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Johannesburg Zoo

Watch our Wattled Cranes’ grow!

Meet Rocky, Impi and Crystal, three of Joburg Zoo’s six hand reared Wattled crane chicks for 2011. Each has their own unique personality and story. With less than 260 individual Wattled Cranes left in South Africa, these chicks are critical for the survival of the species and are lovingly raised by a dedicated group of zoo staff and volunteers.


The Johannesburg Zoo is the managing partner of the Wattled Crane Recovery Programme which aims to prevent the local extinction of the Wattled Crane in South Africa by rearing Wattled Cranes under human care and releasing their offspring back into the wild. The Johannesburg Zoo has a hand rearing facility where newly hatched chicks are reared in such a way that they develop appropriate social skills that enable them to recognize and interact with their own species when they are old enough to breed.

Rocky and Impi hatched in late June from abandoned eggs collected from the wild in a nesting site near Mooi River, in the Natal Midland region of KwaZulu Natal. The eggs were hatched by an aviculturist in KwaZulu Natal and at only a few days old the chicks were flown to Johannesburg to be reared at the Johannesburg Zoo’s hand rearing facility. On arrival the two chicks weighed only 126g (Rocky) and 118g (Impi) and were only just learning to walk. Another special chick who hatched in August is Crystal who came from the Underberg region of Kwazulu Natal, in Southern Drakensberg. Weighing only 88g, Crystal is the smallest crane chick the zoo keepers have cared for and has been given special care to ensure she grows up strong and healthy.

The chicks surrogate parents follow a tried and trusted protocol when raising these cranes from tiny and sensitive chicks to strong bold adults. The most important part of the process is ensuring the chicks to understand that they are Wattled Cranes and not humans. Human foster parents must dress up in white coats, wear special puppets which look like a Wattled Crane’s head and make chirping noises which mimic the call of an adult crane.

Since coming to the zoo, Rocky and Impi have formed a close friendship and although they hatched only a few days apart, the two are very different in both size and personality. Rocky is taller and more laid back crane, while Impi is smaller and can be fussy at times. Yet the two personalities balance and on their daily walks around the brooder room (the name of the zoo’s avian breeding facility) and are inseparable. It is incredible to think how fast they have grown and at 80 days old Rocky weighs over 4kg while Impi is just under 3kg.

Similarly, at just over one month old, Crystal now weighs over 800g which is 10 times its hatch weight. Crystal is very important to the endangered species breeding programme because it is the first chick to come from a population in the Underberg, an area in KwaZulu Natal where eggs are rarely collected. Due to the critically small wild population eggs collected from new nesting areas are important for the genetic health of the captive population.

Rocky, Impi and Crystal are only three of over 20 Wattled cranes which have been successfully reared to sub-adulthood at the Johannesburg Zoo since 2006. Sub-adults will pair off at approximately 2 to 3 years old and by the time they are sexually mature at 6-7 years they will join the captive breeding programme where eventually their offspring will be released into the wild.

To support the Johannesburg Zoo’s conservation effort you can “Adopt a Crane”. For more information on adoption packages contact Ioanna@jhbzoo.org.za

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