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Celebrating World Wetlands Day

Article supplied by the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

World Wetlands Day, celebrated annually on 2 February, provides an opportunity to celebrate a natural resource that is critical for people, the environment, and biodiversity. Wetlands come in all shapes and forms, from estuaries along our beautiful coastlines and high altitude inland wetlands within the grasslands of Mpumalanga, to the hard working wetlands within our urban landscapes. Much of our conservation effort within the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) is centred around the protection, restoration, and management of wetlands and the catchments that feed them, and we encourage you to celebrate World Wetlands Day with us.


Two of South Africa’s three crane species, the Grey Crowned and Wattled Crane, are completely dependent on wetlands for their survival – yet both are threatened with extinction. Their threatened status mirrors the loss of wetlands in our country, with an estimated 50% of wetlands completely transformed in South Africa. The African Crane Conservation Programme (ACCP), a partnership between the EWT and the International Crane Foundation, has used these charismatic, long-lived birds as flagships for wetland protection, restoration and management.

The ACCP’s South Africa Regional Manager, Tanya Smith, confirms that the efforts of the ACCP team and its partners have ensured the protection of nearly 100,000 ha of grasslands, wetlands and associated rivers in important catchments for people and cranes in South Africa over the past five years. The protection of the key water resources contributes to the long-term security of our water supply for millions of people in South Africa.

Wattled Cranes

Pair of Wattled Cranes at the Karkloof Conservation Centre – By Patrick Cahill

From large charismatic cranes to the small and slippery, wetlands are home to many. Globally, amphibians are the most threatened class of vertebrate with 32.5% of species currently listed as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable. Approximately 800 species of amphibians make exclusive use of wetland habitats. Here in South Africa, a tiny frog the size of your thumbnail is found only in 25 wetlands along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline. Therefore, a key focal species of the EWT’s Threatened Amphibian Programme (TAP), is the Endangered Pickersgill’s Reed Frog. These coastal wetlands are unique in their structure and are themselves classified as Critically Endangered. “The presence of flagship species that depend on wetlands for their survival really helps leverage support for the protection and restoration of wetlands,” says Dr Jeanne Tarrant, TAP Programme Manager. The EWT embarked on an ambitious journey to restore four of these wetlands in the Durban area through alien plant control, re-establishment of indigenous plants and assessing wetland rehabilitation needs and this year will be working towards formal protection of two of these wetlands through community stewardship models.

This year’s World Wetland Day theme is “Wetlands for disaster risk reduction” and this theme truly celebrates the services wetlands provide for us free of charge. Wetlands greatly reduce the impacts of flooding by slowing down the flow of water, and reduce the impacts of droughts by slowly releasing water to our streams and rivers. In the current drought gripping much of South Africa, the role and protection of healthy wetlands has never been more important.

silindile learning about wetlands

Slindile students learning about the importance of wetlands

The EWT is involved with several World Wetlands Day celebratory events around the country. In KwaZulu-Natal, World Wetlands Day will be celebrated at the Greater Edendale Mall wetland in Pietermaritzburg on 2 February from 10am. This is a collaboration of all partners of the KwaZulu-Natal Wetland Forum and will see over 300 children learning about and experiencing the value of wetlands. In the Eastern Cape, the EWT and the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa have partnered to get our future generation’s hands dirty experiencing the wetlands of the Amathole area, where the EWT has been implementing catchment restoration work for the past three years. Lastly, in Gauteng, World Wetlands Day will be celebrated on 17 February at Tembisa Esselen Park Pan. A fun day of activities is planned, so be on the lookout for the EWT stand.

