Learning about Cranes

Last week, the Midlands Conservancies Forum assisted the KZN Crane Foundation (KZNCF) to organise field trips for local schools to learn more about Cranes and Wetlands.

Silindile School in Fort Nottingham is a tiny school with enthusiastic, caring teachers and 36 lively children. Earlier in the year, Laila Smith-Blose and Ann Burke (of the KZN CF) visited them at school to introduce the importance of Crane conservation.

The learners had been looking forward to visiting the Bill Barnes Crane and Oribi Nature Reserve for ages, so were thrilled when Lion’s Bush Conservancy offered to pay for the transport to get them there for a fun filled day of learning and sharing.  Baba Ndlovu, who lives and works at the Reserve, welcomed everyone and explained what animals and birds were found there and the reason they needed protection. 

To ward off the early morning chill beside the dam, Penz Malinga (DUCT) got everyone moving with some warm up games and introductions before they were divided into groups according to Grade. Each group, wearing brightly coloured ‘love bird’ headbands, moved between three activities aimed at inspiring them to value wetlands as a natural resource and become aware of its importance for cranes and other creatures.

The first, facilitated by Zamambo Mkhize, introduced basic ecology and how birds and animals have adapted to fill different niches in nature.  The food web game followed in which each participant played the part of one element to the wetlands ecosystem.  There were frogs, reeds, bacteria, sunshine and, of course, all the crane species, connected with string.  Playing the butterfly and zebra were the favourite parts! The question is posed: “What would happen if a single species was removed from the ecosystem?” Everyone realised that everything is equally important and perfectly balanced in nature.

Next, Penz showed how wetlands work with a model made from a discarded plastic bottle, sponge and grass.  The kids were amazed at the role plants, algae and micro-organisms play in filtering and cleaning water. Then, it was shoes off and everyone searched the water’s edge for signs of animal life. Proudly, they showed off their treasures of crab shell, buck droppings, water spiders, a tiny stick insect and water grasses. We identified the invertebrates using the mini-SASS score sheet and explained how each organism had a different sensitivity to water pollution.  Nombulelo Khumalo enjoyed getting into the water saying “I love water, I always play in the river at home and there are many wetlands I pass on my way to school.”

Inside the Centre, Samson Phakathi of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, showed slides of all three crane species and shared his extensive knowledge of these beautiful birds. Lungile Dladla in Grade 6 said “The Blue Crane is my favourite, I have not seen them near my home, but in the mountains.”  Zama Mungwe added “I found it so interesting that some nest in the wetland and others in the grass.”

Everyone gathered in the sunshine to play the Windows on our World Wetland Picture Building Game to illustrate the importance of protecting our water catchments. There was much cheering as the “Bright Stars” took on the “Cheetahs” and won the game by just a few points. Then it was lunch time followed by story time. Nikki Brighton and Zamambo related the folk tale of ‘How the Crowned Crane got it’s Crown’ which encouraged everyone to fly around the grounds practicing their crane calls and wing flapping!

Home time arrived too soon.  Educator Anna Shabalala enthused “If only we were younger, we would train to do this environmental education – it is so interesting. We gained a lot as teachers today and will use the information in the curriculum.”  Back at school the next day, principal, Midlred Zuma said “The trip is the talk of the day, it was so much fun. The kids are playing all the games they learnt and say they need to visit you again soon.”   The KZN Crane Foundation, with funding from the N3Toll Concession for their Environmental Education Programme, is looking forward to building a strong relationship with this great little school and, no doubt about it, they will be invited to visit again.

Later that week….

The chilly weather did not dampen the enthusiasm of the Eco-Committee from Shea O’Connor Combined School in Nottingham Road as they headed towards the snow-capped mountains of Giant’s Castle on the last day of term.  These teenagers have been learning about environmental issues since Grade 4. A couple of years ago the school earned their International Green Flag status, with the assistance of the Midlands Meander Education Project,  and these learners are now confident enough to take the lead in their school’s Eco-Schools portfolio for 2012.  iNsonge Primary School which the Entabeni team support also joined in the day’s activities too.

