A wetland integrity assessment of selected Wattled Crane breeding sites in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, South Africa

Vaughan Koopman1, Tanya Smith2, Damian Walters1

¹Mondi Wetland Programme (PO Box 559, Howick, 3290)
²Endangered Wildlife Trust Private Bag X11, Modderfontein 1645

The Wattled Crane (Bugeranus carunculatus) is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN (IUCN 2007), however South Africa’s population is listed as Critically Endangered.  There are currently less than 260 Wattled Cranes left in the wild in South Africa, comprising of approximately 80 breeding pairs and floating flocks of non-breeding birds.  Wattled Crane pairs are strongly territorial and may defend territories of an average 16.3 km2 in size, however only 2.3% of this constitutes the core breeding range, and is largely determined by the presence of permanent wetlands, open water and surrounding grassland.  A clear understanding of the habitat requirements for Wattled Crane reproduction is vital to ensure the effective conservation of South Africa’s population.  This project aims to assess the health of the wetland systems that are currently and were historically used by Wattled Cranes for breeding.  Twelve wetlands have been assessed using an enhanced Level 1 Wet-Health assessment technique (detailed desktop mapping with field verification). Seven of the assessed wetlands are currently used by Wattled Cranes for breeding with five of the wetlands being used historically for breeding.  The aim of the study is to provide management recommendations to landowners, to identify interventions and prioritise sites for protection or rehabilitation.  Amongst the active wetland sites the hydrology scores were higher than historic sites. Scores were nearly evenly spread between A (un-impacted), B (small) and C (moderate) impacts. In contrast to active sites, the highest hydrology score for historic sites was a C with the lowest score being an E, denoting serious impact. Geomorphology scores for active and historic sites were similar being mostly high, but spread across the impact range from A to C, with no wetlands scoring lower than a C. Vegetation scores for the active sites were spread across the A, B and C categories, with only one wetland scoring a D (large impact). This contrasts with the historic sites where the highest score of all wetlands was a C, with one wetland scoring a D. For the last four sites (3 active and 1 historic), the hydrology and vegetation impacts units were mapped to determine the location of the actual nest site relative to impacts within the wetland.  For the three active wetlands, the nest sites occurred in ‘A’ hydrology and vegetation impact class whilst the historic site occurred within a ‘C’ hydrology and ‘B’ vegetation impact class.

Presentation Topic

A wetland integrity assessment of selected Wattled Crane breeding sites in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, South Africa


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Endangered Wildlife Trust, Private Bag X11, Modderfontein 1645


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