Chrissiesmeer Crane Festival 2017

The sixth annual Chrissiesmeer Crane Festival was held from 23 – 24 June 2017. Credit needs to be given to Charmain Bouwer of U and Me Creative, who was responsible for the venue, logistics, marketing and bookings. The crane festival was born after George Archibald visited this small town situated in the Mpumalanga Highveld of South Africa. Since then it has flourished and has grown each year. It is an opportunity to celebrate and raise awareness of cranes and other threatened species and their habitats from the area.
Ursula and Steven were responsible for the crane field trips, the talks, presentations made and the community and learner involvement.  People thoroughly enjoyed the Birds of Prey flight show given by the Dullstroom Bird of Prey Centre and there was something for everyone to enjoy. The African Crane Conservation Programme team, other EWT  colleagues, assisted throughout the day at the EWT stand and with the kids activities. This included the colouring of Grey Crowned Cranes masks and pin the crown on the Crowned Crane. About 150 people attended the festival on the Saturday. The three field trips were once again the highlight of the festival and very good feedback was received. For the second year in row, we spotted a family of Blue Cranes in the same area with 80 Grey Crowned Cranes.

 

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The crane tours

 

 

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The Blue Crane family

 

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Ursula presenting

 

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The children’s programme

 

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Thabo Madlala of The EWT showing some crane moves

 

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Other sporting games learners enjoyed

Article by Steven Segang

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in African Crane Conservation Programme | Leave a comment

Karkloof source to confluence river walk

When I arrived at the office one Monday, Tanya told me that she had let the Karkloof Conservancy know that I would assist them with a river walk in two weeks’ time. My immediate thought was that this was a walk to the river for monitoring, perhaps for 3 hours. As a result, my response to her was a big SURE. With a smile, she added that it was a source to confluence walk that would take 5 days and cover about 65 kilometers….. OK – now this is real I said to myself! She then asked me if I would be ok with that. Not sure if I should be happy or sad, I kept quiet for a few seconds. I then started visualizing all the possible activities that might happen and all the cool stuff we might see; the most interesting one for me was going to be actually seeing exactly where the river started. Then something said to me, “why not, this is a lifetime opportunity”, I started smiling again and said “yes” to Tanya, “I’m ok I’m looking forward to it.”
After that conversation with Tanya, there was a countdown happening in my mind. There was this short movie playing on my mind about the whole river walk and each day I would wake up with more excitement. I started posting on my facebook about it and noted how I was so looking forward to it.
As the days were passing I was feeling it, I was ready for it. On 25 March around 1 pm, I made my way to Howick to meet half of the team that was taking part on a river walk. In addition, there was Tanya with Twane from Karkloof Conservancy and Ayanda from Ground Truth. I realized this was really happening! We loaded our equipment and left for our accommodation, a farmer’s old stable that had been converted into accommodation. To our surprise, we met the farmer immediately and started telling him about the walk. He was very interested, but did express his wonder around whether we would still have the same energy and excitement after the first day 
On 26 March, we woke up at 4 am to bath, pack our lunch and get ready for the day. The Chairman of the Karkloof Conservation was picking us up at 5 30 am. I cannot explain the feeling when he dropped us at our first point for our first day and he said, “Ok kids you go play, I will see you later”. I said right “we are here”, and they all laughed at me. The weather was not in our favor; it was drizzling. We therefore walked down the valley to find the river and walked upwards to find the river source. As we were making our way down, getting closer to the river, I realized there was no water actually in the river, just a structure that shows where the river is. The one component that makes it a river was missing in fact the main reason for our river walk WATER. Twane took out her GPS to see if are we at the right place and, yes, we were at the right place but there was no water – I was frustrated.
I started noticing changes in the vegetation 100 meters above us – the grass was different and the slope was starting to elevate. I said to them that if this was the source than we must find water that makes the Karkloof River. We walked up to see what was happening, and as we got closer, we heard the sound of water. Sue from WWF said, “Can you guys hear that?” We were all curious to find water and we rushed up the hill. When we got to a point where we were hoping to see water, we found nothing but small green ouhout trees growing. With sadness again, we realized that there was no water and that time was running out, as we needed to walk 10 kilometers per day. We therefore decided to walk downwards. In about 250 meters, and to our surprise, there was water rising from underground. The look on Twane’s face as she hugged all of us was amazing, and she nearly cried. It was so emotional to see how all of us were so excited, and to realise the importance of this.
The water was crystal clear and we started our monitoring: we tested for temperature, turbidity, total dissolved solids, alkaline and conducted the MiniSaSS and River Health Assessment. As we moved down the river, the amount of water was increasing and we noticed tributaries joining the main river. We crossed through some tight fences and went through fields of black jack; it was fun building crossing points using old wattle logs.
It was interesting to see changes in land use and also in water and the river structure as we moved down. We continued to do monitoring along the river for the next 5 days and 65 kilometers. During the course of the week, we were joined by The KZN Regional Environmental Manager from SAPPI and also by the Public Relations Officer from SAPPI.
Each day was filled with excitement and that sense of wonder around what bad and good things we were going to see during the day. Most of the time, we relied on printed maps and it was interesting to see land marks on the map and use them to navigate our way in thick bushes and wetland reeds.
All in all, I felt that what we did was not only fun but was so important for all the people who are using that river for different purposes and were able to find any major issues that people were not aware of. We were able to understand the river system from the source to the confluence. Witnessing the wonderful healing that the river system and wetlands can undergo and seeing those results was amazing.
After we finished the walk, the excitement I had when we started was still there! The difference was that it was more than when we started and I felt that I had archived a huge goal in 2017 within the conservation sector and was proud of myself for participating in such a wonderful activity. I was proud of us as a team and for the ICF/EWT Partnership for providing me with such opportunities.

