welgevonden Game Reserve said the Blue Crane was near-endemic to South Africa, with small breeding populations also found in northern Namibia. “Despite Blue Cranes being the national bird of South Africa the species is under threat, having rapidly declined in recent years.”

The population, estimated at around 25 000 in South Africa, seems to have stabilised since expanding into agricultural areas of the Western Cape. “The cause of the tragic decline of Blue Crane numbers is largely due to agricultural poisonings, power-line collisions and the loss of prime grassland breeding areas due to afforestation, mining, and agricultural and land development. Humans pose one of the greatest threats to the species through changes of agricultural crops and an increased human population in agricultural areas.”

Blue Cranes’ diet includes grass and insects, but they will also take animals including insects, worms, crabs, fish, frogs, reptiles and rodents. This varied diet originates from the natural grass and sedge-dominated habitats Blue Cranes prefer for breeding however they will occasionally breed in or near wetland areas.

Their preferred habitats are typical of the landscape in the southern part of Welgevonden Game Reserve, with wetland sites nestled between the vast open plains surrounded by the Waterberg Mountains.

“Welgevonden Game Reserve is one of the sites where the birds breed depending on the prevailing conditions,” Myram said.

Since the mid-1980’s, a number of conservation efforts have rolled out to alleviate the difficulties Blue Cranes face, including mitigating power-line collisions; addressing illegal trade and adopting stricter legal protection; implement surveys across South Africa to improve research and knowledge of the biology and ecology of Blue Cranes; protecting the habitat and organise management programmes; and establishing of local conservation organisations. Further conservation actions due to be implemented include preventing grassland conversions; discouraging the taking of fledglings from the wild; population monitoring and establishing research initiatives; and promoting responsible use of agrochemicals.

The sighting within Welgevonden Game Reserve holds promise that the area is an ideal breeding habitat for this vulnerable species and we hope many more breeding pairs will be seen.