by Pompie Burger
Wattled cranes are one of the most threatened bird species on earth. According to researchers, there are only about 7 500 left worldwide, the largest population being in Botswana. The numbers in Namibia are about 20 breeding pairs, so each and every one of us has a responsibility to ensure that they don’t come to harm.
Peter Mathiesen said in his book, Birds of Heaven: “Perhaps more than any other living creature, cranes evoke the retreating wilderness, vanishing horizons of clean water, earth and air upon which their species must ultimately depend on for their survival.”
The reason for their decline is the degradation and destruction of their natural habitat – midland marshes, moist grasslands and seasonal floodplains. Looking at their preferred habitat, one can see why the Caprivi Region, Kavango floodplains and Mahango Game Park are prime areas for them.
After good rains when the pans have filled, Bushmanland is also one of their favourite areas. We had the wonderful opportunity to see a flock of 20 wattled cranes at the Nxai Nxai pans after good rains in that area. We followed them on foot through the water and they were quite reluctant to fly, rather tending to walk away slowly, which is very typical of their behaviour, according to Roberts’ Birds of Southern Africa.
They forage by wading in shallow water or walking through adjacent grassveld. Their diet consists of small reptiles, frogs, insects, grain and small mammals.
Apparently there are only 14 crane species left in the world, while 31 different fossils of these birds have been found, indicating that the entire genus is indeed in the process of becoming extinct. Namibia hosts three of the 14 crane species. Apart from the wattled crane, there are the blue crane and the crowned crane. The wattled crane is the largest and rarest of the six African species left.
About the author:
Based in Windhoek, Pompie Burger is an orthopaedic surgeon whose part-time passion is photography, in particular wildlife, and specifically birds. This regularly takes him to the most remote corners of the country, resulting in riveting images and articles.
Pompie is the author and photographer of the coffee table book Birds of Namibia, which was published in 2008. The book contains articles and photographs which attest to the insight and knowledge of an accomplished observer.
Read more of his articles in our Birding Section.
This article appeared in the Dec ‘04/ Jan ‘05 edition of Travel News Namibia.