 

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Nduduzo kissing a frog

 

 

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River monitoring

 

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The walking team

 

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En route

 

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Monitoring

 

Article by Nduduzo Khoza

 

 

 

 

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Capacity strengthening training on crane and wetland conservation in Jimma, Ethiopia

In order to contribute to sustainable biodiversity conservation in general and crane conservation in particular, we have provided training to the local community and provided material support for nature conservation club office construction in school compounds in  Jimma area of Ethiopia.
Trainings: We have proved capacity building trainings on wetland and cranes conservation to improve local community participation in conservation activities. The training participants were drawn from wetland users, farmers who have land adjacent to wetland habitats and school nature conservation club members. A total of 132 community members (62 from farmers, and 70 from students) participated in this training program. The training was provided at various times in different places and focused on activities that enhance both conservation and income generations (livelihood). The core theme of the training includes;
• Ecological, economic and social values wetland habitats. Example, flood control, climate change and drought adaptation
• Ways of community involvement in wetland conservation and restoration
• Wetland based socioeconomic activities contributes both for sustainable conservation and income generation. For example: fish rearing, source of water for livestock in dry season, bee keeping in buffer zones, fruit trees planting in buffer zone, cutting grass (papyrus) for different uses, city park development
Material support to club: in order to strengthen environment and nature conservation clubs at schools we have provided material (e.g. 62 roof tins – 31 for each) support for club office construction in two school compounds. In one school, the office was constructed and in the other materials was supplied. The offices are supposed to be used by club members to conduct meetings and store materials for conservation advocacy work in their respective community.
Field monitoring: for proper monitoring for crane population, wetland grazing pressure and breeding grounds two students from nature conservation club were recruited for data collection at breeding sties. We have engaged students intentionally to inspire and to improve their understanding on crane and wetland situated near  their schools. After providing adequate orientations on data collection processes, the students undertook data collection for the last five months.
The field monitoring result on crane population showed crane population is decreased during prolonged dry seasons while livestock population graze on wetland highly increases.
Finally, we would like to extend our thanks to The Rufford Foundation for financing this work.

Article by Abebayehu Aticho

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Searching for cranes in urban wetlands around Kampala, Uganda

Most of our crane monitoring takes place in rural areas, farming landscapes and protected areas. In Uganda, plans are underway to determine the status and distribution of cranes in wetlands around Kampala, the country’s capital city. Searching for cranes in wetlands located in urban landscapes is a different ball game. Not only are the cranes difficult to spot due to constant human presence and movements, built urban infrastructure inhibits the execution of transects and point counts. During the second week of May, Jimmy (Uganda Project Coordinator) and I had a feel of what it takes to traverse urban landscapes, survey wetlands, and spot and count cranes.

