Distressed to see the regal wattled crane disappearing in South Africa, zoologist Lindy Rodwell van Hasselt expanded her conservation network to save the bird’s wetland habitats.
In Africa, cranes are barometers for the health of the environment. As wetlands are drained for agriculture and dams are built, their habitat diminishes along with long-term water security for millions of people.
You’ve got a direct link between the health of the birds, the survival and sustainability of these wetlands and the health of the people.
At an elegant 1.7 metres tall, with trailing plumage and a massive wingspan, the wattled crane, Africa’s biggest crane, is an impressive sight. Its presence is woven into the cultural fabric of South Africa, and the idea that it might one day disappear was almost inconceivable for Lindy Rodwell van Hasselt.
In 1991, van Hasselt established a national crane working group to focus on the conservation of endangered cranes and wetlands, and in 2002 a planned network of conservationists across Africa earned her a Rolex Award.
Her project’s scope extended and she developed a partnership with the International Crane Foundation in the United States to look at wattled crane populations across all of Africa. Today, after more than two decades of effort, all three species of crane found in South Africa – blue, crowned and wattled – are increasing in numbers.
The project is now managed by a former colleague, and since 2008 van Hasselt has worked for the Lewis Foundation, which supports several conservation programmes.
Crane species worldwide, all of which perform an intricate courtship dance
Number of wattled crane states of central and southern Africa
Width in metres of a wattled crane’s wingspan