Johannesburg - South Africa's national bird, the blue crane, remains endangered, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) said on Monday, as the annual KwaZulu-Natal aerial crane survey entered its 20th year.
The crane count is a joint effort between the EWT and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (EKZNW) and was started to monitor the populations of different crane species in the province.
The survey was one of the longest running of its kind in the world, said EKZNW spokesman Ian Rushworth, describing it as a “wonderful achievement”.
He said the province was home to 250 wattled crane, or more than 85 percent of the country's population of the “critically endangered” bird.
KwaZulu-Natal was also home to about 6500 grey crowned cranes and about 1000 blue cranes.
EWT said the blue crane's dwindling numbers were largely because of a loss of grasslands in the province.
The survey takes place in June or July, which is the peak of wattled crane breeding season and is the time of year grey crowned cranes and blue cranes flock together.
It requires about 25 hours of flying, and covers 20,000 square kilometres over five days.
“The information collected over the last two decades has been hugely valuable,” said EWT field officer Tanya Smith.
“It has helped us to monitor trends in crane populations, while also contributing significantly to the development of a viable captive breeding flock of wattled cranes,” she said.
The EWT said that the aerial monitoring had revealed that the steady decline of all three crane species from 1970 to 2000 had finally stopped.
The organisation credited this to conservation efforts. - Sapa