 

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Cranes preening themselves on a cleared wetland plot near residential areas

In the early morning hours, around mid-day and later in the afternoon, Kampala becomes a congested city due to thousands of cars and motorbikes on roads that were initially designed for lower traffic volumes decades ago. This makes moving from one section of the city to the next a nightmare. We endured the traffic jams and unexpected obstructions due to road constructions as we searched for the cranes in wetlands that are increasingly being fragmented, drained and transformed into industrial and residential areas. Due to a poor waste management system, some of the wetlands are highly polluted and unsightly. Jimmy once carried out surveys in Kampala as part of his MSc research in the early 2000s. He lamented the rate at which Kampala had grown since the 1990s and the negative impact of the expansion on wetlands that previously supported crane populations. Some of the access routes (previously open spaces and paths) to known crane sites were impassable due to construction of new buildings in recent years. We drove to dumping sites (where cranes have been seen foraging in recent years) and all we saw were large flocks of Marabou Storks competing for space with residents collecting plastics for recycling. We expected to see cranes on farms and wetlands on the outskirts of the city but this was not to be.

 

 

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Marabou Storks at one of the rubbish dumps where cranes have been seen foraging in recent years

 

 

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Threats to cranes: Soil excavation, powerlines, road construction and eucalyptus in wetlands

Just when we thought our search was going to be fruitless, we were thrilled when we saw one pair of cranes on a piece of land next to a wastewater treatment plant. A few minutes later, we observed two pairs foraging on a section of riverine wetland that separates Busenga and Bulenga suburbs. The pairs seemed to have adapted well to the constant presence of noisy groups of traders, motorists, construction workers, plant harvesters and pedestrians. We also noted that despite the extensive transformation and fragmentation of wetlands, there were patches (waterlogged, grass-covered and inaccessible to humans) that could still be used by cranes for breeding. Jimmy informed me that one pair successfully bred on a small island in the middle of a wide drainage channel near the wastewater treatment plant last year. Though we did not see as many cranes as we expected, driving around Kampala helped us get an idea of some of the challenges, opportunities and key logistical issues we have to consider when developing a methodology for a comprehensive survey scheduled for next month. Results of the survey will provide insight into the status and distribution of crane populations around Kampala.

 

Article by Osiman Mabhachi

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An Aerial Reconnaissance flight over the Kafue Flats, Zambia

