We are excited to report that Zimbabwe’s main Wattled Crane area, the Driefontein Grasslands, is on the list of sites that were recently designated as wetlands of international importance (Ramsar sites). Zimbabwe became the 164th contracting party of the Ramsar Convention in 2012. The inclusion of the Driefontein Grasslands on the list of Ramsar sites is a major breakthrough and a positive development in the conservation of Grey Crowned and Wattled Cranes.
More than 85% of the country’s Wattled Crane population depend on a mosaic of habitats comprising riverine wetlands, earth impoundments and wet grasslands in the Driefontein Grasslands. The area also supports hundreds of Grey Crowned Cranes and thousands of waterbirds depend on water bodies that are used by local communities for various livelihood activities – including cattle watering, gardening and supplying water for domestic use. This is a welcome development given there was an urgent need to raise the profile of the Driefontein Grasslands as a landscape of national biodiversity significance. The main threats facing the two crane species; (1) habitat loss and (2) human disturbance, are linked to changes in land use patterns which emanated from the fast-track land reform programme. The development provides an avenue for BirdLife Zimbabwe and its partners to lobby for the protection of the Driefontein Grasslands for biodiversity conservation and seek government support in crane conservation.
BirdLife Zimbabwe has over the years been part of a consortium of environmental organisations and concerned individuals that pushed for the ratification of the Ramsar Convention since the early 2000s. Despite facing indifference from stakeholders and challenges due to low priority accorded to environmental matters, their tireless efforts finally culminated in the Parliament of Zimbabwe agreeing to ratify the treaty after realising the merits of becoming a contracting party to the Ramsar Convention. In 2012, a representative of the Ramsar Convention Secretariat assessed sites that had been put forward as potential Ramsar sites. BirdLife Zimbabwe and the National Environmental Management Agency (EMA) provided the technical information to substantiate why the Driefontein Grasslands qualified to be a Ramsar site. The country was on the media spotlight when the Secretary General of Ramsar Convention, Ananda Tiega’s visited the country during the first week of February 2013. His visit coincided with this year’s World Wetlands Day celebrations.
We view the ratification of the Ramsar Convention by the Zimbabwean Government and the inclusion of the Driefontein Grasslands as one of the first sites to be declared wetland sites of international importance as a step forward, a precursor to great conservation work that will follow. We join our partner, BirdLife Zimbabwe, in celebrating the beginning of a new phase in ongoing efforts to protect and conserve Zimbabwe’s remaining stronghold for the Wattled Crane.