By Peter Millin
The ornate Grey Crowned Crane with his mixture of colours, black head and beautiful golden crown of stiff upright feathers is also threatened with extinction due to the destruction of habitat because of ploughed fields and the establishment of forests; the degradation of many wetlands; poisoning either intended or by accident and crashing into power lines.
Their numbers have decreased tremendously over the past century although there are organizations working to save them with some success. These birds like to nest in wetlands, building their inconspicuous nests In marshes.
Unlike other cranes, the Grey Crowned will roost in trees. They do like to be near grasslands where they forage for frogs reptiles, insects and fallen grain. They occur mainly in the Eastern areas of South Africa from the Transkei up through Kwazulu/Natal, North Eastern Free State and possibly Swaziland. They occur in Zimbabwe and East Africa where it is the National bird of Uganda, appearing on both the flag and coat-of-arms.
A good place to see Grey Crowned Cranes is in the wetlands at Memel, where it is a wonderful sight to sit on the hillside watching them flying in at sunset emitting their booming calls “Mayhem! Mayhem” The bird is also known as the Mayhem Crane. It is also a wonderful and interesting sight to see two or more birds ‘displaying’ as a form of courtship: they dance round and round one another, bowing and jumping high into the air with outstretched wings A detailed description of cranes can be found in any “Bird” book. Its official number is 209.
It would be tragic if these beautiful birds were to become extinct. Don Pinnock in his book ,Love Letters to Africa, devotes a whole chapter to Cranes and their status. He tells two stories about hope and despair. The first story is about Sudako Sasaki who was just two years old when the atom bomb was released over Nagasaki. Although all around her was destruction, somehow, she was unharmed and she grew up to be a normal healthy fun-loving girl, But twelve years later, the effects of the bomb caught up with her and she developed leukaemia. She had heard that cranes are birds of good fortune and that if you could see 1000 cranes your greatest wish would be granted, Her greatest wish was to stay alive, but there was no way in which she could hope to see a thousand cranes, So she decided to make them out of paper. Sadako managed to make about 650 when she sadly died. Her school friends continued to make origami cranes to complete the task of making a thousand in her honour and then dedicated them as a prayer for peace. A Children’s Peace Memorial was erected in Hiroshima Peace Park as a symbol of a future peaceful world and to honour the memory of the thousands of child victims of the atomic bombs.‘The central motif is a statue of a folded paper crane,’
The second story is about cranes in Don’s book in which he describes the present situation of these birds which have been around for millions of years but are now endangered.
It is a strange irony that 60 years after the dropping of the atomic bomb, cranes are desperately in need of the same wish for survival that so motivated Sadako Sasaki.
References: Don Pinnock ‘Love Letters to Africa, Roberts Birds of Southern AFRICA