CONSERVATION – PREVENTING EXTINCTION PROGRAMME
Cranes are a family of large, long-legged and long-necked birds in Gruidae family. In Zimbabwe, most of the country’s cranes are found in the Driefontein Grasslands and in Hwange National Park, although historically both species were more widespread but their habitat have been severely impacted by land use change. The Grey Crowned Crane Balearica regulorum and Wattled Crane Bugeranus carunculatus are the crane species found in Zimbabwe.
BirdLife Zimbabwe conducted ground surveys of cranes from 2018 to March 2022 in the Driefontein Grasslands, in collaboration with the government departments responsible for environment and wildlife, and the local communities, to determine the population and distribution of cranes across this landscape. Local capacity in survey techniques built among the participants was successful. The joint surveys brought great opportunity for learning and knowledge sharing among the stakeholders and communities.
In July 2018, a total of 84 Wattled Cranes (77 adults and 7 juveniles) and 115 Grey Crowned Cranes (107 adults and 8 juveniles) were recorded. Large flocks included 22 Crowned Cranes sighted near Shashe irrigation, and 18 Wattled Cranes on Markdale. Other species of interest recorded were six Secretarybirds, five Kori Bustards, two Saddle-billed Storks and a Black-bellied Bustard.
Driefontein is home to about 85% of the total Zimbabwean population of the globally vulnerable Wattled Crane and the endangered Grey Crowned Crane. It also provides an ideal breeding and feeding ground for the Secretarybird Sagittarius serpentarius, Saddle-billed Stork Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis, African Marsh-harrier Circus ranivorus, and several duck species. Other noteworthy species that depend on this habitat include the Black-bellied Bustard Lissotis melanogaster and the Kori Bustard Ardeotis kori, the Black-chested Snake-eagle Circaetus pectoralis, and the African Fish-eagle Haliaeetus vocifer. The area is also a Ramsar site, a wetland site of both national and international importance designated under the Ramsar Convention, an inter-governmental environmental treaty (to which Zimbabwe is a signatory). In 2010 a Conservation Action Plan was developed for Wattled and Grey Crowned Cranes in Zimbabwe, focusing on the Driefontein Grasslands to ensure the protection of the species against threats such as fires, human and domestic animal encroachment causing habitat loss, and the changing climate.
In August 2019 key wetlands in the Driefontein Grasslands were mapped to provide a baseline for wetland monitoring and a total of 54 Wattled and 125 Grey Crowned Cranes were recorded.
Main Image credit: Wattled Crane by Roger MacDonald