Wattled Crane Working Group
In April, 2001, the BirdLife Botswana Crane Working Group (BLBCWG) was established by committed citizens and long-time residents of Maun as an autonomous working group of BirdLife Botswana.
The primary objective of the Group is to initiate and co-ordinate crane and habitat research, conservation and education programmes. This is partly because cranes are globally threatened birds, but also because the Group believes that cranes are indicators of the health of wetlands, and that healthy and productive wetlands are good for people too.
In order to achieve this objective, the BLBCWG networks with all interested and concerned citizens, as well as government and non-governmental organisations. It is the belief of the Group that concerned and committed individuals can and should assume custodianship for endangered species, and thereby contribute to their survival.
To this end, the Group conducted a comprehensive, systematic aerial census of Wattled Cranes in the Okavango Delta in August, 2001. This revealed that the Okavango Delta has the largest single population of Wattled Cranes in Africa – approximately 1,300 birds in total.
During the survey, over 50 Wattled Crane nests were found and monitored over a two-month period to determine hatching success and chick survival rates. This was accorded a high priority in case crane breeding was adversely affected by the reintroduction of aerial spraying of pesticides to eradicate the tsetse fly, which was scheduled to take place throughout the Delta during 2001 and 2002.
Fortunately the nest monitoring project did not detect any negative impacts from the tsetse eradication programme on the breeding success of the Wattled Crane.
During August 2002 and 2003, the aerial survey was repeated, giving very similar results to those obtained in 2001. This indicates that the population of Wattled Cranes in the Delta is stable. Consequently it was decided that aerial surveys as a method of monitoring the status of the cranes could be discontinued and replaced with a simpler, cheaper system – counting the number of juveniles relative to adults in a sample of the population to maintain a check on how the birds were breeding.
This was successfully undertaken by members of the Crane Working Group using light survey aircraft, and proved to be a reliable way of ‘keeping a finger on the pulse’ of the crane population.
During late 2003, a participatory workshop was organised by the BLBCWG, involving all stakeholders in the preparation of a Wattled Crane Action Plan – a blueprint for protecting and conserving the Wattled Crane in Botswana.
One of the priorities highlighted by the Species Action Plan was the lack of information on Wattled Crane movements – it is clear that they move out of the Okavango Delta at certain times of the year, but where do they go? Do cranes move between the major wetlands in Southern Africa? To answer these questions, a further study was undertaken to identify all areas in Botswana that were used by Wattled Cranes, and this showed that they disperse from the Okavango during summer and move to places such as the area to the east of the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. This area has not been adequately protected until recently, when the Government of Botswana decided to route a veterinary fence around the national park, enclosing the important Wattled Crane habitat within the bounds of the park.
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