The call of the Blue Crane was the first thing they heard as they arrived at Entebeni Education Centre.  Entebeni is home to the Hlatikulu Crane Sanctuary. Geoff Ntshangase and Sandi Barrett explained how injured cranes are brought to the centre and, if they are not able to be released into the wild, they become part of the breeding flock.  Soon, they hoped, the Iso-Rearing facility planned for the KZN Crane Foundation Centre in Nottingham Road would be built, enabling chicks to be raised locally rather than by the Johannesburg Zoo.  Sfiso Zuma from Injoloba High in Howick (who had joined the group for the day) dressed up in the crane costume that is used for rearing chicks to avoid them imprinting on humans. “This was so interesting,” he said, “I learned many things that will help me in different subjects, especially Agriculture where we study about wetlands and conservation.”

Learners were fascinated to learn that each type of Crane utilises a different habitat and how Blue Cranes have a pigment in their eggs which changes the colour of the shell according to the surrounding vegetation. The Wattled Cranes (only 255 left in South Africa means they are critically endangered) use wetlands for their nests, feeding on sedges, frogs and insects.  The Crowned Cranes are the least fussy about habitat and the only crane species able to perch – illustrated aptly by the “Crownie” named Boston on the roof of their office!

Walter, a female wattled crane, was most interested in the group, particularly the boys, and was obviously pleased when Vusi danced with her!  Vusi quipped “This is one of the best end of term days of my life, learning about cranes and even dancing with one!”.  Lungsani Mthalane added “I wish I was going back to school next week rather than having holidays so I could tell everyone about this great day at assembly. I learned so much. Now I am so pleased I joined the Eco-Committee.”

A scavenger hunt on the edges of the wetland had learners searching for ‘a chewed leaf, something beautiful, something noisy and something smelly’, learning about the biodiversity of wetlands in the process.  The ever popular Wetland Picture Building Game followed, with teams vying to spot the cards contacting the elements Geoff described and racing them to the finish line. Then it was off to the obstacle course at the top of the hill to climb the rope ladders, balance on poles and swing through the trees.  This was great way to end the day, while learning the importance of helping one another too. “We learned to work as a team” said Nkulu Mdladla, “I was the leader, naturally!”  Nkulu, who is also chair of the Digital Club, took many photos to share back at school and decided that on his next visit he’d make a film all about Entabeni.

While waiting for the taxi to arrive, the learners explored the Permaculture garden beside the kitchen, asking Thulani all sorts of questions about the compost heaps, raised beds and the various herbs.  Thulani was impressed at their knowledge of mulch and worm farming, as they had learned about these at school. Noxolo Mnikathi, who plans to study agriculture when she leaves school was particularly interested and invited Thulani to visit their school food garden sometime.

After a few games of football with new found friends, it was time to head back home. On the bus, plans were hatched to start an Enviro-Club in Bruntville, where many of them live, and also to come back to Hlatikulu at the end of the year, to stay over for a few days to learn more about Forests, Mountains and Grasslands – all part of the curriculum which is supported by learning activities at Entabeni.  Vice- Principal, Antonia Mkhabela was delighted with the outcomes of the day. “These kids have worked so hard and really deserved a reward like this. They learned a lot. I was also very pleased to learn about the Centre and we will use it in future for field trips as it is closer to our school than Durban and St Lucia.”  See more pictures on the Entabeni facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.407807122591137.90547.117700734935112&type=3

for more information about the KZN Crane Foundation see: www.kzncrane.org.za

2 thoughts on “Learning about Cranes

  1. worldsviewconservancy

    It’s lovely to see such a positive response from these young children – long may it live 🙂 Well done Midlands Conservancy Forum
    Pat Wilkinson – Worlds View Conservancy


  2. Pingback: Celebrating Crane Conservation | Midlands Conservancies Forum

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