Using fire to manage Wattled Crane habitat in South Africa

Our South African Drakensberg team completed the KwaZulu-Natal crane aerial survey in August in collaboration with our partners Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. One of the main observations we made during the survey were larger numbers and flocks of Wattled Cranes with much fewer breeding pairs.

The final counts for the cranes from the survey were as follows:

• Blue Cranes 1,347
• Grey Crowned Cranes 3,144
• Wattled Cranes 442

The number of Wattled Cranes counted in 2017 was 313. We surveyed more Wattled Cranes this year and also had the highest number recorded in last 24 years of aerial surveys!

In South Africa, Wattled Cranes breed during the peak season for prescribed burning. The seasonal fires are necessary to keep the vegetation healthy and open the habitat so cranes can nest. Further investigation is needed, but a likely contributing factor to the fewer Wattled Crane breeding pairs surveyed this season is that the three main breeding areas in the region are becoming very overgrown due to a lack of burning.

We are addressing this challenge with a unique solution we piloted this winter. We developed a plan to burn an area in desperate need of burning, as the landowner hadn’t burned the area the last few years because of breeding Wattled Cranes.

The pair had a three-week-old chick that our team tried to find, but we were unsuccessful. With permission from the conservation authority, we used legal trained hunting dogs to help locate the chick. Once the dogs located the chick, we captured the young crane and quickly started the prescribed fire. Once the area was burned and safe again, we released the chick back into the wetland where it reunited with its parents.

Matthew BeckerStory submitted by Matthew Becker, Africa Program Officer for the International Crane Foundation/Endangered Wildlife Trust Partnership. Click here to learn more about our work in Sub-Saharan Africa.