of protecting Blue Cranes

The Overberg Crane Group has just turned 30 years old! In October 1991, CapeNature teamed up with local Overberg farmers – to deal with the increasing threat to Blue Crane populations, by establishing the Overberg Crane Group (OCG).

For the next three decades, the OCG evolved and changed to continue to help address some of the biggest threats to our Overberg birdlife, and to find answers to many of the research questions that have been raised.

Take a look at this snapshot history of the OCG, how we’ve evolved over 30 years, and where we are today.


Recognised as a hotspot

The Overberg was recognised as a hotspot for our national bird, the Blue Crane. But in the late 1980s and early 1990s, many were worried about Blue Cranes in the region. In fact, in 1991, five incidents of crane poisonings were recorded, affecting 79 Blue Cranes. That same year, matters reached crisis proportions, when Blue Crane depredations on sheep troughs escalated during a drought in the Overberg.

A workshop in September 1991 between CapeNature and farming communities set the scene for the establishment of the OCG in October, driven by Mike and Ann Scott of CapeNature, and farmers Wicus Leeuwner, the late Hennie Lötter from Caledon and Mick D’Alton from Bredasdorp.


Conservation programme for the Blue Crane in the Overberg

A Blue Crane workshop arranged by the OCG in July 1992 and attended by many bird specialists resulted in the creation of a conservation programme for the Blue Crane in the Overberg. This management plan served as the backbone for the OCG’s conservation effort over the years. University of Stellenbosch student, Elsabe Aucamp undertook her MSc on the habits of the Blue Crane and became the OCG’s field officer, meeting farmers across the Overberg and presenting at schools.

From 1992 onwards:

Our crane ringing project

A ringing project was also started to help understand the dynamics between the various populations in the Western Cape, Karoo, Eastern Cape and further north to establish whether there was regular movement between these areas. Crane chicks were caught at two to three months and individual identification rings were fitted on their legs with different colours indicating different populations. This has allowed us to monitor crane movements, and better understand their biology and habits. Cranes are still regularly spotted today with rings on their legs. READ MORE

When avian flu became a serious threat in the Western Cape in the 1990s, the OCG spent time with experts from the Department of Agriculture, ringing cranes and taking samples for bird flu occurrence in cranes of the area. No positive birds were found.

Success through education

Education formed a large part of our work. With funding support originally from the Disney Conservation Fund, and the Darwin Initiative, and later the Engen Group, the OCG launched a campaign to work with our rural Overberg community to try to change attitudes towards cranes – showcasing cranes as our national pride. The OCG’s role in changing attitudes here, working with farmers and farmworkers, should certainly not be undervalued.

Avoiding collisions

The OCG team has from the outset worked with Eskom to identify powerlines where large birds, in particular cranes were being killed in collision. Lines were then marked with visible markers to help birds avoid the lines.

We also instigated and assisted in many research projects such as powerline problem data collection, nesting and breeding habits and success, moulting of birds, general movement of birds within the Overberg and comments on wind farm placing.


First CAR counts in South Africa

In 1993, the Animal Demography Unit of the University of Cape Town teamed up with Overberg Crane Group members to monitor the populations of both the Blue Crane and Denham’s Bustard – both threatened species. This was the first of the CAR (Coordinated Avifaunal Road) counts to take place in South Africa. In later years, CAR counts spread across South Africa, with 36 species now monitored in the country in bi-annual counts. The OCG remains involved in these counts.


South African Crane Working Group

The Overberg Crane Group played a leading role in the formation of the South African Crane Working Group – which was established in 1995 as an affiliate to the Endangered Wildlife Trust, and also included intensive education programmes.


Concerning incidents reported

During this decade, a number of concerning incidents were reported, including Blue Crane mortalities on grain farms, potentially linked to competition concerns by some farmers. Some incidents were also reported of the poaching of cranes for the illegal pet trade. Once again, it was important to continue to raise awareness of these threats with the right stakeholders through our field workers.

In fact, the OCG has been privileged to work with wonderful field workers since the start. Field workers include Vicki Hudson from 2000 to 2005, and Bronwyn Botha from 2007 to 2010. During this time we had various joint agreements with the Endangered Wildlife Trust, who assisted in funding our field workers.


Field worker appointed

In a project funded by the National Lottery, and facilitated by the Endangered Wildlife Trust, a new field worker, Nandi Thobela, was appointed as in the Overberg. Nandi’s role included monitoring, research and environmental education.


Our new mandate

In 2013 the OCG decided to alter its constitution and broaden its mandate to include all threatened bird species in the region. With this came a strategy to collaborate with partners with similar goals but also with limited resources in order to improve the individual impact of these organisations by working together at a landscape level. This strategy has resulted in many combined projects being undertaken and producing substantial gains to conservation.


Evolving partnerships

We partnered with the Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust (ORCT), to reduce human-wildlife conflict through extension support to farmers, awareness-raising projects and research and monitoring in the Overberg. The ORCT’s Keir Lynch also served as the OCG’s Extension Officer.  


Launch of the Target Species Project

Working with our partners, including the ORCT and the Nuwejaars Wetlands Special Management Area, we launched a Target Species Project. In this project, birders would focus on finding 26 threatened bird ‘target species’ that occur in the Overberg, including information about their habitats. This fed into a threatened species database within the Overberg.


Powerline collisions and the launch of the Agulhas Plain African Grass Owl Research Project

The OCG started working closely with researcher, Christie Craig in her PhD research project to better understand the threats of powerline collisions to Blue Cranes. Christie is a researcher with the Endangered Wildlife Trust/FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology. Blue Cranes were fitted with satellite tracker to track their movements.

The Overberg Crane Group teamed up with Bionerds to find out more about the African Grass Owl in the Agulhas Plain. Bionerds’ Keir Lynch (Chair of the Overberg Crane Group) and Alouise Lynch (a board member) launched their Agulhas Plain African Grass Owl Research Project (partially funded by the OCG) to find out more on their numbers in the Agulhas Plain, see their preferred habitat, map their range on the Plain and establish threats here.


Extension Officer appointed

The EWT’s Christie Craig was appointed the OCG’s Extension Officer. Her role includes to report injured Blue Cranes, and support where needed with capture, transport for veterinary support and rehabilitation where possible of Blue Cranes.


Fynbos Buttonquail project launch

With Overberg Crane Group, Fynbos Trust and the Grootbos Foundation support, the Fynbos Buttonquail project was launched in the Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy to learn more about this secretive species. The Grootbos Foundation team is using a flush-type methodology to flush any birds, identify them and confirm their presence.


Our sincere thanks

Our sincere thanks to everyone who has been involved in or worked with the Overberg Crane Group over the past three decades. We’re deeply grateful for your support.

Here’s to the next 30 years of protecting Blue Cranes and their birding brethren in the Overberg.


Blue Cranes and other birds are often found dead or injured in the Overberg. Please report dead or injured birds to our OCG Extension Officer, Christie Craig by email to support@bluecrane.org.za or phone 066 289 5988. 


Hundreds of Blue Cranes have had rings placed on their legs over the years. We use these rings to identify Blue Cranes. With this information, we can learn more about them. If you see a Blue Crane with rings on its legs, please let us know.


The Overberg Crane Group is the only organisation dedicated to protecting our Overberg’s birds, like Blue Cranes and Cape Vultures. We need your help to protect our threatened bird species from possible future extinction.


There’s a convenient way for bird lovers to note the birds they see – using the BirdLasser app. You can download the BirdLasser app to your cellphone. It’s also a great tool for bird lovers to keep accurate records of their sightings

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