Mimosa pigra (mimosa) is an invasive shrub that is fast invading the wetland grasslands of the Kafue Flats, a vast wetland complex in central Zambia, negatively affecting the habitat for thousands of Wattled Cranes and large herds of Kafue Lechwe. The ICF/EWT Partnership has received a generous grant from the Segre Foundation to remove over 90% of the infestation of this invasive species from the Kafue Flats over the next 3 years. This is an ambitious project that not only will restore the floodplain grasslands of the Kafue Flats for cranes and lechwes, but will benefit the local communities by way of gainful employment opportunities they will receive over the next 3 years or more during the course of the project.
Thus, we have targeted to start the invasive removal project in July this year once we have complied with Zambian regulations of undertaking such a huge project. But in order to plan our next course of action – i.e. to set our control strategy, a detailed map showing the distribution of Mimosa is highly needed. We partnered with the Kafue River Trust – to map the Mimosa across the entire Kafue Flats so that we have a baseline from which we can compare at the end of the project. To do this, we needed to carry out ground truthing work where we collected location data of a sample Mimosa infested area in Lochinvar and Blue Lagoon National Parks and then use this to map the Mimosa infestation across the entire Kafue Flats. Since the Kafue Flats are currently flooded, it was impossible to do this from the ground and so we had to do this from the air.
On the 18th of May 2017, we conducted a reconnaissance flight covering the Blue Lagoon and Lochinvar National Parks and parts of the Kafue Flats Game Management Area. Not only were we to look for Mimosa infested areas, we also set out to spot large herds of Kafue Lechwe and flocks of Wattled Cranes and other interesting landscape features. One of the key objectives of conducting the flight was also to have a visual impression of the how much mimosa has expanded compared to previous years.
From the aerial survey, it was evident that the extent of Mimosa in Lochinvar and Blue Lagoon National Parks has expanded compared to previous observations. The worse is the marked increase of Mimosa infestation in the Blue Lagoon National Park. In 2009, it was reported that the Mimosa infestation at Blue Lagoon occupied an area of less than a hectare in the floodplain grasslands around the Shamikobo area in the Park. Our flight over that same area suggests that the Mimosa has expanded and is occupying an area far more than 2ha (see photo 1). In the Lochinvar National park, the areas that were previously controlled in 2007 – 2009 have largely been reinvaded but other areas still remain free of Mimosa and have largely been restored (See photo 2). New areas that were free of Mimosa are now being overtaken too.
We further searched for Wattled Cranes and flew over an area we flew in 2015 where we saw a flock of over 400 Wattled Cranes. Unfortunately, the cranes were not present there or anywhere near that area. What was highly noticeable was that the water level was much higher during this current survey than in 2015. It is therefore highly likely that the cranes are located in a much shallower area on the Kafue Flats or possibly migrated to other wetlands in Zambia where the conditions are favourable for them. But we saw 3 pairs of cranes (See photo 3) – possibly beginning to nest – on the edges of the floodplain and a small flock of about 40 individuals.
Large herds of the Kafue Lechwe (See photo 4) were also seen. Kafue Lechwe is a semi aquatic antelope that is endemic to the Kafue Flats and is often found in association with wattled cranes here. As with the cranes, the habitat for the lechwe is also impacted by the mimosa.
Overall, the aerial reconnaissance flight was a huge success. Once the data is compiled and analyses done, we will have a map that gives us the current extents of the mimosa and one that we will use to set the strategy for our control project. Furthermore, this map will be our baseline on which we can base how effective our control intervention on the Kafue Flats would have been.

 

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Mimosa infestation in Blue Lagoon National park

 

 

 

 

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Mimosa infestation in Blue Lagoon National park

 

 

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 A pair of Wattled Cranes on the edge of the floodplain in Lochinvar National Park

 

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Large Herd of Kafue Lechwe in Lochinvar National Park. Note also that this is a typical floodplain grassland without mimosa infestation

 

 

Article by Griffin Shanungu

Posted in African Crane Conservation Programme | 1 Comment

Mpumalanga MEC approves the Declaration of the Greater Lakenvlei Protected Environment

A major milestone for the conservation of South Africa’s water resources and threatened Highveld grass- and wetlands was reached on 7 April 2017, when the MEC for Mpumalanga’s Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Land and Environmental Affairs (DARDLEA), Mr Vusi Shongwe, declared the Greater Lakenvlei Protected Environment near Dullstroom. South Africa’s grasslands and wetlands are poorly represented in formal protected areas and this declaration will now add 14,305 hectares of important grassland and wetland habitat to the network of protected areas within the province. This momentous achievement was made possible through the collaborative efforts of Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) and their NGO partners, the Endangered Wildlife Trust /International Crane Foundation Partnership (ICF/EWT) and BirdLife South Africa.

These organisations have a long history of working together in the area, dating back to 1994, and began the Mpumalanga Biodiversity Stewardship Programme, which aims to secure privately owned land within formal protected areas, in 2010. Biodiversity Stewardship has been a critical factor in enabling cost effective protected area expansion. It ensures that land stays available for agricultural production while offering landowners a way to contribute to national biodiversity conservation targets in a sustainable way. MTPA Head of Protected Areas Expansion, Brian Morris, commented that the future of biodiversity conservation is in the hands of private, communal and corporate landowners and the MTPA has walked a long road with the landowners of the Greater Lakenvlei area to secure the site under formal legal protection. He is very hopeful that, in the future, the leadership in the provincial conservation agency and the Provincial Government will continue to support the declaration of more land for conservation.

