Stanley cranes are birds of the dry, grassy uplands which feed on seeds and insects and spend little time in wetlands. They are altitudinal migrants, generally nesting in the upper grasslands and moving down to lower altitudes for winter. Many occupy agricultural areas.
The Stanley crane is a bird very special to the amaxhosa, who call it indwe. When a man distinguished himself by deeds of valour, or any form of meritorious conduct, he was often decorated by a chief by being presented with the feathers of this bird. After a battle, the chief would organise a ceremony called ukundzabela – a ceremony for the heroes, at which feathers would be presented. Men so honoured – they wore the feathers sticking out of their hair – were known as men of ugaba (trouble) - the implication being that if trouble arose, these men would reinstate peace and order.
Of the 15 species of crane, the Stanley crane has the most restricted distribution of all. While it remains common in parts of its historic range, and approx. 25,700 individuals remain, it began a sudden population decline from around 1980 and is now classified as vulnerable.
The primary causes of the sudden decline of the Stanley crane are human population growth, the conversion of grasslands into commercial tree plantations, and poisoning: deliberate (to protect crops) or accidental (baits intended for other species, and as a side-effect of crop dusting).
The South African government has stepped up legal protection for the Stanley crane. Other conservation measures are focusing on research, habitat management, education, and recruiting the help of private landowners.
Our male Stanley crane appears very small compared to his exhibit mates, the giraffe.