Efforts to save blue cranes take wing in the Drakensberg
THABO Madlala’s stamping ground is the southern Drakensberg, where his talents take wing as a champion for African cranes.
To do so, he tries to enlist the support of local communities to ensure the birds have a future in their area.
He also works with farmers in eradicating alien plants, monitors any change in the landscape, interacts with school children and has a sideline producing honey.
Madlala hails from the Mqatsheni communal area in Underberg and, after finishing his matric in 2005 at Kwamvibela High School, was at a crossroads.
“I did not have enough money to go to university, so I did casual work in two nature reserves – Cobham and Vergelegen. That is where I grew to love the environment and want to save it,” he said.
He began working for an NGO called Khupuka Project, which provides home-based care for HIV/AIDS patients and support for their vulnerable family members.
One of Khupuka’s projects is to distribute vegetables from their gardening project to these people and it was in this line that Madlala worked as a permaculture garden manager.
He decided to try for a position as an eco ranger with the Endangered Wildlife Trust. Thabo Madlala chats to locals against the backdrop of the southern Drakensberg.
“I went through three interviews. At the first one there were about 100 applicants. At the second phase they selected eight applicants, who would go for three months’ training. Then, in the last interview, they selected four of us to become eco rangers.”
He moves between Underberg, Swartberg, Franklin, Kokstad and Matatiele, working not only with cranes, but interacting with local communities.
When he notices alien vegetation on the land of local farmers, he approaches them, offering assistance with eradicating these.
Sometimes the farmers approach him, suggesting that he train their staff in alien clearing and herbicide application.
“I have a different approach to each farmer, because they have different needs,” he said.
Among his tasks is monitoring the eco services each farm delivers. “I visit farms regularly, and the crane breeding success is one of the monitoring tools I use. I also monitor the change over time in their landscape.”
To make his work interesting and accessible to children, Madlala said he always brings games and song into the equation in order to make it more attractive to young minds. “They do enjoy my work.”
The honey project is still in its fledgling stages.
“It started in November 2016, after training facilitated by the Healthy Catchment Alliance, which is a partnership between the Endangered Wildlife Trust, Conservation South Africa and Wessa (Wildlife and Environment of South Africa).
“We construct hives and also do bee removal in the area if necessary.”
Taking his talents a step further, Madlala started a hiking club in the Mqatsheni communal area. Eleven young members have given this their full support. In addition,they are trained to act as rock art guides, lead hikes and offer home stays.
“We get assisted in training through our municipal tourism department, under the supervision of Andile Zwezwe.
“Training in guiding is facilitated by Celeste Rossouw from Amafa Heritage Kwazulunatal,” he said.
Madlala had just returned from Uganda, where he attended a two-week workshop on African crane conservation. This gave the team an opportunity to discuss plans and set goals for 2018.
“This was my first time travelling out of the country and I was inspired because I love travelling. Thanks to the EWT one of my dreams has come to reality.”