endangered wildlife trustLast year I was fortunate enough to visit Ursula Franke of the South African Crane Working Group (SACWG) at the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), who took me on a fantastic tour of Chrissiesmeer, a hugely important wetland site in Mpumalanga with some 270 lakes and pans located with­in a 20 km radius of the village.

Debbie Thiart, Administration Coordinator for the ICF EWT Partnership for African Cranes, mailed us to ask if we’d post an article written by Ursula describing an event carried out as part of World Wetlands Day where the crane team went out to Lakenvlei in Mpumalanga together with media, EWT staff and our sponsors to celebrate the importance of wetlands.

Well, of course we would…



World Wetlands Day on the Highveld: Celebrate Cranes – Save Wetlands
written by Ursula Franke

CLG World Wetlands Day Larkenvlei. Photo copyright Graham Wilson

The Crane Conservation Team invited a group of enthusiastic people to join us at the beautiful Lakenvlei wetland situated between Dullstroom and Belfast in Mpumalanga for a fun and educational event to celebrate World Wetlands Day on the 28th of January. “Our cranes need wetlands, and so do we! Wetlands are a vital part of a healthy landscape – for plants, animals, and all of us.” The invite also informed everyone that they should not be afraid to get their feet wet!

Although World Wetlands Day is usually celebrated on the 2nd of February the celebrations were held a bit ahead of time as some of the guests were from the media and needed the head start for writing their articles. Lufthansa and Millstream represented some of our sponsors on the day, and the majority of Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) managers also joined us. The Lakes and Pans specialist from Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) added much knowledge to the occasion, especially around the delightful array of wild flowers we encountered.

CLG World Wetlands Day Larkenvlei. Photo copyright Graham Wilson

After starting the morning with coffee and scones, Kerryn gave an introduction to what World Wetlands Day is all about and how it ties in with our crane conservation work. We then all set off into the veld, walking down towards Lakenvlei along a seepage wetland. Soon everyone’s feet were truly wet but it mostly went unnoticed as everyone became mesmerized by tiny frogs, flowers and dragonflies, cameras clicking madly to capture all these beautiful images. As we moved between grassland and wetland, hydrophilic plant types were discussed and ogre samples were taken to demonstrate how wetland- and peat soils differ from drier soils. Wetland functions, the impact of dams, and wetland rehabilitation were also addressed. Some Grey Crowned Crane pairs honoured us with their presence which gave an opportunity to involve everyone in collecting sightings data for our crane database. The walk ended with most of us standing thigh deep in the cool waters of Lakenvlei, getting a crane’s perspective of this ancient and magnificent wetland system. Dripping wet and elated we then headed back to a much enjoyed lunch.


Photos copyright Graham Wilson


Dullstroom, Chrissiesmeer and Wakkerstroom are certainly three of the most scenic areas on the Highveld – all well known for their wetlands and pans, and associated faunal and floral biodiversity – including all three of South Africa’s crane species. However, they also share another attribute – coal.

During our wetland walk the link between wetlands and coal formation was explained, as well as the dependence of cranes on these wetlands. Forming the headwaters of many river systems, the Highveld region also contributes substantially to the lifeblood of agriculture and industry and millions of people downstream. Subsequently, the major concern in these three areas is the loss of wetlands (and associated crane habitat) as well as the degradation of freshwater systems as a result of increased mining operations.

After a week of constant rain, the weather fortunately played along wonderfully on the 28th of January for what was an informal and most enjoyable Wetland’s Day at Lakenvlei. Everyone went home wet and tired but with huge smiles and a lot of added wetland knowledge. In fact, some were so taken with the spirit of the day that they adorned themselves with lovely wetland mud-painted faces!


CLG World Wetlands Day Larkenvlei. Photo copyright Graham Wilson

Celebrate Cranes – Save Wetlands!


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