The small town of Wakkerstroom is famous for its endemic grassland and wetland birds, and ecotourists come from far and wide to experience the area’s well known birdwatching opportunities. Although the special birds mainly include smaller species, such as Rudd’s and Botha’s lark and yellowbreasted pipit, one of Wakkerstroom’s main attractions is its cranes.
Three species of crane, grey crowned crane, blue crane and wattled crane, occur in South Africa, and all are found at Wakkerstroom.
Some of Wakkerstroom’s birds migrate to warmer climes during the winter months, but others remain. The grey crowned cranes is one species which remains in this area, sometimes in large numbers.
As an additional tourist attraction, Bird- Life 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”.
Muzi’s workshop is at Bird- Life South Africa’s Wakkerstroom Centre and it is visited by many birders and other ecotourists. “For the communityof 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.