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The Joburg Zoo is holding a fun walk through its gardens to raise money for its Wattled Crane Recovery Programme, which is helping to fight extinction of the critically endangered species. The walk is on Sunday.
WATTLED cranes don’t have an easy time of it. In the past 20 years, their population has dwindled to near non-existence, with a 38 percent decline leaving just 250 birds to fight against extinction.

 

A captive breeding flock has been set up at the zooA captive breeding flock has been set up at the zooBut the birds have some formidable friends in their corner - the Johannesburg Zoo has teamed up to help and will be hosting a fun walk at the zoo on 27 February to get more people on board.
 

The walk is to help raise funds for the Wattled Crane Recovery Programme (WCRP), which was established in July 2000 when worry escalated over the decline of the species in South Africa.

A population and habitat viability assessment workshop was held to discuss what role could be played in protecting the species. A captive breeding and release programme was identified as the best course of action, and the WCRP was born.

Abandoned eggs are collected from the wild and the hatched chicks are costume and puppet-reared to avoid human imprinting. This happens at the Johannesburg Zoo conservation breeding farm in Parys and at the Bill Barnes Crane and Oribi Nature Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal. The cranes are then released into existing flocks in the wild to boost their population.

A captive breeding flock has also been established, with grown birds being released into existing flocks as well.

Most wattled cranes only lay one egg at a time, but there is a small percentage that lay two. The second egg is simply an insurance policy against the first one not hatching, and will be abandoned as the mother leads the hatchling into isolation to prevent predation.

 

The chicks are puppet rearedThe chicks are puppet rearedThe WCRP receives an annual permit from Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife, the provincial conservation authority, to collect these neglected eggs. Ezemvelo and the Endangered Wildlife Trust undertake aerial surveys throughout the breeding season, whereafter a fieldworker will visit the nests to ascertain potential hatching dates by measuring the length, width and weight of the eggs.
 

The second egg is only removed once the first one has started hatching, and is flown to Johannesburg in an incubator.

From Johannesburg they are sent to the breeding farm in Parys, which was set up by the zoo in February 2010. The hatchlings are introduced to life in the wild and taught to find their own food as well as how to avoid predators.

They are raised at the breeding farm for approximately a year before being released into wild flocks. Radio-transmitter tags are attached to their legs to ensure they stay with their flock.

The zoo spearheads the programme, which is one of the most successful endangered species conservation efforts in South Africa. For more information or to make a contribution to the cause, check the wattled crane website.

Sunday’s walk costs R40 and registration to take part begins at 7.30am.

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