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Wattled Crane

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.

Objective

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.

Public involvement

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.

Track record

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.

Future plans

The Crane Working Group continues to be guided by the Wattled Crane Action Plan. It is still vitally important to get a better understanding of the regional movements of Wattled Cranes, and to this end, a satellite tracking project has been initiated. Two local Maun businesses, Ngamiland Adventure Safaris and Ngami Toyota have provided over P100,000.00 for the purchase of six satellite transmitters which will be fitted to Wattled Cranes in the Makgadikgadi Pans, Okavango Delta and Linyanti Swamps towards the end of 2008. These transmitters have an average lifespan of two years each, and will enable members of the Crane Working Group to track the precise daily movements of these six birds. This information will enable all key wetlands utilized by the cranes to be identified (both those that are protected and, more importantly, those that are not), as well as providing detailed information on the birds’ seasonal habitat requirements – thereby contributing to their better conservation (see Unravelling the Mystery). Regular updates on this important project will appear in the News section of this website.
For more information
The Crane Working Group can be contacted through the BirdLife Botswana office in Maun:

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