Justification of Red List Category
This species has declined, largely owing to direct poisoning, power-line collisions and loss of its grassland breeding habitat owing to afforestation, mining, agriculture and development. Although probably stable at present, a variety of threats, particularly habitat loss and degradation, but also including power line collisions, wind farms, and capture for trade, could easily trigger future declines unless appropriate conservation measures are implemented. It is therefore listed as Vulnerable because it is suspected that it may undergo a rapid decline in the future.
The population has been estimated at c.25,555 individuals (roughly equivalent to 17,000 mature individuals). The most recent Blue Crane population estimate for South Africa is a minimum of 25,520 individuals, with 2,616 of these in the eastern grasslands, 10,822 in the central Karoo and 12,095 in the Western Cape (McCann et al. 2007); but only 35 individuals in Namibia (Simmons 2015).
In South Africa, numbers in the south and south-western Western Cape have increased as the species has expanded into agricultural areas, while aerial surveys conducted by the Endangered Wildlife Trust and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife suggest the population in KwaZulu Natal has increased by c.45% over the past decade (unpublished report); although the national population has fallen by half since the 1970s (Archibald and Meine 1996, Barnes 2000). Evidence suggests that the population in the central Karoo region of South Africa is currently stable as the species has adapted to the pasture land use system (Allan 2005, McCann et al. 2007), although it may have increased in the Karoo since the 1980s (Shaw et al. 2015). In Namibia the population may be currently roughly stable (R. Simmons in litt. 2007), although it has declined there since the 1970s (Simmons 2015, A. Scott and M. Scott in litt. 2018)
The Southern African Bird Atlas Project 2 data shows that the decline in the traditional grassland stronghold has continued, but the past decline in this species is predicted to have been c.15% over the last 3 generations (Shaw 2015). However, its habitat is under severe threat of degradation and destruction due to open cast coal and uranium mining, potential gas extraction and agriculture, as well as by a change in the agricultural landscape due to changes in the climate and socio-economic factors (K. Morrison in litt. 2016). There is a strong potential that there will be significant habitat loss in the future, which will lead to a reduction in the population (K. Morrison in litt. 2016). Additional threats that could impact the population over the next 3 generations include power line collisions, wind farms and capture for trade. Therefore it is tentatively suspected that a potential 30-49% reduction may occur over the next 3 generations.
Anthropoides paradiseus is near-endemic to South Africa, with a small breeding population also in northern Namibia (c.35 birds at Etosha, isolated but stable [Simmons et al. 2006, K. Morrison in litt. 2012] after rapidly declining in 1980s-1990s). It is now potentially no longer present as a breeding species in Swaziland (Shaw 2015), though it is occasionally seen in Lesotho (K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007). In South Africa, numbers in the south and south-western Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal have increased as the species has expanded into agricultural areas (K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007) but, overall, the national population has fallen by half since the 1970s, with dramatic declines in many former strongholds, e.g. of up to 80% in Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State and Eastern Cape during the 1980s (Barnes 2000). The increase in the Western Cape has accompanied the conversion of fynbos and renosterveld vegetation to agricultural land (McCann et al. 2007), although adult survival may be relatively low there (van Velden et al. 2017). The population in the central Karoo region is presently stable (McCann et al. 2007), although it may have increased in the Karoo since the 1980s (Shaw et al. 2015). In Namibia the largest recent count is of 67 birds at Etosha in 2006, while further sightings since 2006 include 38 birds at Lake Oponono and 25 near Mamili National Park, c.900 km east of Etosha, which may represent isolated populations or possibly wanderers from the Etosha population (Benadie 2010).
