Crane and wetland conservation in South Africa
In recent years, crane populations have plummeted in most parts of the world. Attracted to farmland, and in particular newly sown fields, the birds frequently come into conflict with farmers, leading to the shooting of these magnificent birds. A migratory species, the crane cannot effectively be protected within nature reserves, a difficulty that raises great challenges for its conservation.
Lindy Rodwell has risen to this challenge and has worked tirelessly to raise the profile of cranes and their plight. Spearheading crane conservation in South Africa, over the past decade, she has built up an ambitious programme that involves collaboration with both international and local communities, widespread public education, habitat protection and the release of captive bred birds into the wild.
Cranes are an excellent indicator species of healthy grassland and wetland ecosystems, both of which are vital components in the water catchment system of an arid country. South Africans are as dependent on the good management of these ecosystems as the cranes that inhabit them. Yet despite this, the grasslands are under increasing pressure from the agricultural sector for development, often for exotic plantations.
Lindy has developed an approach which recognises the vital role farmers play as the custodians of cranes and their habitat. By building non-adversarial relationships with landowners, she has helped to forge communities committed to both crane conservation and the preservation of traditional grassland habitats. She has also been instrumental in developing captive breeding, and in the reintroduction of crane chicks in the Eastern Highlands using crane-costumed keepers as surrogate ‘crane moms’. The wacky costumes are a necessary step in teaching the young cranes how to feed by demonstration, without making the cranes accustomed to constant human contact.
Lindy and her team have proven the effectiveness and viability of crane conservation programmes, and by working closely with local farmers, have done much to improve the prospects for South Africa’s three crane species.
In 2003, Lindy and her team were awarded Continuation Funding to assist in the expansion of their work, taking the lessons learned from working at the local level to create an extended network of expertise, support and resources throughout South Africa. Lindy played a pivotal part in the establishment of The South African Crane Working Group, which is today a focal point for crane conservation efforts and environmental education programmes in South Africa.
In partnership with the International Crane Foundation, Lindy is now looking beyond South Africa and continuing to build an ambitious network of conservationists to ensure that these birds are protected not only in her native country but across Africa. Projects and people are already in place in Botswana, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Zambia and over the coming years, Lindy hopes to strengthen that network, identifying, training and providing resources for individuals in 11 countries whose combined efforts will help protect the little-studied wattled cranes, and the wetlands these birds frequent.
2002 – Lindy Rodwell wins Rolex Award for Enterprise!
Rolex Awards are given to provide visionary men and women worldwide with the financial support and recognition needed to carry out innovative projects. This award is presented every two years for projects that expand our knowledge of the world, improve the quality of life on Earth or improve the human condition.