The only green seen in Etosha National Park in northern Namibia is that of the mopane trees at present (end of November 2019). Not a single blade of grass is left, not even a dry one. Most bushes and shrubs look bare and almost dead. The condition of the herbivores is anything but good. The animals have to cover long distances to find food and then have to make the long way back to the waterholes. Due to a lack of seeds, plant material and insects the park’s birdlife also suffers under the drought.

Only 13 Blue Cranes were sighted during a count at the end of November. Blue Cranes are rare and endangered in Namibia. In the same period last year there were 27 adult birds. This time all of them were spotted north of Namutoni at the Andoni waterhole and on the adjacent grassy Andoni Plain. Last year, 23 Blue Cranes were counted at the Andoni waterhole, one pair was seen at the Koinachab waterhole near Namutoni and another one at the Charitsaub waterhole in the Halali area. At the beginning of summer, or the start of the rainy season, the birds return from their hitherto unknown winter quarters.

Blue Crane
Two ringed Blue Cranes at the Andoni waterhole. With the help of the clearly visible plastic rings, researchers learn more about the age of the respective birds, where and when they spend time in Etosha National Park and which of them pair up as a couple.

For now it still seems to be much too dry in the park and around the various waterholes. It is not known where the other birds of the limited Namibian Blue Crane population settle down, and experts are still wondering where the Blue Cranes move to from Etosha. They mainly come to the park to breed, but last year hardly any pair started to breed and not a single chick was raised.

There are just a little over 30 Blue Cranes left in Namibia, and they are mainly seen in the eastern part of Etosha National Park. In recent years alphanumeric metal rings as well as green plastic rings with white letters were attached to several chicks in that area. Seven of the 13 birds observed in November this year had an alphanumeric metal ring on the leg just above the foot and five of those also wore a plastic ring.

Blue Crane NEF had been ringed as a chick at the Twee Palms waterhole in 2017, NCN at the sewage treatment plant near Halali in 2016, NBN at the Salvadora waterhole in the Halali area in April 2008, NHH at the same waterhole in 2007 and NHD on the vast plains near Halali in April 2006. Unfortunately it was impossible to identify the numbers on the metal rings of the other two birds. They probably also wore a plastic ring at some stage, which must have been lost.

Blue Crane
These four Blue Cranes, along with vultures and an elephant, were seen at midday at the Andoni waterhole north of Namutoni in Etosha National Park. The bird on the right had a metal ring above its right foot and above its knee a green plastic ring with the white letters NCN. The crane in front, in the middle of the picture, has no plastic ring on the leg but a metal ring above the right foot. Unfortunately the alphanumeric number is not legible.

In November last year the Blue Crane with the plastic ring NHH was seen at Charitsaub with its mate NHF. The time when the Blue Cranes will move to their usual waterholes in the park – if at all – will depend on the rain, which is urgently needed not only in Etosha but throughout Namibia.

Blue Cranes feed on seeds, bulbs, roots, caterpillars, grasshoppers, harvester termites, worms, crabs, small fish, frogs, reptiles and small mammals – they are omnivores but seem to favour a vegetarian diet. Grassy plains with plenty of water are their preferred habitat.

Anyone who sees Blue Cranes in Etosha National Park or elsewhere in Namibia, and takes photos of them, can send their observations to at the Ministry of Environment and Tourism.

Author: Dirk Heinrich

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