Release of two Blue Cranes: A chance at a future

 

In December last year, University of Cape Town student, Megan Murgatroyd – who had assisted us with the captures of Blue Cranes for our tracking project in the Western Cape – was called to assist with the identification of two young birds confiscated in a small town, called Calvinia. The two birds were identified as Blue Cranes and Megan offered to take care of the birds until a more suitable facility was located.  For the next three months Megan ensured the birds were well taken care of while preventing imprinting.  The birds were then moved to a sanctuary in the Western Cape, but unfortunately the regular presence of people were making the birds habituated.  It was for this reason, we worked together with the Overberg Crane Group and the provincial conservation authority, CapeNature, to release the birds in the Overberg close to wild Blue Crane flocks. 

 

This idea was complicated by the fact that the Western Cape, including the Overberg region, is in the grips of one of the worst droughts in living memory.  Thus making the availability of roost sites a concern.  However, after some searching a suitable release site with wild Blue Cranes and nearby roost sites was found.   

 

The release took place on a sunny Sunday and the two youngsters enjoyed about 20 minutes of stretching, jumping and dancing together, before they both took flight and joined a nearby wild flock of Blue Cranes.  The release couldn’t have gone better and a chance at a future in the wild is definitely what we gave them. 

 

Many thanks to Megan Murgatroyd of the University of Cape Town and Keir Lynch of the Overberg Crane Group/Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust for their efforts. 

 

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Article by Tanya Smith, ICF/EWT Partnership Regional Manager: Southern Africa

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Rewards of Wattled Crane research and monitoring starting to be revealed

Monitoring of Wattled Cranes in South Africa over the past 30 years has started to show the fruit of its labor. Monitoring systems were implemented due to the extremely low numbers of the species which are primarily found outside of protected areas in wetlands on farmland. In the 1980’s a ringing program for the species was established and annual aerial surveys were conducted to enable breeding nest sites to be monitored. Stewardship schemes and raising awareness were also used as mechanisms to halt the decline of the species.
A steady increase in the population has been observed with the 2001 aerial survey’s sighting 183 individuals while 314 individuals sighted in 2017. The success of the project has to this point secured nest sites and counteracted negative effects on survival. Even with these proactive measures, survival of Wattled Cranes chicks to approximately 12 weeks is low (~39% in recent studies) with the major cause being predation. Survival of Wattled Cranes past 12 weeks in the Midlands area in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) is 84%. The mitigation of negative anthropomorphic effects appears to be working relatively well for this species.
The Wattled Crane breeding individuals accounts for only approximately 40% of the population. The remaining individuals consist of non-breeding birds. These are birds that are sexually immature or single birds and commonly form ‘floater flocks’, as they are more nomadic then their breeding counter parts who remain on nesting territories throughout the year. This part of the population is the source of future breeding birds within the population and conservation of them is vital for securing long-term survival of the population. Consequently, understanding the movements of the floater flocks is important to ensure that single birds are recruited to become breeding birds. This has required fitting transmitters on some of these individuals to monitor their movements and habitat use. This information on the floater flock will better direct conservation efforts for this portion of the Wattled Crane population.
A collaboration between Endangered Wildlife Trust, KwaZulu-Natal Crane Foundation and the University of KwaZulu-Natal has secured funding for the Wattled Crane transmitters (six transmitters to be place on adults and six transmitters to be placed on chicks before they can fly). To date one transmitter that have been placed have been attached to an adult Wattled Crane, the first time this work has been carried out in South Africa. This work is not for the faint hearted as the shy and elusive species requires many hours of observations to enable their capture and transmitter fitment.
Initial results from this work shows Wattled Crane seasonal local migration from the Midlands, KZN, to the Cedarville area, KZN, in November and then returning to the Midlands in March/April. This migration takes just 2 days with an overnight stop. Five transmitters have been placed on wild chicks. Two transmitters were attached in 2016 and three fitted in 2017 and with three of the five birds having made the seasonal move between the KwaZulu-Natal midlands and the Southern Drakensberg region of Cedarville at least once. The information gained from these tracked birds will enable us to establish the important roosting and foraging sites for the species directing focused conservation efforts for the species.
Thanks are given to those that made this work possible; National Research Foundation, Openhiemier Memorial Trust, Kathleen Hastie Memorial Trust, Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust and the Hlatikulu Conservancy.

