/ 5 June 2009

Climate change threatens Blue Crane stronghold

Climate change is threatening the extinction of South Africa’s national bird, the Blue Crane, in the Western Cape, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) said on Friday.

EWT conservationist Kerryn Morrison said while the Blue Crane population was stable, predictive models show that too many adult losses could cause the population to crash.

The EWT statement on the Blue Crane was issued on Friday — World Environment Day. This year’s theme was ”Your Planet Needs You — Unite to Combat Climate Change”.

”Blue Cranes are long-lived and slow-breeding,” said Morrison.

”The chicks also stay with the parents for at least eight months, and a Blue Crane pair will rarely have more than one chick in a year.

”This means that losing one adult crane has a severe impact on the breeding success of the population.”

While conservationists already had their hands full trying to address the myriad other threats facing cranes, climate change could be the biggest challenge the Blue Cranes of the Western Cape will face, said Morrison.

Morrison said the Blue Crane has found an ”unlikely” haven on farmlands in the Western Cape, but climate change threatened to put an end to this.

”The mosaic of wheat farms and pastures in the agricultural areas of the Western Cape has given Blue Cranes an opportunity to live in an area where they weren’t found before,” said Morrison.

”While we’re not sure how they got there, the unnatural grassland setting in this man-made environment has become home to 60% of South Africa’s total Blue Crane population.”

Climate change was expected to affect the western parts of the country most severely, and the current land use practices were likely to change to something that would be more viable for the changed climate and its impacts on the economic drivers.

”This will affect the Blue Cranes, which don’t seem to be comfortable in the indigenous Fynbos habitat that surrounds the agricultural areas.”

Morrison said the EWT’s crane conservationists had been monitoring cranes across South Africa since the 1980s and had the only comprehensive database on cranes in the country.

This database will also form part of the EWT’s larger knowledge management system.

Morrison said the Blue Crane population in South Africa consisted of about 25 000 individual birds. — Sapa