The Blue Crane has found an unlikely haven on farmlands in the Western Cape, but climate change threatens to put an end to this. The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) is keeping a close eye on the situation so that it can act timeously to avoid a major loss.
"The mosaic of wheat farms and pastures in the agricultural areas of the Western Cape has given Blue Cranes an opportunity to live in an area where they weren't found before," says EWT crane conservationist Kerryn Morrison. "While we're not sure how they got there, the unnatural grassland setting in this man-made environment has become home to 60% of South Africa's total Blue Crane population."
Climate change is expected to affect the western parts of the country most severely, and the current land use practices are likely to change to something more viable for the changed climate and its impacts on the economic drivers. This will affect the Blue Cranes, which don't seem to be comfortable in the indigenous Fynbos habitat that surrounds the agricultural areas.
The EWT's crane conservationists have been monitoring cranes across South Africa since the 1980's and have the only comprehensive database on cranes in the country. While the Blue Crane population is currently stable, predictive models show that too many adult losses could cause the population to crash.
"Blue Cranes are long-lived and slow-breeding," says Morrison. "The chicks also stay with the parents for at least eight months, and a Blue Crane pair will rarely have more than one chick in a year. This means that losing one adult crane has a severe impact on the breeding success of the population."
Numbering around 25 000 individuals, the Blue Crane (Anthropoides paradiseus) is a near endemic to South Africa. It is found mainly in the Western Cape and Karoo, with lower numbers spread across the grasslands of the country. Between the late 1970's and 1990's, Blue Cranes declined by up to 80% across much of their grassland range, resulting in their current Red Data List Status of Vulnerable.