 

 

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Tanya Smith (ICF/EWT Partnership), Matthew Becker (ICF/EWT Partnership) and Lara Jordan (UKZN/EWT) attaching a transmitter to Wattled Crane chick to monitor its movements and habitat use

 

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Close up of the ring mounted tracker fitted

 

Article by Lara Jordan, PhD Candidate University of KwaZulu-Natal and supported by ICF/EWT Partnership

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Celebrating World Fish Migration Day

JP le Roux, Aquatic Conservationist, Source to Sea Programme

jeanpierrel@ewt.org.za

World Fish Migration Day (WFMD) is a one-day global celebration to create awareness around the importance of open rivers and migratory fish and in 2018 it was celebrated on 21 April, with the theme of Connecting fish, rivers and people.

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This day is significant because many fish need to migrate to reproduce, feed and complete their life cycles. Migratory fish make up a crucial link in the food chain and play an important role in healthy and productive river systems. They are also an important source of food and livelihoods for many people. Unfortunately, many migratory fish species face threats such as dams, weirs and sluices, which disrupt the natural flow of rivers and prevent their migration.

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The EWT’s Source to Sea Programme took part in a special event in Groot Marico to mark this day, organised by Iggdrasil Scientific Services. The event was focused on barriers to fish migration, both natural and manmade. They travelled around Marico looking at barriers that limit the movement of the endemic Marico Barb as well as the impact of Largemouth Bass on indigenous fish communities. They found that in some cases the barriers limit the dispersal of invasive fish, which in turn limits their effect on the endemic fish population. One of the biggest threats to the Marico Barb was identified as the introduction of invasive fish in the upper part of the catchment, which will need an education and outreach programme to be mitigated.

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Thanks to Elizabeth Wakeman Henderson Charitable Foundation for their support of this work.

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Changing perspectives

Jiba Magwaza, Junior Field Officer, Threatened Amphibian Programme

jibam@ewt.org.za

Winter is almost upon us, and it is time for our frogs to hibernate. While most amphibians hibernate during this season, some of our amazing frogs are still calling and active in field. The Striped Stream Frog and the Common River Frog are two species of frogs that remain active all year round and can be heard calling throughout the cooler months. These two special frogs are much more tolerant of the cold and can breed in all seasons. The EWT’s Threatened Amphibian Programme (TAP) has also continued to work on exciting projects into autumn. We have been engaging local schools in Isipingo, Durban, to gauge knowledge on wetland habitats and overcome fears about frogs.

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The work is the result of a project that we have recently started thanks to funding from Tiger Brands to promote sustainable livelihoods in the area through wetland-friendly vegetable gardens, and the development of Small-to-Medium-to-Micro Enterprises (SMMEs). During April, we engaged with 450 learners from Thamela Primary and Igagasi High School with our “Frogs in the Classroom” approach. During our primary school engagement, the grade 5 classes were asked to draw a picture of a wetland and all animals and plants that they think occur in or use wetlands. We then visited the primary school to educate learners about the function and importance of wetlands. We also showed them a live Guttural Toad and used it to talk about a frog’s life cycle and their importance as bio-indicators. On our third visit, we asked the learners to draw a new picture of a wetland to gauge whether their understanding of wetlands had increased in response to our environmental education lessons.

Our high school engagement was a little different. During the first visit, we asked learners to complete a survey, comprised of about twenty questions, to understand attitudes to and knowledge about frogs and wetlands. In our second visit, we educated them about the importance and functions of wetlands and frogs as part of biodiversity. In our third visit, we asked learners to complete the attitude survey again to gauge whether any change in their attitude towards the environment had taken place in response to our engagement. We are currently in the process of analysing the data and hope we do get results showing a positive attitude towards the environment. We are also developing environmental programmes and enviro-clubs for these schools, and aim to work with them throughout the year.

