KIMBERLY - In a massive blow to the population of South Africa’s national bird, between 200 and 1000 blue cranes have been poisoned, allegedly by a well-known Northern Cape farmer. The Blue Crane is globally vulnerable, a protected species and also the BirdLife South Africa Bird of the Year.
The farmer, from the Richmond district in the Northern Cape, allegedly poisoned the birds over a period of three years since 2012.
While his reasons for the alleged poisonings are still unclear, the birds were apparently attracted to newly planted fields and pivots on his farm, which is designated as a sheep and cattle farm, further raising the possible contravention of land use and irrigation development laws by the farmer.
According to reports, farm workers were instructed to dip corn in a poison called Temic, also known as ‘Two Step’ or Aldicarb, to deliberately poison the birds. The workers then had to collect the carcasses of the dead birds and bury them in porcupine and aardvark holes.
While the total number of carcasses found is believed to be around 200, sources on Monday revealed that the number might be closer to a thousand.
The owner of the farm could face a myriad of charges if found guilty of deliberate poisoning, such as contravening animal protection, nature conservation, environmental management, land use and poison management legislation, which includes the Northern Cape Provincial Conservation Act and the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act. Hanneline Smit-Robinson of BirdLife South Africa confirms that it is unlawful to kill protected species, especially using poisons.
Dr Gerhard Verdoorn, who on Monday was busy with the investigation into the alleged ‘mass murder’ of the national bird, said he would be conducting toxicology reports on some of the carcasses to determine what poison was used to kill the birds.
‘It is prohibited to use any insecticide for any other use than what is indicated on the label. On the label there is no indication for its use on birds and such action therefore makes it a criminal offence,’ Verdoorn said. He further stated that the poisoning of any animal without a permit was in contravention of nature conservation laws in all provinces.
A concerned resident from the Richmond area said on Monday that the incident impacted ‘substantially’ on the conservation of blue cranes in the Northern Cape because the area had one of the largest numbers of blue cranes in their natural habitat in the world.
‘This grouping was one of the largest in a single area. It is a serious blow to the blue crane population as there are less blue cranes left than there are rhinos. Around 20 years ago there were about 100 000 and today there are less than 20 000,’ the resident said.
The blue crane (Anthropoides paradiseus) is currently listed as vulnerable in the Eskom Red Data Book of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland and the 2010 International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN)’s Red List. The Blue Crane has the most restricted range of any member of the Crane family. It is near endemic to South Africa, with only one small remote resident population outside South Africa in the Etosha Pans area, in northern Namibia. The most recent stronghold of Blue Cranes is in the south-western Cape where the birds have colonised the wheat fields and pastures. The species is also found in the South African moist highveld grassland and eastern parts of the Karoo.
BirdLife South Africa awaits the results of the investigation before making a public comment, but according to their spokesperson, Hanneline Smit-Robinson, they are devastated by the news received and trust that the necessary steps will be taken to prosecute the farmer.
Some of the carcasses that were discovered after the alleged poisoning. Picture: SuppliedDiamond Fields Advertiser