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Photo courtesy of FreeMe KZN

Dr Lara Jordan, Drakensberg Project Coordinator, EWT African Crane Conservation Programme

Although hard to believe in the current climate, with the world’s attention focused on COVID-19, some things remain the same, and this means Grey Crowned Cranes are in their breeding season. In South Africa, Grey Crowned Cranes are most densely populated in the Drakensberg, which often means that they congregate in large flocks. Due to this, people often don’t realise that the species is globally Endangered. As such, they are afforded a great deal of protection by South African law. Within KwaZulu-Natal, Grey Crowned Cranes are protected in terms of the Natal Nature Conservation Ordinance, 15 of 1974 and the Threatened or Protected Species Regulations, issued in terms of the National Environmental: Biodiversity Act, 20 of 2004 (as amended). This provides the species with a great deal of protection, in that no person may possess, disturb, capture or transport such without the necessary permits.

Every year, a few Grey Crowned Crane chicks are brought into captivity by well-meaning individuals, who discover what they think is an abandoned chick. However, you may be surprised to learn that the ecology of the species means that the adults leave chicks in the wetlands on purpose. They do this because until the chick can fly, it is very vulnerable to predators and other dangers. The parents hide the chick and return after the danger has passed. That danger could be as simple as somebody walking their dog. This can often look like abandonment, but it is not necessarily the case, and often happens well before you observe the birds.

Unfortunately, a chick that is removed from the wild and reared by untrained personnel has a very low chance of survival. Crane chicks, due to their long legs, require a very specific diet rich in calcium and a very specific balance of nutrients and protein. Another important aspect of crane rearing is imitating the amount of exercise the chicks would naturally walk a day in the wild. If either of these aspects are absent from their rearing, this often causes the bones to bend later in the development process. These bones eventually break, and the chick then needs to be euthanised. Alternatively, the malnutrition of the chicks leads to organ failure and the chicks die. These chicks can also suffer from badly developed feather growth, which would prevent their immediate release. Unfortunately, 80% of the rescued chicks we have seen this season have died or had to be humanely euthanised. Those that do survive are at risk of having been compromised.

Should you find a chick that you feel may be abandoned, here are some tips on what to do:

  • Take a picture of the chick to confirm species
  • Leave the chick exactly where you found it
  • Move away from the site as quickly as possible
  • Find a place where you can safely watch from without being seen by the adults, remember their eyesight is a lot better than ours
  • You should see that if you are properly hidden, the adults will return to the chicks
  • Should you be concerned that this has not happened, or if you feel that the chick is in imminent danger, please call the below numbers:
  • FreeMe Wildlife: 033 330 3036, Endangered Wildlife Trust: Dr Lara Jordan 0719035880 ,or Janine Rennie 0825327836, or your local Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife District Conservation Officer.
  • The only people that can remove the chick are those that are permitted by Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife to do so.