Thank you to Tiger Brands for making this work possible.

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The newest member of the Wild Dog metapopulation family

Cole du Plessis, KZN Regional Co-ordinator, Carnivore Conservation Programmecoled@ewt.org.za

Maremani Nature Reserve, which lies at the northern tip of Limpopo and borders Zimbabwe, has recently become the latest reserve to join the Wild Dog Metapopulation, offering safe space to the most Endangered carnivore in South Africa. The reserve has plentiful game and 40,000 hectares of safe space where the Wild Dogs can thrive in an area made up of tropical savannah.

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Although Maremani Nature Reserve has only just received their first pack of Wild Dogs, they had already been supporting a group of four male Wild Dogs that had been threatened with persecution in northern KwaZulu-Natal and had nowhere else to go. Rieker Botha, manager of Maremani Nature Reserve, was kind enough to convert his elephant boma into a Wild Dog boma and offer these four important males refuge.

However, a single group of males is not sustainable and our goal was to form a new pack. This required what all male Wild Dogs are looking for – females. For a new pack to form, we engaged with one of our partner organisations, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (EKZN Wildlife), which donated four females from Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP) to assist in starting a new Wild Dog pack.

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The four females were darted by a joint team made up of the EWT, EKZN Wildlife and Wildlife ACT. We worked together to fit tracking collars onto the Wild Dogs and take necessary biological samples before loading them into crates and taking them to Mkuze airstrip, where The Bateleurs were ready and waiting to fly them up to Limpopo.

The joint operation first required the males to get ready for their new females. Grant Beverley (EWT), Dr. Shaun Beverley (Limpopo Wildlife Vet) and Dr Zoe Glyphis (Saving the Survivors) had started immobilising the male Wild Dogs in the Maremani boma so that they could bond them with the female Wild Dogs on arrival. The bonding process (physically rubbing the female and males together while still sedated) was effective and the following morning, all the Wild Dogs were together and moving as a new pack in the boma. They will spend the next few weeks in the boma, which will allow the bond between them to grow stronger before being released.

The key to Wild Dog population growth is to expand their range/safe space and introduce founder individuals to catalyse population growth. We extend our thanks to EKZN Wildlife for another Wild Dog donation to the national Wild Dog Metapopulation, and to Rieker Botha and Maremani Nature Reserve for your efforts in Wild Dog conservation.

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We also thank WildlifeACT for logistical support in KZN, Saving the Survivors and Limpopo Wildlife Vets for support at Maremani, The Bateleurs for flying the females to Maremani, and donors that made this work possible, namely Richard Bosman, Land Rover Centurion, Painted Wolf Wines, Peter Orsmond, James Williams, Luke Roberts, Anny Pinto, Biance Wernecke and Lee Mitchell.

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Tackling the problem of snaring

Oldrich van Schalkwyk, Manager, Soutpansberg Protected Areaoldrichvs@ewt.org.za

The EWT’s is committed to protecting wildlife, while at the same time assisting neighbouring communities in minimising livestock losses in the Soutpansberg Protected Area (SPA). We therefore recently , volunteered the services of the Medike Nature Reserve’s anti-poaching unit to sweep the neighbouring Ndouvhada Communal land for snares. After meticulously covering about 50 hectares outside the reserve’s southern boundary, the SPA rangers removed 56 active snares. Unfortunately, they also found the lost breeding bull of a community cattle farmer, killed by a poacher’s snares, as well as a snared Vervet Monkey. Fortunately, no snares were found during patrols on Medike Nature Reserve during this period.

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The team is also assisting the Primate and Predator Project (PPP) from Durham University, UK, based on Luvhondo Private Nature Reserve, to try and capture a snared female Leopard, whose territory stretches over the neighbouring farms of Ottoshoek and Ottosdal. The snare was most likely picked up on Ottosdal, where a number of snaring cases has been reported by PPP researchers. Four bomas were set up, each with a foot-loop capture system, as this is a more humane way of capturing large predators than the use of box traps. Currently the traps are kept closed until the snared female is sighted via scout cameras at the bomas. This is to avoid capturing non-target animals. This proved to be a good strategy as a male Leopard went into one of the bomas three times on the first night!

