Cranes among the Karkloof cattle

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A positive conservation story has emerged from a change in farming methods in Karkloof. Twenty ­three years ago farmers converted to no-till farming and the unintended consequence has been the return of the wattled crane.

No-till farming is a method of growing crops without disturbing the soil. and it has been proven to increase crop yield due to reduced soil erosion. Dig a little deeper, Charlie MacGillivray of the Karkloof Conservation Centre explains,  no-till farming increases the microbial life in the soil. providing an abundance of insects for cranes to feed on. Today, productive dairy farms coexist with an array of wildlife that ranges from oribi to the southern bald ibis.

cranes and cattle karkloof

Photo: Twané Clarke

The Karkloof Conservancy has been declared by BirdLife South Africa as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA). KwaZulu-Natal is home to all three indigenous species of crane: the statuesque wattled crane (Grus carunculata). the patriotic blue crane (Anthropoides paradiseus) and the grey-crowned crane (Balearica regulorum). Three years after the implementation of no-till farming the wattled crane returned to the Karkloof mist belt. Presently, between 17 and 26 critically endangered wattled cranes are regularly sighted in the Karkloof valley. An estimated 50-70 grey-crowned cranes and approximately eight blue crane pairs have been recorded by Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and the Karkloof Conservation Centre.

grey-craned cranes field Natal Midlands

Photo: Twané Clarke

South Africa’s cranes are dependent on wetlands and grasslands for survival. The working landscape of Karkloof is scattered with wetlands, making for ideal crane breeding and foraging sites. Resident farmers have become custodians of the birds in cooperation with EWT. for example awareness and consideration is taken when burning to avoid chick mortality.

Written by Georgina Lockwood 

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