Later on in the month, you can get involved in raising awareness for our special wetland dwellers, the frogs, by joining in on a number of Leap Day for Frogs activities, including the EWT’s attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the largest game of leapfrog on Friday, 24 February. This exciting event gets underway at 10am on the Durban beachfront promenade near uShaka Marine World. Find out more by visiting www.leapdayforfrogs.org.za or emailing JeanneT@ewt.org.za

Yellow-striped Reed Frog 1 - Nick Evans

Yellow-striped Reed Frog by Nick Evans

You can make a difference to our wetlands all year round in a number of different ways, including:

  1. Planning a wetland clean up in your community with local schools and parents.
  2. Reducing your waste, reusing bottles and containers you would normally throw away, use reusable shopping bags and recycle! Our water resources like rivers and wetlands are heavily impacted on by litter and waste, so these small actions can make a huge difference.
  3. Reporting any illegal dumping in wetlands and rivers to your local municipality or police station.
  4. Supporting the efforts of organisations like the EWT in protecting wetlands on your behalf.

Useful resources to learn more about World Wetlands Day 2017:

Mountain Inspiration

Twenty four eco-conscious Midlands kids knew they were going to the mountain (Entabeni), home of the Hlatikulu Crane and Wetland Sanctuary. However, they had no idea they would be making friends with a crane named Boston who thinks she is a person and behaves like a friendly dog! On arrival, Boston wandered over immediately to say hello.

I never thought I could be so close to this beautiful bird” said Nondumiso, gently stroking the grey feathers and feeling the different textures of her soft leathery cheeks, spiky crown and woolly black cap. She nibbled our shoelaces and fingers and danced with her favourite boys.

Mzwandile dances with Boston

Boston was determined not to be left out when we went out for the afternoon session of orienteering – finding markers on the map and following our noses.

off to explore with Boston.RES

As we wandered through the wetlands we found many interesting plants. Most spectacular were the Red Torch Orchids –  Disa chysostachya or umnduze wotshani ombovu.

disa - red torch in wetland

Much to the delight of the Shea O’Connor School Eco-Club, who had attended the Midlands Bioblitz the week before, SANBI had lent them three cameras and a tablet to conduct a Hlatikulu Bioblitz. Everyone busily taking photos of everything that flowered, crawled or flew, of animal tracks and scats too. Nkululeko Mdladla, a budding filmmaker, took the best shot of the entire excursion:

Samkelisiwe admires Pelargonium luridium by Nkululeko Mdladla RES.

We saw songololos everywhere and stopped to admire their red legs every time. Many were moved to the edge of the road to ensure passing tractors would not harm them.

Sihle photographs a songololo.RES

The vlei was filled with white Knipophia albescens attended by bees, tiny Aponogton juncusRanunculus multifidus and lots of interesting sedges.

Kniphofia albescens and bee.RES CROP. JPG

The excursion was arranged by the Midlands Conservanices Forum (MCF) in collaboration with the Midlands Meander Association Education Project and KZN Crane Foundation who work with the learners at Shea O’Connor Combined School and the Mpophomeni Enviro Club.  It was sponsored by N3 Toll Concession. Arranging fieldtrips is challenging for schools, despite being an important part of the curriculum. MCF has tried to assist schools with this requirement during 2012. Educator, Antonia Mkhabela said “How wonderful it is to observe learners applying the knowledge they have gained in class. Now they have the full meaning of what they have learnt.”

the whole groups at Entabeni Hlatikulu .RES

Despite the walk to the forest being strenuous, once we arrived everyone was thrilled to visit ihlathi lesizulu. Sitting quietly, watching the birds, tasting the water and feeling the soft soil was an experience new to everyone. “In the forest, I think I hear it trying to tell me something I don’t know. I hear a voice making me think about my future and the environment in our community.” wrote Mtabaleng.

Drinking fresh water at Entabeni Hlatikulu RES.

In the evening, we reminisced – watching photos gathered from the last 6 years of activities the children had participated in. These ranged from visits to the Karkloof Conservation Centre, Biodiversity Days at Umgeni Valley, solar cooking competitions, marching for Climate Justice at COP17, litter clean-ups and recycling, creating a food garden for 10:10:10, giving speeches, receiving awards, learning about birds, imifino, medicinal plants, carbon footprints, wetlands and planting trees. What a thrill to see oneself on the screen, to see ‘cool’ new friends when they were much younger, and to remember interesting times spent learning about environmental issues with the MMAEP.