Known as Tokoloshe, the snared Leopard is a five-year-old territorial female on the only commercial farm, Ottosdal, on top of the far western Soutpansberg. She was last photographed on 9 May 2018, this time in a remote, almost inaccessible, area of Ottoshoek (east of Ottosdal). She was still wearing the snare but it seemed to have loosened a bit, giving us hope that there is still time to save her. We have placed more trail cameras around the area where she was seen last and if seen again here, will place capture bomas in this remote area. We are also working to get some hounds that can tree her for darting, as an alternative to the bomas. We continue to persevere in hope that she can still be helped. Once caught, the snare will be removed and the Leopard will be given the necessary medical attention to best ensure her survival.

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This work is made possible by Rainforest Trust, who is funding the SPA’s anti-poaching unit, and the Roberts family in Australia, who donated the funds to purchase the EWT’s first protected area in the Soutpansberg, from where the SPA team currently operates.

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Protecting the last free-roaming Wild Dogs in South Africa

Derek van der Merwe, Limpopo Regional Co-ordinator, Carnivore Conservation Programme

derekv@ewt.org.za

The Waterberg is the last remaining area in South Africa that still has free-roaming Wild Dogs. This means that they were not reintroduced and did not escape from any fenced reserves, but rather, they occur naturally outside of fenced reserves. In other words, these are the only Wild Dogs with no boundaries enforced upon them. With the increase in the price of game animals over the last decade, conflict between carnivores and farmers over the killing of game is a reality in the Waterberg region. There have been some cases where Endangered species such as Wild Dogs have been directly persecuted through the use of poisons, and organised hunts, and some have even been deliberately run over on our roads. In an effort to safeguard this last free-roaming pack,  the EWT’s Carnivore Conservation Programme was recently able to collar two of the dogs near Melkrivier in the Waterberg.

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A satellite collar as well as a VHF collar was put on two adult males so that we can follow their movements and inform landowners of their whereabouts. This is to ensure total transparency within the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve with the aim of increasing community support and collaboration for the protection of this pack. The pack will be monitored and for the first time an ecotourism model will be put in place to allow tourists to view the Wild Dogs. The innovative aspect of this work is that the funds generated from this model will be paid to landowners who protect the Wild Dogs on their properties. We are confident that this approach will incentivise landowners to value the presence of the Wild Dogs in the region, while simultaneously affording the pack protection. In this way, the Wild Dogs will fund their existence in the region.

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The small, free-roaming pack of Wild Dogs in the Waterberg is made up of 11 animals and is genetically distinct from all other populations in South Africa. Therefore, it is a conservation priority to preserve these last free-roaming genes in South Africa. The EWT thanks all community members and landowners involved in our efforts to protect Wild Dogs and offer them a chance to flourish. It is very encouraging that many landowners’ attitudes are changing to the benefit of Endangered species conservation and that they are aware of the legislation that protects these animals.

We would also like to thank the donors to this project that have heard the urgent call for funding of collars, helicopters and emergency response. These include Group Partners, IQ Business, Mark Matheson, Duncan Parker and the Elizabeth Wakeman Henderson Foundation.

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OPEN LETTER TO GOVERNMENT REGARDING CAPTIVE CARNIVORE INTERACTIONS

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11 May 2018

 

Attention:
Dr Edna Molewa
Minister of Environmental Affairs
Department of Environmental Affairs
Environment House
Cnr. Steve Biko & Soutpansberg Road
Pretoria
South Africa

OPEN LETTER TO DR EDNA MOLEWA, THE MINISTER OF ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS RE CAPTIVE CARNIVORE INTERACTIONS

It is with grave concern that the undersigned organisations, note that yet another person has been seriously injured by a captive carnivore in South Africa. The incident, which took place at Thabazimbi Predator Park in Limpopo at the end of April 2018, is not an isolated incident. Records show that at least 37 similar incidents have occurred since 1996 affecting no less than 40 victims. This figure reflects only those incidents that have been reported in the media and hence there could be more.