The Greater Lakenvlei area is critical to biodiversity as it harbours all three of South Africa’s crane species—including South Africa’s National Bird, the Blue Crane, and South Africa’s Critically Endangered Wattled Crane—as well as other threatened species such as White-winged Flufftail. Lakenvlei is also a peatland, which is a wetland with a particularly high organic matter content that is good at storing and purifying water, as well as sequestering and storing carbon in a pristine state, critical to preventing additional impacts on climate change. Furthermore, the Lakenvlei wetlands provide crucial ecosystem services, including the ability to trap nitrates, regulate stream flow, maintain biodiversity, flood attenuation, and to prevent erosion due to good vegetation cover.

The Greater Lakenvlei Protected Environment falls within the well-known Dullstroom tourism hub that provides a large number of local tourism-related jobs connected to the scenic beauty and outdoor activities in the area. This declaration will enable the continued development of sustainable tourism opportunities within the area.

“We are excited about this conservation milestone, especially in the light of the development pressures this area faces. The ICF/EWT Partnership would like to extend its appreciation to our partners and to the MEC for his visionary commitment to biodiversity conservation and securing sustainable tourism areas in Mpumalanga,” says Ursula Franke, Senior Field Officer for the ICF/EWT Partnership’s African Crane Conservation Programme. “The objectives of the GLPE are to demonstrate the mainstreaming of biodiversity conservation into the agriculture and tourism sector by securing the conservation of the area and by promoting agricultural and other land use practices that are compatible with biodiversity conservation. The ultimate objective is to ensure ongoing grassland conservation whilst livelihoods from livestock farming and tourism are maintained.”

CEO of BirdLife South Africa, Mark Anderson, says: “This declaration is a vital achievement in protecting this important grassland area which hosts many threatened bird species, and is also important for water management, tourism and agriculture.” Daniel Marnewick, the manager of the Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas Programme (IBA) at BirdLife South Africa adds that “this declaration will protect the Steenkampsberg IBA through improved management and by minimising threats to this sensitive grassland and wetland habitat, such as from mining which could negatively impact on the water, natural habitats and thereby the bird species found in this system.” Marnewick further indicates that this declaration is another victory for biodiversity stewardship in the country, which empowers local landowners to become stewards of the natural diversity found on their land.

The Greater Lakenvlei Protected Environment is an area of immense beauty and home to a wide variety of special plants and animals. The protection of the area also secures and enhances water and food production—our country’s lifeblood. The landowners’ commitment to Biodiversity Stewardship is especially praiseworthy. With assistance from MTPA and partners, the sustainable management of this special area will largely be in their hands

 

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Wattled Crane family and a resident Grey Crowned Crane at Lakenvlei in 2014 (credit: Jody de Bruyn)

 

 

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Wattled Crane family at Lakenvlei in 2009

 

 

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Lakenvlei in winter with the Wattled Crane family and a flock of Grey Crowned Cranes in the background.

 

 

Article by Ursula Franke

Posted in African Crane Conservation Programme | 1 Comment

Endangered Wildlife Trust Response to the Department of Environmental Affairs Announcement of a Captive Lion Bone Export Quota of 800 Carcasses

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Yesterday (28 June 2017), the Minster of Environmental Affairs, Dr Edna Molewa, announced her decision on the proposed setting of a quota for the export of lion bones from captive bred lions. A quota of 800 skeletons (with or without skull) of captive bred lions has been set and international trade is restricted to trade in complete skeletons only, with no individual pieces to be exported. Lion bones are used as a substitute for tiger bones in Chinese Traditional Medicine because China has heavily restricted the use of tiger products.

