BirdLife Zimbabwe crowns crane champions
BirdLife Zimbabwe (BLZ) has awarded the Markdale Site Support Group the status of Nature's Heroes for its work looking after its local crane populations
The Markdale group, one of four Site Support Groups (SSGs) which BLZ established in the Driefontein Grasslands IBA in 2009, works closely with BLZ in promoting the conservation of two species of crane. Up to 85% of Zimbabwe's Wattled Crane population, and important numbers of the Grey Crowned-crane, are found in this IBA.
The Driefontein Grasslands holds a mixture of open grasslands, vleis, dams, pans, and patches of miombo woodlands. The site is an isolated patch of Kalahari sands on the central watershed. Largely given over to agriculture, mostly mixed farming on the natural highveld grassses, it is also an important water source for the surrounding area. This area provides important ecosystem services to communities living in and around it.
"The Markdale Site Support Group have been instrumental in providing information of any emerging threats to cranes species and their habitats"
Though it is one of the most important wetland areas in Zimbabwe, and one of the country's seven designated Ramsar sites, Driefontein Grasslands is not included in Zimbabwe's protected area system. Much of the area is communally managed.
Working with BLZ and the other SSGs, the Markdale group has done great work among the community in raising awareness of the importance of their crane populations, which while common and familiar locally, are threatened and declining elsewhere in their ranges. The group has encouraged their fellow villagers to use and manage the wetlands sustainably, and not to disturb the areas which the cranes use for breeding. In addition, this group also help with crane sighting data from their area which they provide to BLZ.
“The Markdale Site Support Group have been instrumental in providing information of any emerging threats to cranes species and their habitats”, said Togarasei Fakarayi, Programme Manager at BirdLife Zimbabwe
"They took a leading role in reporting cases of illegal egg collection at crane breeding sites, and they successfully halted egg poaching"
Their work has also benefited the Secretarybird, another globally threatened bird species found in the area.
The group presents its crane conservation messages to various audiences through singing, poetry and drama, at events such as World Wetland Day celebrations. They take part in community meetings, and work with local leaders, and the government's Environmental Management Agency.
Group members are engaged in discussions with BLZ about the expansion of sustainable livelihoods initiatives, including the development of ecotourism, bee keeping and poultry. While local people value the cranes for their own sake, they are also aware of the potential of birdwatching tourism to boost the local economy. This group is keen to participate in site exchange and learning visits for them to hands on experience and knowledge on wetland management, species conservation and sustainable livelihoods.