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Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo (JCPZ) the custodians of nature conservation and greening in the City of Joburg, has cracked the code for captive breeding of the endangered Wattled crane (Bugeranus carunculatus) which is the continent’s rarest of crane species.

On the eve of the Joburg Zoo commemorating 114 years of conservation, a second surviving fledgling has hatched on 9 February 2018 as part of a surrogate-reared, Wattled crane breeding programme in partnership with Ezemvelo Wildlife and the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT). The partnership was established at the Joburg Zoo’s conservatory in Parys, South Africa in 2010

The surviving chick that hatched on 19 July 2017, remains healthy and active and is oblivious to the watchful eyes of its costume dressed surrogate parents. The fledgling will remain in captivity and will be reared together with the recently hatched chick. Once fully socialized, the fledglings will be released into the wild as part of a pairing and mating programme, to boost diminishing numbers of tWattled crane. .

Three (3) births were recorded in captivity by the Joburg Zoo, with the first chick succumbing due to its inability to be acclimatized. This was followed by the ground breaking, second birth in 2017 and a subsequent birth this year, indicating that the programme is a masterstrokefor the advancement of conservation of the critically endangered Wattle crane.

Dwindling numbers of the species remain threatened by the destruction of wetlands; rapid urbanisation and the illegal collection of their eggs. Typically the close-knit breeding pair of Wattled cranes produce one egg, and on the off chance that a second egg is produced, the breeding pair will generally abandon the second egg once the first egg hatches.

The breeding programme is then designed to collect the abandoned egg from the wild and puppet-rear the chick after incubation, to prevent human imprinting. Costumed caretakers introduce the young cranes to life in the wild and teach them to forage and to avoid threats from predators such as Jackals. Once the breeding flock produces a significant number of chicks, their offspring, along with any additional chicks produced from abandoned wild eggs, will be reared and released into existing Wattled Crane flocks in an effort to bolster the population in the wild.

The Wattled crane is the largest of the cranes species, is predominantly white including its wattles with ash-grey wings, striking black under carriage and tail, and is remarkably distinguishable by its famed red beak covered by bumps. It forages in mostly marshy areas, dining on aquatic insects or snails, tubers or on reeds – that is if you are fortunate enough to encounter a rare sighting of this magnificent bird that is estimated to have a life expectancy of between 20 and 30 years in the wild.

Member of the Mayoral Committee for Community Development, Councillor Nonhlanhla Sifumba commended the Conservation team at Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo for championing the Wattled Crane conservation programme and was hopeful that these first steps in breeding the species in captivity, signals that we can reverse the decline in the number of Wattled cranes found along marshy areas.

Historically, Wattled cranes were far more abundant and widely distributed throughout South Africa. Sadly, a 38% decline over the last two decades has left the critically endangered population at a high risk of extinction in the wild.

A scarce 310 specimens remain in South Africa with the most significant population residing in isolated pockets in KwaZulu Natal. Wattled Cranes are already locally extinct in neighbouring countries such as Lesotho and Swaziland.

Issued by
MMC Nonhlanhla Sifumba
Member of the Mayoral Committee for Community Development
City of Johannesburg