The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) notes that the trade in South African captive lion bones has been taking place for many years, with trade peaking from 2007, and that the setting of a quota was a directive from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 2016. However, we have serious concerns about the practice of farming lions for their bones, and the formal setting of a quota, for the following reasons:

  • There are potential negative impacts on the conservation of lions in the wild across their range through increased poaching of wild lions for their parts.
  • The commercial captive breeding of lions does not contribute to the sustainable, responsible use of South Africa’s wildlife resources.
  • There are welfare issues around captive animals and challenges around policing and prosecution of welfare offences.
  • There appear to be links between lion bone and other wildlife crime networks (e.g. in many of the recent rhino horn busts, lion bone has also been found and links have been made between rhino horn traders and captive lion owners).
  • There is a lack of evidence to support any clear community benefit from the captive lion industry. Social development is an important pillar of sustainability and the human aspects of the lion bone industry – in terms of direct benefit, upliftment and human welfare and safety – have not been addressed.
  • Lion bone trade has the potential to damage “Brand South Africa”. The global public pressure that was experienced following the release of the documentary “Blood Lions™” will likely be increased as a result of this quota. This has the potential to damage the good reputation that South Africa has as a tourism destination and a sustainable use and conservation leader.
  • The captive breeding of wild animals for their parts is contrary to modern global trends and opinion e.g. through international pressure, tigers have stopped being captive bred for their parts.
  • There is an increasing trend toward captive or intensive utilisation of wildlife. Wildlife is increasingly being treated as a commodity, rather than supporting sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity in the wild. While this is currently mostly limited to lions and rhinos, we are concerned that this may catalyse further non-conservation uses of wildlife resources.
  • DEA appears to support strongly the captive breeding and farming of wildlife when their mandate is biodiversity conservation.
  • A full public participatory process was not undertaken in setting this quota: there was no public input into the support of the captive lion trade at CITES, only eight working days were allowed for comment on the quota proposal, instead of 30. In addition, we have had no feedback on our formal submission regarding the setting of the quota.
  • The EWT provided extensive comments and recommendations to DEA on both the practice of captive bone trade and on the proposed research project. We have had no feedback from the department on any of our concerns to date, and the statement made by the Minister does not address these either. Thus our concerns around the trade, setting and management of the quota and the proposed research project stand.

The EWT supports the conservation of wild lions, in their natural habitat, where they contribute to biodiversity conservation as keystone and flagship species, and where their health and welfare are not compromised. We maintain that economic activities related to lions should directly benefit the species in the wild, uphold the principles of sustainable conservation, uphold welfare best practice and promote Brand South Africa. There is no evidence that the practice of lion bone farming, or the related export quota, does any of the above.

 

Contacts:

 

 

Dr Kelly Marnewick
Senior Trade Officer
Wildlife in Trade Programme
kellym@ewt.org.za
082 477 4470
011 372 3600

Belinda Glenn
Communication & Brand Manager
belindag@ewt.org.za
072 616 1787
011 372 3600

David Marneweck
Manager
Carnivore Conservation Programme
davidm@ewt.org.za
082 448 1721
011 372 3600

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Coalition launches High Court proceedings to stop devastating coal mine planned for Mpumalanga water hotspot

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A coalition of eight civil society and community organisations has launched proceedings in the Pretoria High Court against Indian owned mining company Atha-Africa Ventures Pty Ltd. The coalition is asking the High Court to stop the mining company from commencing with any mining or related activities inside the Mabola Protected Environment outside Wakkerstroom in Mpumalanga without a confirmed environmental authorisation and local planning approval.

The application is set down for hearing in the High Court in Pretoria on 27 June 2017.

The coalition consists of groundWork, the Mining and Environmental Justice Community Network of South Africa, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, Birdlife South Africa, the Endangered Wildlife Trust, Federation for a Sustainable Environment, Association for Water and Rural Development (AWARD) and the Bench Marks Foundation, and is represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights.

The area in which Atha-Africa wants to build an underground coal mine is a declared protected environment. This strategic water source area has been identified as incredibly important and strategic to protect in the interest of all South Africans.

The strategic water source area is composed mostly of wetlands, pans and grassland, and is a source of four major rivers – the Tugela, the Vaal, the Usutu and the Pongola – that provide water to a huge number of downstream water users. These users will all be affected if the sources of those rivers are compromised.

Atha-Africa was granted a mining right by the Minister of Mineral Resources in 2015, shortly after the declaration of the protected area by the Mpumalanga MEC. Since then, Atha has received licences and approvals from the Mpumalanga environment department, the Department of Water & Sanitation, and the Minister of Environmental Affairs. All these approvals have been challenged by the coalition through internal appeals, and a High Court judicial review of the original mining right granted. A further judicial review application of the Minister of Environmental Affairs’ decision to approve mining in a protected area will be issued shortly.

