This week I escaped to Hlatikulu to spend a few days with Crane Goddess Ann Burke, Crowned Crane Boston (whom I adopted for the Shea O’Connor kids this year), other beautiful cranes and interesting crane people. When I arrived, Boston immediately accosted my shoe laces – does he think they are big yummy worms?
I had come to visit Trinity, who is the unexpected ‘second egg’ hatchling from the first ever Wattled Cranes to breed and naturally hatch their eggs in captivity in South Africa. He/she is a bit of a celebrity of course. I simply had to write a story…
Trinity is being hand-reared by Entabeni while his parents take care of his sibling Blake. This is an account of a day in his life, to celebrate his first month birthday at the Hlatikulu Crane and Wetland Sanctuary.
Mornings are a gentle affair, waking well after sunrise to the liquid sounds of adult cranes calling down the valley. Tiny cheeps remind Gogo (Sandi Barrett – Entabeni) and Mama (Ann Burke – KZN Crane Foundation) to get his healthy breakfast ready.
“In captivity, you have to be really careful that cranes don’t gain too much weight too quickly” Ann tells me “the leg bones are developing and you have to avoid hairline fractures which you can’t fix.”
I helped prepare his breakfast. His daily diet consists of Pheasant Starter (a base mash full of nutrients), chopped boiled eggs, crushed egg-shell, red and yellow peppers, and lots of crunchy lettuce. Nutritional supplements Beefy Tee (yeast) and Avi Cal (calcium magnesium) are added along with grit to aid digestion. It didn’t look nearly green enough to me, so I added green beans too!
Trinity’s favourite treat is meal worms – 10 are added to the mix. These he picks out first with delighted little chirrups – a sound he seems to only make when mealworms are about!
This morning Boston, Snooty and Otto are up well before him and are enjoying their breakfast too.
Ann uses a crane puppet to encourage him to eat, so he imprints on the visual cues of red and white of an adult crane, rather than on her.
Then it is time for his morning walk. He needs plenty of exercise to grow big and strong.
Ann takes him through the tall grass “Here he has to pick up his legs and use all his toes to keep his balance.” she tell me.
He sticks to the paths created by cattle and buck as much as possible because the tufts of grass are hard to cross otherwise. Old bramble canes make life very difficult and he is easily impaled on the thorns.
Ever curious, he stops to peck at old bones, cow dung and odds and ends.
Of course, has a couple of pre-packed picnics along the way.
Oh no, he has a thing about shoelaces too!
Ever watchful for hungry predators, we spot Nic Shaw wandering towards us and settle down for a chat and a snack. Nic (a triathlete) marvels at how well Trinity is growing. Nic can identify with Trinity’s lifestyle – plenty of exercise and good food. “Life is training” he quips “the rest is details!” Ann is particularly pleased at how his ankle bones (hocks) are developing. “Crane legs are really important to get them high up to see over the grass and reeds as quickly as possible.”
It a bit hot, so Trinity settles into the shade Nick creates.
Lunch is served in his pen next to the offices. It is ‘time out’ to just wander around and relax in his shady tent (if he feels like it).
It is the hottest time of the day and even a grassland bird likes a bit of shade. He does a bit of ‘hock sitting’ to take the load off, or splashes in the shallow pool Sandi cleverly created from a drip tray.
His wings aren’t growing yet, but he stretches them every now and again with a happy little hop and a skip.
As the afternoon cools, he heads out on another walk – around the wetland this time.
Ann and her ‘mama beak’ show him how to poke in the mud and grass, to find his own food.
He has started chasing flies and it appears that he catches his first one today. A real milestone! He loves flying ants and catches little moths in the evening too.
Trinity wanders along, does some bird watching, enjoys the views.
He is a bit nervous to wade in the water, so stays safely on the edge for the moment.
Back at the centre, Boston wishes us all a good evening before he walks up the hill to bed.
As the sun sets, Trinity scooches up to his blue hotwater bottle with a feather duster floating above to remind him of his real mom, puts his head down, his chirps get quieter and quieter and he falls fast asleep. No doubt dreaming of all the fun he had today. In the complete quiet beneath Giant’s Castle, I slept like a baby too.
Wattle Cranes are critically endangered with only about 260 individuals left in the wild, almost all of them in KZN. Their continued survival as a species is dependent on a captive breeding and re-introduction programme known as the Wattled Crane Recovery Programme (WCRP). www.wattledcrane.co.za
The Hlatikulu Crane and Wetland Sanctuary is open to the public weekdays: 08h00-16h00 and Saturday and Sunday: 09h00 – 12h00. 0332632441 or 0824086610 or via email:firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is a fabulous day out – pack a picnic, see all three crane species, learn a bit about them and leave a generous donation to help ensure that the Sanctuary is able to continue their work breeding cranes to supplement our dwindling wild populations.