Nonthando ntabeni Hlatikulu RES

The next morning we walked over to the Crane Centre to learn more about the three Crane species. Sandi explained how wonderful the new iso-rearing facility which the KZN Crane Foundation is in the process of building in Nottingham Road will be.  They will be able to  rear the ‘second eggs’ collected when the first chick hatches and increase the population (only 250 Wattled Cranes left in the wild). One of the boys dressed up in the ‘crane mama’ suit to demonstrate the lengths they go to to avoid the birds imprinting on humans (as Boston has).

Nkulu is a Crane Mama at Entabeni Hlatikulu.RES

A couple of girls were thrilled by the idea of becoming ‘crane mamas’ and delighted when Geoff collected discarded Wattled Crane feathers for them to keep.

Nomfundo and her wattled crane feather. RES

We followed the frog calls to the dam. Hlatikulu Vlei is an Important Birding Area (IBA) and in 1996 the sanctuary was declared a national “Site of Conservation Significance”. We listened to the completely different sounds in the wetland compared to the quiet time spent in the forest.

Hlatikulu Vlei .RES. JPG

Boston was curious about what we were having for lunch and poked her head into the dining hall. Croft Farm in Dargle had provided free range chickens which were pronounced “Delicious, so soft and natural, better than the shops” by Nondumiso. Vusi said “At least the chicken had a happy life.” Sanele added “I’m going to speak to my mum, we don’t need to eat so much meat.”

Philani and Boston RES

Everyone took great care of Samkelisiwe, the littlest participant. Holding her hand when she was nervous, answering her questions and making sure she was wrapped up warmly after getting wet. Despite her size, she had a huge appetite and was always the first one for second helpings at meals and keen for the tuck shop to open. She bowled everyone over when she decided to donate half of her tuck shop allowance towards bringing more children to Hlatikulu.

Samkelisiwe in forest RES.

Back at camp everyone poured over the field guides, trying to identify the species they had seen during the day. The Snake Guide, Mushroom and Wildflower guides were the most popular choices.


The evening entertainment was environmental poems, drama, songs, dances and rap which the children created during a thunderstorm which had us all running for cover. Vusi received a standing ovation for his contribution:

We came here sheep, seeking to learn more about nature

We came almost empty, longing to be filled

We came here captives, trapped by societies opinion

Enchained by the ignorance of others

Too weak to break our constraints, but longing, longing to be free

We found ourselves at a place unfamiliar to us, but reminded of our distant past

We came thinking we were cups full of knowledge by soon realised that we were empty vessels

We arrived empty, now we leave full

We came here haughty, now we are humble

We came here sheep, now we leave as lions

Mother Nature’s wellbeing we shall keep

We came here captives, now we will be free.

Thembela’s rap (with a cellphone providing the backing beat) really got everyone going and Wendy’s passionate plea for the environment ended with “Viva Nature Viva, Phansi Pollution Phansi”!

shea oc dance.RES

On our final morning we feasted on free-range eggs donated by Highveld Eggs before climbing Mount Lebanon. Stopping along the way to learn about rock formations and finding examples of the different types of rocks. As we hiked, we discovered more flowers, animal tracks, protea bushes and a stinkhorn mushroom. Lungisani said “Every species is living in harmony here, each has it’s own habitat and there is balance. This is a place in it’s natural state. I have learnt so much.”

talking about rocks Entabeni Hlatikulu RES.

In the distance we could see a waterfall and hear the river running swiftly nearby. Just as we crested a hill a stream lay ahead – a perfect spot for splashing, swimming and relaxing.

paddling in the stream.res

The boys headed under the waterfall, while the rest of us paddled, drank the cool mountain water and admired the view.

Nkulu waterfall Entabeni Hlatikulu RES.

