The danger of baling twine (a story with a happy ending)

Plastic is hardy, water-proof, long lasting and strong – many of the properties that we desire in our products. Unfortunately these are also the properties that make plastic waste so troublesome: plastics cannot be broken down naturally i.e. biodegrade. Some plastics will degrade into small pieces if exposed to the elements but these smaller pieces cause problems lower down in the food chain as small animals eat them, mistaking them for food.


Plastic waste impacts many different species, including our national bird, the Blue Crane. 


Plastic baling twine, if left in the field, can become tangled around cranes’ legs. This hampers their movements, making it harder for them to eat, walk and preen.

The plastic also cuts into the legs, causing painful wounds. Often the crane will try to pull the twine off with their beak, sometimes making it tighter around the limb, restricting blood flow. Over time this lack of blood flow can lead to swelling, and eventually the limb can fall off (like the crane pictured below in the Swartland). 


With the pain and irritation, cranes with baling twine around their legs will start to lose condition as they spend less time feeding and more time lying down, to ease the pain, or to peck at the twine. These cranes can be incredibly difficult to help, because they can still fly quite strongly, making it hard, or impossible, to catch them. 

A good news story in Napier:

This is exactly what happened to a Blue Crane that became entangled in baling twine on a farm outside Napier. The crane was starting to lose conditon and was reported to Overberg Crane Group by a concerned resident, Vicky Butler, just after the national lockdown was announced. 

Our extension officer, Christie Craig, secured an essential services permit from her organisation (Endangered Wildlife Trust), allowing her to come out to assist with capturing the crane. We constructed a noose trap with some grain bait to try and lure the crane to the trap. After two and a half days we had no luck in catching the crane, and made the decision to try again after lockdown was over with other equipment. 

Two weeks later we heard the happy news from the farmer: 


The crane had by chance flown into the fence when they were working in the camp, and they were able to catch it, remove the twine, disinfect the wound and release it. The crane should now be able to heal and return to full health again. 

We are so grateful to all the farmers and Overberg residents who look out for the Blue Cranes and other threatened birds.

Remember: If you see a sick or injured crane and need help or advice on what to do, please contact us by email or call/whatsapp 066 289 5988.

The best solution is to prevent cranes from getting entangled in the first place.


You can do your bit for the cranes and other birds by making sure that no baling twine is left in the veld. If you can, remove the twine off the bale, as soon as it is put out, or as soon as possible afterwards.

The Overberg Crane Group works in partnership with Endangered Wildlife Trust/International Crane Foundation to conserve Blue Cranes in the Overberg. This work is funded by the Leiden Conservation Fund.


Images and video: Christie Craig