Behaviour This species is a partial migrant which makes local, seasonal movements across elevational gradients (best documented in Natal) (Vernon et al. 1992, Barnes 2000). There is also some movement into the Karoo biome during the winter months (Vernon et al. 1992). However in some areas it appears to be resident or locally nomadic (Hockey et al. 2005). It breeds, usually at high elevations, between August and April, with a distinct peak in November in South Africa and December-March in Namibia (Hockey et al. 2005). It is a territorial, solitary breeder (Hockey et al. 2005), and nesting has been found to occur at a density of 0.57 pairs per square kilometre of appropriate habitat (Barnes 2000). After breeding there is movement to lower altitudes, where the species becomes highly congregatory, occurring in flocks of up to 1,000 (Hockey et al. 2005). It roosts at night, often communally, with roosts being known to comprise hundreds and sometimes thousands of birds (Hockey et al. 2005). Habitat Breeding This species breeds in natural grass- and sedge-dominated habitats, preferring secluded grasslands at high elevations where the vegetation is thick and short (Barnes 2000). Occasionally it will breed in or near wetland areas (Barnes 2000), in pans or on islands in dams (Hockey et al. 2005). Particularly in the Western Cape of South Africa, it also uses lowland agricultural areas, particularly pasture, fallow fields and cereal crop fields as stubble becomes available after harvest (Barnes 2000, Hockey et al. 2005). A few pairs in this area also breed in the coastal dunes (Hockey et al. 2005). Non-breeding During the non-breeding season the species occurs at lower altitudes (Walkinshaw 1973). It inhabits short, dry, natural grasslands, as well as the Karoo and fynbos biomes (Barnes 2000). In the Karoo it is mainly restricted to areas where summer rainfall exceeds 300 mm (Hockey et al. 2005) and where grassland vegetation rather than scrub is dominant (Barnes 2000). In the fynbos it occurs almost exclusively in cultivated habitats, largely avoiding the natural vegetation (Barnes 2000), although this habitat may provide important cover for juveniles (Bidwell et al. 2006). The agricultural habitats that it uses include pastures; croplands, particularly where cereal crops are grown (Barnes 2000), and fallow fields. It is intolerant of intensively grazed and burnt grassland (Hockey et al. 2005). It roosts in shallow wetlands (Barnes 2000, Hockey et al. 2005). Diet This species feeds primarily on plant material including the seeds of sedges and grasses, roots, tubers and small bulbs (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Hockey et al. 2005). It also takes a variety of animals including insects such as locusts and their eggs, grasshoppers, termites and caterpillars, worms, crabs, fish, frogs, reptiles and small mammals (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Hockey et al. 2005). In agricultural areas it feeds on cereal grains such as wheat and maize, and also eats invertebrate crop pests (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Hockey et al. 2005). Breeding site In wetland breeding sites the nest is a simple pad of wetland vegetation (Walkinshaw 1973, Hockey et al. 2005). Elsewhere it may consist of a layer of small stones, dry vegetation or mammal dung (Walkinshaw 1973, Hockey et al. 2005), or eggs may be laid directly on the grass or on bare ground (Barnes 2000). Preferred nesting sites usually have good all-round visibility (Hockey et al. 2005).
The main factors behind its drastic population decline since the 1970s were widespread poisoning on agricultural land (both intentional and accidental [Barnes 2000]) and the commercial afforestation of large tracts of its grassland nesting habitat (Barnes 2000). Poisoning has decreased dramatically over the last few years. Accidental poisoning, however, still occurs occasionally when grain is soaked in agrochemicals for the capture of wildlife for food, although cranes are not usually the target species, and also as a result of the misuse of agrochemicals (K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007, T. Smith in litt. 2018). Cranes are social birds and poisoning often involves a number of individuals (K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007). Afforestation is ongoing and large tracts of suitable grassland habitat have been designated for afforestation over the few years following 2007 in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape (K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007). In the Western Cape, the species is threatened by a change in agricultural crops and increases in the human population in agricultural areas (Bidwell et al. 2006, K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007, 2017, Shaw et al. 2010). Climate change could force changes in agricultural practices that may be detrimental to the species (K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007, 2017). Prolonged dry spells affecting habitat quality not only will directly impact the species, but can also result in competition with domestic stock for habitat at such times (R. Simmons in litt. 1999, K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007, M. D'Alton in litt. 2018).
Other major threats include collision with power-lines, which is now arguably the major cause of mortality and could have been a major hidden cause before lines were monitored (K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007, Shaw et al. 2010), entanglement with fences, illegal capture of fledglings (for food and a growing threat from local and international trade [K. Morrison in litt. 2012]), use in local tradition (A. Scott and M. Scott in litt. 2018), predation by domestic dogs and the drowning of chicks in water-troughs (Barnes 2000). In the Overberg, Western Cape, which holds approximately half the global population, modelling gave a conservative estimate that c.12% (95% CI 5-23%) of the Blue Crane population in the study area is killed annually in power-line collisions (Shaw et al. 2010), which exceeds the maximum annual adult mortality rate of 7.5% beyond which a population viability assessment predicts the Western Cape population would be unable to persist (Shaw et al. 2010). Collision rates are also be high in the Karoo, but mortality there is likely to be under-reported (Shaw 2013, L. Leeunwner in litt. 2018). As of yet wind turbines have resulted in only a small number of casualties of this species, but with predicted increases in the number of wind farms this could become a greater threat to the species (K. Morrison in litt. 2017).
Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. CMS Appendix II. Conservation measures have expanded in scale since the mid-1980s, including efforts to mitigate power-line collisions, addressing illegal trade, the adoption of stricter legal protection, local and national surveys in South Africa, increasing research on the species's biology and ecology, habitat protection and management programmes (especially on private land, where the majority of its habitat is [Young et al. 2003]), establishment of local conservation organisations, and the development of educational facilities, programmes and publications (Archibald and Meine 1996, Barnes 2000). The introduction of more ecologically sensitive agrochemicals and tighter controls over their use has reduced the number of poisoning events (K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007). The African Crane Conservation Programme of the International Crane Foundation / Endangered Wildlife Trust Partnership (ICF/EWT) is working in a range of areas to help conserve this species (Shaw 2015). This includes increasing environmental education of stakeholders, community involvement in sustainable use of habitats, reducing conflict with farmers, population monitoring, monitoring of the trade of captive individuals, and working with the power company Eskom to reduce power line collisions (Shaw 2015). Additionally, a joint programme between the Wildlife and Energy Programme (EWT) and the Percy FitzPatrick Institute (University of Cape Town) is conducting a research project to assess the ability of different devices to reduce collisions with power lines, and to generate more robust collision rate data as well as researching the movement patterns and the temporal and spatial habitat use of the species (Shaw 2015). The formation of a Crane Working Group in Namibia has facilitated education, surveys, ringing and protection (R. Simmons in litt. 2007). Future studies in Namibia will assess whether its population is genetically isolated from that in South Africa, and will use transmitters to help study habitat use, their choice of breeding areas and the occurrence of inter-breeding (Simmons et al. 2006).
Conservation Actions Proposed
Prevent conversion of grassland habitat to other land uses and secure sites critical to cranes in the grasslands (K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007). Monitor the species's population trends through regular surveys, and conduct further work to better understand the relative impact of the different threats facing the species to help plan and prioritise conservation actions (Shaw 2015). Include habitat management in future planning of afforestable regions (Barnes 2000). Encourage more responsible use of agrochemicals (Barnes 2000). Target awareness campaigns at the farming community so as to increase awareness and reduce deliberate poisoning of cranes for food (Barnes 2000, K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007). Further research the impacts and risk factors involved in power-line collisions, and use the results of this research to make hazardous power-lines more visible with appropriate devices (Barnes 2000, Shaw et al. 2010). Discourage the taking of fledglings from the wild (Barnes 2000). Encourage the retention of a mosaic of pasture and cereal cultivation in the Western Cape (Bidwell et al. 2006). Increase conservation protection of grasslands and wetlands north of Etosha National Park (K. Morrison et al. in litt. 2007) and establish captive breeding populations to support future reintroduction and supplementation efforts. A Biodiversity Management Plan for Species for cranes, as outlined in the National Biodiversity Act (2004) would encourage national support for crane conservation efforts.
100 -120 cm. Small, blue-grey crane. Overall greyish at distance, with long, decurved "tail" (very long tertials). Very pale blue, unusually large head, with proportionately thin neck. Similar spp. Immature Wattled Crane A. carunculatus very much larger, with white on breast and neck. Voice Loud, guttural ringing calls, often made when flying or in pairs. Typical crane-like honkings. Hints Sometimes in large flocks in open pastures in the eastern grasslands of South Africa, grassy Karoo, Western Cape wheatlands (South Africa) and in smaller flocks on the grasslands within and north of Etosha National Park, Namibia.
Text account compilers
Symes, A., Ekstrom, J., Taylor, J., Khwaja, N., Westrip, J., Evans, M., Pilgrim, J., Shutes, S.
Anderson, M.D., D'Alton, M., Gibbons, B., Leeuwner, L., Morrison, K., Scott, A., Scott, M., Shaw, J., Shaw, K., Smith, T. & Theron, L.
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Anthropoides paradiseus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 24/09/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 24/09/2020.