Before the African Insight bus arrived to take everyone home, we spent time reflecting on what we have experienced. Each person sat alone with their thoughts for 20 minutes. “I have never done that in my life” said Thembela “I always am with my friends unless I am asleep. It was wonderful and I will do this quiet time more often.”

Mtabaleng Entabeni Hlatikulu RES.

We fell in love with Boston and bid her a tender farewell. Everyone left determined to do their very best to take care of the environment.

Nkulu loves Boston RES.

Bulelani concluded “We have to stay passionate about the environment. We are the future leaders. Now we have more information and more contacts to do this.” Antonia Mkhabela added. “These kids are the drivers of change. Now they are motivated to actually act and make a change in their families, which will spread to the community.”

We love it at Entabeni Hlatikulu .RES

Everyone took home copies of environmental movies donated by GroundWork, pencils made of recycled materials and colourful notebooks filled with their thoughts about a very special trip. Special thanks to Lindiwe Mkhize and Penny Rees for their assistance in making this trip a success.

MCF kids and Boston at Entabeni Hlatikulu RES.

KZN Crane Foundation AGM

Spring has certainly sprung in the Bill Barnes Crane and Oribi Reserve (BBCOR), home of the KZN Crane Foundation (KZNCF).  Sunday 14th was a beautiful morning to join fellow crane lovers and environmental enthusiasts for the 24th Annual General Meeting.

Acting Chair, Andrew Ferendinos, welcomed everyone, in particular the new committee members, commenting on the wealth of talent which these volunteers contribute to the organisation. He presented certificates of apreciation to people who had given great help to the organisation this past year – including: uMngeni Mayor Mbali Myeni, Steve Simpson of the uMngeni Municipality, Bill Howells, James Berning, Paddy Moon and also Andy Visser and Con Roux of N3 Toll Concession who are funders of various aspects of KZNCF work.

Ann Burke, Conservation and Reserve Manager gave a presentation on the history of the International Crane Foundation  (ICF) and plans for the KZNCF.  The ICF was established in 1973 in Ann’s home town of Baribou, Wisconsin.  Ann worked there for many years, focussed particularly on their reproductive habits, discovering that if you remove the egg a female has just hatched, she will lay another. This was the beginning of their hand rearing programme. Baby cranes imprint on the colours and sounds their parents make, so since the early 1980s crane puppets have been used to raise the chicks.

The Wattled Crane Recovery Programme (which removes the second egg after the first has hatched) was established in 2000 and there are now 47 birds in the captive breeding project. The BBCOR is an ideal site for rearing and releasing chicks and a facility to do this has been planned.  The KZNCF feel strongly that as a conservation organisation it was important to set an example and build a green building. Architect Marita Nell has designed a wonderful facility featuring a green roof, solar power and many energy saving devices.  This project will also create jobs for “crane moms” and offer interns the opportunity to get hands on experience.Tanya Smith of the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) spoke about the 2012 Crane Breeding season and the success of their Annual Aerial Survey to locate the 70 known breeeding pairs of Wattled Cranes in KZN and count all the other crane species too.  Half of all the Wattled Cranes in South Africa (about 240 individuals) are found west of the N3 in the Midlands.  Ezemvelo have supported the project for the past 20 years making this one of the longest running surveys of its kind in the world.

She was pleased to report that there has been a steady increase in the Grey Crowned Crane population over the years. This is due to changes in agricultural practices, the use of fewer poisons, collaboration with Eskom on powerlines and also the fact that they are able to adapt to human created habitats.  3400 were seen this year.  934 Blue Cranes were spotted this year, mostly in the area around Kokstad.