We respectfully and urgently request that you take the following information into consideration:

Of the 37 known incidents:

  • Forty victims were involved with 28 being injured and 12 killed;
  • Fourteen (38%) of the incidents involved captive Cheetahs;
  • Twenty two (60%) incidents involved captive Lions;
  • One incident involved a captive tiger;
  • 92% of the fatalities were due to Lions and 46% of all Lion attacks were fatal;
  • These incidents involved 13 adult women, 18 adult men, and nine children, showing that no gender or age group is exempt;
  • These incidents are geographically widespread as follows: Limpopo – nine; Eastern Cape – eight, Gauteng – six; North West Province – four; KwaZulu-Natal – four, Western Cape – two, and one unknown.
  • These incidents occurred in a variety of ways, with the most common attacks occurring while people were inside the camps with the carnivores (24 incidents). Four incidents involved people being attacked through a fence. On three occasions, the animals had escaped, while on another three occasions victims were inside or on a vehicle. Another three incidents involved the victim trespassing, attack by released captive Cheetahs and one unknown circumstance.

Members of the conservation sector have been expressing concern about the captive facilities where these interactions take place for more than 10 years because:

  • They have no conservation value;
  • There are no adequate safety regulations in place to protect tourists and facility staff;
  • Welfare standards are often compromised or not regulated or monitored, and are further complicated by unclear mandates on welfare between the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries;
  • Links to shooting (‘canned hunting’) of captive Lions and the bone trade are negatively impacting on South Africa’s conservation image.

There are clearly significant risks posed by the interactions between humans and captive carnivores, and it is worrying that despite this, the sector remains ineffectively regulated. There are no regulations governing which carnivores may be kept in captivity, or why; by whom and for what purpose; under which conditions and with what activities related to them. As a result, it is highly probable that the incidences of injury or death as a result of interactions with captive carnivores will continue.

With at least 28 injured people and 12 fatalities, the time has clearly come for legislation to be put in place to end all public interactions with carnivores in South Africa. There is no justifiable rationale for the public to be interacting with carnivores in captivity, risking people’s lives.

We further call on the South African government to institute strict regulations for the management of all carnivores held in captivity that ensure that only qualified, experienced people have access to these animals and that no risks are posed to either human or animal life by unrestricted, unregulated access by all people.

Should the South African government continue to turn a blind eye to this issue, more people will be injured or killed. It is clear that the current system is flawed and a failure to react rapidly to protect people would be negligent.

Signed:

 

Endangered Wildlife Trust
CEO, Ms Yolan Friedmann, yolanf@ewt.org.za
Senior Trade Officer, Dr Kelly Marnewick, kellym@ewt.org.za

Blood Lions
Producer, Ms Pippa Hankinson, hancobb@iafrica.com

National Association of Conservancies, Stewardship of SA
Chairman, Mr John Wesson, jjwesson674@gmail.com

Panthera
Senior Director, Lion & Cheetah Programs, Dr Paul Funston, pfunston@panthera.org

Wild Trust
CEO, Dr Andrew Venter, andrewv@wildtrust.co.za

WildlifeACT
Director, Mr Mark Gerrard, mark@wildlifeact.com

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Wild Dogs return to Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, after decades of absence

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With only around 6,600 Wild Dogs left in Africa, this incredible animal is one of the continent’s most at-risk carnivores, and is listed by the IUCN as Endangered. Urgent action is required to save them, and a key conservation strategy is the reintroduction of packs into viable habitats where they once occurred. The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), champion of conservation in Africa, and Gorongosa National Park are thrilled to announce one of the most exciting Wild Dog reintroductions yet, as part of their efforts to save this highly threatened species. Wild Dogs will soon roam free in Gorongosa for the first time in decades. This historic transboundary event will take place on 16 April 2018.