The coalition believes it has good prospects of success in all these proceedings, and that the approvals will be set aside by the courts in due course. If necessary, the coalition will take this matter to the Constitutional Court.

The two approvals at issue in the interdict proceedings issued this week are:

  1. the environmental authorisation issued by the Mpumalanga environment department in 2016 under the National Environmental Management Act. This authorisation has been appealed by the coalition, but the Mpumalanga MEC has not yet decided the appeal. Until such decision has been made, the authorisation is suspended by law, and Atha cannot commence mining.
  2. approval for change of land use from conservation and/or agricultural purposes to mining, which is a legal requirement under the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act No. 16 of 2013. Atha has not yet received the necessary approval for this change of land use from the local municipality.

Before launching court proceedings to stop the mine, the coalition repeatedly asked Atha-Africa to provide an undertaking that it will not proceed without these approvals. It has refused to do so. This left the coalition with no option but to approach the High Court.

If Atha were allowed to commence mining now, and the approvals are thereafter set aside, the damage caused would be irreversible.

Contacts

Catherine Horsfield
Head: Mining Programme
Centre for Environmental Rights
Tel: +27 21 447 1647
chorsfield@cer.org.za.

Belinda Glenn
Communication and Brand Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398
belindag@ewt.org.za

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Endangered Wildlife Trust statement on the Knysna fires

 

The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) was truly devastated to hear of the fires that have wreaked havoc on huge areas of the Garden Route, and particularly Knysna. The loss of life, property and habitat is tragic, and our thoughts are with all those affected, as well as those who are working to stabilise the situation.

The extreme nature of these fires and the extent of the damage was in no small way exacerbated by the extensive and uncontrolled spread of alien plant species such as pine and wattle trees. The threat posed by alien invasive plants in the area was identified many years ago. An article written by Richard Cowling, Brian van Wilgen, Tineke Kraaij, and Jonathan Britton, titled How no-man’s-land is now everyone’s problem, and published in the September 2009 edition of Veld&Flora, was almost prophetic in the concerns it raised regarding the potential for abnormally intense fires to ravage the area, due to the replacement of indigenous fynbos with alien plant species such as pine trees. The authors developed various scenarios for the Garden Route and, based on the existence of uncontrolled alien spread, and periods of lower rainfall, they predicted that “… fires would rage with abnormal intensity, seriously threatening homes, crops, plantations and people. The high-intensity fires would damage the soil, resulting in erosion and silting up of dams, further exacerbating water problems.”

The intense fires fuelled by alien vegetation also have a far more damaging impact on the soil than typical fynbos fires would have, resulting in extreme erosion. This eroded soil and other debris now threatens to end up in the area’s water sources, with a potentially devastating effect on water quality and the ecosystems in those rivers and estuaries. This brings home the importance of investment in ecosystem services, alien vegetation removal and catchment rehabilitation. The National Department of Environmental Affairs Natural Resource Management Programme, as well as provincial agencies, such as CapeNature, need to continue and ramp up the valuable work they do on this front to get a handle on the invasions that threaten, not just our water resources but lives and habitats too. Civil society needs to get behind these agencies and work together to make sure this scale of disaster does not happen again.

The EWT has previously been involved with developing the Knysna estuary management plan some ten years ago and had started discussions with the members of the Knysna Basin Project and the Estuary Management Forum in May this year around re-engaging to provide implementation support for aspects of the estuary management plan. In a few short weeks, everything has now changed and we are re-assessing how we can work with the Forum and the local communities to support both short-term protection of the estuary from siltation and runoff as well as long-term catchment management through restoration and re-indigenisation.

We are working with various partners to document the extent of the damage to the natural environment, particularly as a result of sediment and debris that may now end up in the estuary, and the potential impact on key habitats, such as the Eelgrass, and species, such as the Knysna Seahorse. Our aim is to have a team in the field in the coming week to start supporting local authorities to alleviate some of these impacts through debris clearing and silt trap ecosystem restoration work around the estuary.