Penny Rees from DUCT gave an overview of her walk along the length of the Mngeni river in May this year.  From the pristine beginnings at uMngeni Vlei above Dargle and Fort Nottingham, through polluted urban areas, others impacted by poor farming practices and infested with invasive vegetation all the way to the sea. Penny illustrated the importance of conserving our water sources for the protection of cranes as well as all other living creatures. Everyone was fascinated to hear that the river was able to clean itself despite all the abuse if given a chance and will certainly think twice when buying uMngeni river sand at the hardware store in future.After lunch on the lawns beside the dam, an Oribi count was conducted in the Reserve. Twelve were spotted.  The grasslands were filled with flowers – Dierama, Kniphofia, Delospermum, Gerbera, Helicrysum, Graderia and more. Care was taken not to disturb the Wattled Crane pair who have just hatched a chick.

Learn more about the work of the Crane Foundation at www.kzncrane.co.za

World Wetlands Day

“What do you know about wetlands?”, facilitator, Nkanyiso Ndlela, asked the team from the Rock Farm wetland rehabilitation project  when they settled down in the shade at the Bill Barnes Crane and Oribi Reserve, this week.  After establishing that they were indeed very wet places, everyone shared stories about the interesting creatures, the plants, the cultural beliefs associated with wetlands.   It came as a surprise to the group to realise how important wetlands were to humanity too – storing and cleaning water and providing numerous other ecosystem services.   This day of celebrating wetlands was to teach those engaged in the restoration programme about why their work is important.

In the past, wetlands were misunderstood and many were drained for agriculture, development and dams.  Nowadays, the value of the eco-system services they provide humanity is being increasingly understood.  A healthy wetland has richer species diversity than other eco-systems and plays an important role in traditional Africa culture with medicinal plants and spiritual beliefs. Throughout the world wetlands are used to sustain livelihoods, providing access to a unique array of natural resources. They store and clean water, are havens for wildlife, provide useful materials (eg reeds) and offer fishing, recreation and tourism opportunities too.  They also help protect people and homes from floods by slowing down the flow of water through the landscape.   Small wonder then, that there are many efforts in process to protect and restore them.

One such project is the midlands wetland rehabilitation project, funded by NLDTF and implemented by Eastern Wetland Rehabilitation.  This project aims to rehabilitate four wetlands in the Nottingham road area, all of which are important for biodiversity, including the critically endangered Wattled Crane (Bugeranus carunculatus).  It is for this reason that this project is acknowledged and fully supported by the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s African Crane Conservation Programme Programme.  Wetland rehabilitation often includes the construction of gabions and weirs that are carefully placed within the wetland to slow the flow of water and reinstitute wetland functioning.  It is estimated that KwaZulu-Natal has lost the functioning and ecosystem services of approximately 50% of our wetlands.  Wetland rehabilitation is slowly giving back some of the essential services wetlands are so effective at delivering.

World Wetlands Day is celebrated around the globe in February to highlight their importance.  The rehabilitation team at Rock Farm in Nottingham Road celebrated by spending the day at the Bill Barnes Crane and Oribi Nature Reserve, owned and managed by the KZN Crane Foundation in Nottingham Road, learning all about the importance of wetlands and having fun at the same time.

Tanya Smith of Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), spoke about the importance of wetlands for Cranes – particularly as there is a pair nesting on Rock Farm now.  Pat McKrill brought along some snakes to help dispel myths and fear around these creatures and, after a while, even those who were nervous to begin with, held the snakes gently and realised that not all snakes were dangerous. Other activities included: playing the Windows on our World Wetland picture building game, with everyone vying to show off their newly acquired information and beat their colleagues; taking soil samples to see the differences between wetland and grassland areas and constructing model wetlands from sponges and plastic bottles to demonstrate their cleaning abilities.

Before the team, wearing their bright bandanas declaring “Nginakekela amaxhaphozi!” (I save wetlands), headed back to Rock Farm, Laila Smith-Blose thanked everyone saying “Your work is critical for the survival of our planet and we have also learned a lot from you today.”  Participant Vusi Lamula commented “I learnt a lot, especially about the crane birds. I have never seen one, but everywhere I go now, I will look for them.”  This enjoyable learning and sharing experience will go a long way to helping cranes and wetlands in the KZN Midlands.

Contact Laila Smith-Blose 072 867 0462 to find out about future workshops.