In a move to reverse the trends of Wild Dog populations in southern Africa, a partnership has been established between the EWT and Gorongosa National Park in order to secure the reintroduction of the park’s first pack of Wild Dogs. This is a landmark occasion, as Wild Dogs have never been reintroduced to any park, protected area, game reserve or other space in Mozambique.

Wild Dogs have disappeared from much of their former range in Mozambique, and Gorongosa lost all of their Wild Dogs as a result of the 1977–1992 civil war. However, Gorongosa is today Mozambique’s flagship natural area and lies at the heart of the work being undertaken by the Government of Mozambique and the Carr Foundation to bring back to life a vast and diverse natural ecosystem over a 25-year period.  Wildlife is now thriving in the park, with numbers of species and animals having made a strong comeback. With the abundance of herbivores, the natural next step is the return of large carnivores.

Wild Dogs from South Africa’s EWT-managed metapopulation will form the founder pack for this recovery project. The metapopulation, comprising the various individual populations of Wild Dogs within a selection of managed national parks and reserves, currently numbers 250 individuals in 28 packs. This population has increased over the last 20 years and has ensured the increase in Wild Dog range in South Africa by 25% and numbers by 100%, thus allowing the translocation of a founder pack into neighbouring Mozambique.

Male Wild Dogs from uMkhuze Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) that naturally dispersed from their pack in late 2016, and free-roaming female Wild Dogs from the region are earmarked for this reintroduction. The EWT, along with local partners Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (EKZNW), the KZN state veterinary department, WildlifeACT, Maremani Game Reserve, LEDET, and the Bateleurs, have caught the two unrelated groups of Wild Dogs and brought them together to bond in a boma at Phongola Nature Reserve in KZN in South Africa. Once the Wild Dogs have been sedated prior to departure, the pack will be fitted with GPS collars and VHF collars to allow for close monitoring once released. All individuals will also be vaccinated against canine distemper and rabies before leaving for Mozambique, as infectious diseases are a big threat to Wild Dogs. This new pack will be flown from the Phongola boma to Gorongosa by the Bateleurs, to ensure a quick and stress-free journey. The EWT and Bateleurs have previously transported 29 Wild Dogs with 100% success and safety rate.

The bonded pack will be held in the newly constructed boma in Gorongosa for six to eight weeks before being released. This is to allow the males and females to become accustomed to one another and become habituated to the area, all the while being monitored by the Gorongosa project’s carnivore conservation team. The EWT will work closely with the Gorongosa team to train a new generation of Mozambican vets and ecologists in Wild Dog recovery and management.

Gorongosa National Park has been described as one of the most diverse parks on Earth, covering a vast expanse of 400,000 hectares. In recent years, the Gorongosa Project, with the support of Mozambique’s National Administration of Conservation Areas (ANAC), has ensured the protection of a recovering population of Lions in this system, successfully reduced key threats, and seen the park become recognised as one of National Geographic’s ‘Last Wild Places.’ It is fitting that, by returning Wild Dogs to Gorongosa, one of the most threatened mammals in southern Africa is about to take a bold step towards restoring their native range in the region.

This work is made possible by EWT funders, Richard Bosman and Land Rover Centurion, and Gorongosa Project funders, Gorongosa National Park, the Oak Foundation, and ZooBoise.
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About the Gorongosa Project
Gorongosa National Park (GNP) in Mozambique is one of Africa’s greatest wildlife restoration stories. In 2008, a 20-year Public-Private Partnership was established for the joint management of GNP between the Government of Mozambique and the Carr Foundation (Gorongosa Project), a US non-profit organization. In 2016, the Government of Mozambique approved the extension for another 25 years of joint management.

By adopting a 21st Century conservation model of balancing the needs of wildlife and people, we are protecting and saving this beautiful wilderness, returning it to its rightful place as one of Africa’s greatest parks.

For more general information, visit http://www.gorongosa.org

About the Endangered Wildlife Trust
The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), champion of conservation in Africa, has worked tirelessly for over 45 years to save wildlife and habitats, with our vision being a world in which both humans and wildlife prosper in harmony with nature. From the smallest frog, to the majestic rhino; from sweeping grasslands to arid drylands; from our shorelines to winding rivers: the EWT is working with you, to protect our world.