The EWT is making an urgent plea for local government, the private sector, members of the public and communities to join hands and ensure that the restoration of the indigenous ground cover, removal of alien vegetation and improved management of the catchment in the Garden Route is urgently prioritised over the short and long term in order to secure the socio-economic development and sustainability of this region and to make sure that this never happens again.

 

Contacts

Bridget Jonker

Source to Sea Programme Manager

Tel: +27 87 021 0398

bridgetc@ewt.org.za

 

Belinda Glenn

Communication and Brand Manager

Endangered Wildlife Trust

Tel: +27 87 021 0398

belindag@ewt.org.za

 

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Ford Wildlife Foundation Supports Cranes and Wetlands Conservation with New Ford Ranger

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The Ford Wildlife Foundation (FWF) handed over a new Ford Ranger bakkie to the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) to support its Cranes, Wetlands and Communities Project. The handover forms part of Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa’s (FMCSA) commitment to the conservation and preservation of the environment in Sub-Saharan Africa.

As part of two decades of work by the EWT’s African Crane Conservation Programme, the EWT’s Cranes, Wetlands and Communities Project has been running for the past seven years to halt the decline of all three of South Africa’s crane species – including the Vulnerable Blue Crane, the Endangered Grey Crowned Crane, and the Critically Endangered Wattled Crane.

Due to their dependence on wetlands for their survival, the project uses cranes as flagships for the protection and restoration of key wetlands and grasslands within strategically selected catchments in the Drakensberg and Highveld regions. The expansion of these protected areas and ecosystems is important for both people and cranes alike – these are our water factories to support our everyday lives, economic development and support biodiversity. In addition, the project works with communities in each of the focus areas to ensure people become part of the long-term solution in conserving natural resources and biodiversity.

The EWT project is already turning the tide on the decline of crane populations in South Africa. By focusing on the core areas important for cranes and using cranes as flagships for habitat protection, the project has protected over 100 000 hectares of land in Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape. That is an area five times the size of Table Mountain National Park.  As a result, all three species of cranes are increasing in number, with the Grey Crowned Crane population in KwaZulu-Natal increasing by 44% over the past decade alone.

How the Ford Ranger Will Support the Cranes, Wetlands and Communities Project
The project consists of a team of eight that is dedicated to the conservation of some incredibly unique and valuable parts of South Africa. “Team members have to travel large distances from rural Eastern Cape in the south to the Lakes District – Chrissiesmeer in Mpumalanga, working daily with farmers and rural communities, schools and municipalities. With only four vehicles available – two of which are soon to be decommissioned – the support of a new Ford Ranger from Ford Wildlife Foundation will be invaluable to the project’s operations,” says Tanya Smith, Southern Africa Regional Manager, African Crane Conservation Programme.

The locally-built Ford Ranger, which is one of South Africa’s top-selling vehicles overall and in the light commercial segment, will be used to enable the project to go further and make a real impact – particularly in the remote locations often associated with conservation and environmental projects.

Ford Wildlife Foundation Dedication to Conservation
For the past 25 years, FMCSA has supported more than 150 conservation projects and invested over R30 million to help maintain wildlife and ecosystems in South Africa. In September 2014, FMCSA officially established the Ford Wildlife Foundation to continue that support.

The Ford Wildlife Foundation is unique as it does not provide a cash donation to the conservation projects it supports, instead Ford’s partner organisations are equipped with Ford Rangers. The vehicles are provided to help project operations, such as transporting animals between different locations, vets to sick or poached animals, or environmental experts to educate others on the importance of conservation.

With the support of Ford’s extensive dealer network, the vehicles operating in all Ford Wildlife Foundation projects are monitored and serviced by Ford to ensure they operate at peak efficiency.

 

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Contacts
Tanya Smith
African Crane Conservation Programme Southern Africa Regional Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
tanyas@ewt.org.za

Belinda Glenn
Communication and Brand Manager
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 87 021 0398
belindag@ewt.org.za

Cecily McLane
Ford Wildlife Foundation
cecilym@meropa.co.za

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