The small town of Wakkerstroom is famous for its endemic grassland and wetland birds, and eco tourists come from far and wide to experience the area's well known birdwatching opportunities. Although the special birds mainly include smaller species, one of the main attractions of Wakkerstroom is its three species of cranes - grey crowned crane, blue crane and wattled crane.
During the cold winter months some of the Wakkerstroom birds migrate to warmer climes, but others remain. The grey crowned cranes are among the species which remain in this area, sometimes in large numbers.
Feed The Cranes Project
As an additional tourist attraction, BirdLife South Africa now lures cranes to its winter feeding site using life-size wooden decoys. Maize grain is put out regularly for the cranes in front of BirdLife South Africa's crane hide at the Wakkerstroom wetland. Four wooden crane decoys have been made from alien, invasive trees obtained from local farmers. The decoys are very realistic and similar in size and colour to grey crowned cranes and, at first glance, they fool most bird watchers.
The decoys were made by the very talented Muzi Makhubu, who is from the Indalo Carving Project. Muzi is a local entrepreneur and his wood-carving business is supported by BirdLife South Africa. His wooden art-work has become a sought-after souvenir by visitors to Wakkerstroom. Muzi says that "I never thought that carving could be linked to tourism and bird conservation, but this example is evidence that it can".
Bird Tourism in Wakkerstroom
Muzi's workshop is at BirdLife South Africa's Wakkerstroom Centre and it is visited by many birders and other ecotourists. "For the community of Wakkerstroom to benefit from bird tourism, it is important that they align their activities to the needs of the birders" said Hansco Banda, who is the Wakkerstroom project site manager for BirdLife South Africa's Community Based Conservation Division.
BirdLife South Africa is also engaged in a farm-worker outreach programme, in collaboration with the Endangered Wildlife Trust's South African Crane Working Group, which educates farm workers and farm schools about conservation issues, including bird conservation.