The EWT’s team of field-based specialists is spread across southern and East Africa, where committed conservation action is needed the most. Working with our partners, including businesses and governments, the EWT is at the forefront of conducting applied research, supporting community conservation and livelihoods, training and building capacity, addressing human wildlife conflict, monitoring threatened species and establishing safe spaces for wildlife range expansion.

A beacon of hope for Africa’s wildlife, landscapes and communities, the EWT is protecting forever, together. Find out more at www.ewt.org.za

Contacts

David Marneweck
Manager: Carnivore Conservation Programme
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398
Email: DavidM@ewt.org.za

Belinda Glenn
Marketing and Communications Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398
Email: BelindaG@ewt.org.za

Paola Bouley
Associate Director: Carnivore Conservation
Gorongosa National Park
Tel: +258 87 855 4935
Email:Paola@Gorongosa.net

Vasco Galante
Director of Communications
Gorongosa National Park
Tel: +258 82 2970010
Email: vasco@gorongosa.net

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Millstream – supporting crane conservation on the Highveld for 27 years

MILLSTREAM

Millstream Farm is a premier trout fly-fishing resort on the Mpumalanga Highveld near the well-known tourism destination of Dullstroom. Its scenic beauty is enhanced by an abundance of bird life, wild flowers and game. These can be enjoyed on nature walks or from horseback with staff who are passionate about nature conservation and the plight of threatened species in the area. This includes all three of South Africa’s crane species which call the Steenkampsberg home.

Cranes have a magical ability to instil awe in humans and have been doing so for centuries. Around the world their spectacular dances and haunting calls have made them important symbols: of joy and the celebration of life to the Greeks and Romans, of happiness and eternal youth across Asia, longevity in Japan, and of royalty in South Africa. It is an ironic commentary on modern civilisation that all 15 crane species are threatened, including our iconic national bird, the Blue Crane. To save our cranes we need to save their wetland and grassland habitats.

Towards this cause, Millstream initiated the foundation of the Highlands Crane Group in 1991. It was registered as a project under the EWT and the first field worker started work in the area in mid-1994. In 1995, several people dedicated to crane conservation formed the South African Crane Working Group under the EWT banner, including the Highlands Crane Group as part of the larger national programme.

In the 1990s, cranes and their habitat were under threat from certain farming practices, in particular the use of poisons, and the impact of wetlands being turned into dams for the burgeoning trout-fishing industry. Interacting with local farmers to build awareness of the plight of the cranes created a heightened sensitisation to their conservation. This lead to actions such as better poison use and the marking of power lines to improve their visibility to birds in order to avoid collisions and associated mortalities. This ensured that the Steenkampsberg continued to be a provincial stronghold for all three our crane species.

During the past decade the threat of large-scale habitat loss due to mining put years of conservation success in the area at risk.  Through the good long-term relationships built with local land owners, the EWT, in partnership with Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) and BirdLife South Africa, worked together to declare the Greater Lakenvlei Protected Environment (GLPE) in 2017. This area is situated between Belfast and Dullstroom and includes the beautiful Lakenvlei wetland complex. The Protected Environment status allows the current land-uses – mainly livestock farming and tourism – to continue hand-in-hand with sustainable conservation practices while limiting the possibility of mining in the area. It is hoped that the GLPE will be expanded in the future to include a larger area, including Millstream Farm.

Millstream has funded crane conservation efforts on the Steenkampsberg from the inception of the project through to the present – an incredible commitment. They also have a pair of captive Grey Crowned Cranes, which is a highlight with visitors and supports crane conservation awareness. This year we are excited to work more closely with them by assisting the Millstream conservation officer with a new environmental awareness outreach project to township schools in Dullstroom and with the establishment of a vegetable garden for workers living on the farm. Much has been achieved over the past 27 years, may we continue to together conserve the Highland cranes and their habitat.

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