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A love story like no other



This is a story about love. And redemption.
About freedom. And white bakkies. And mistaken identities. About hope.
And most of all… dreams that come true. It’s a story about a family.

February 2003
The stage is set amongst the green pastures on a farm just outside George. Sheep are grazing peacefully. The sky is boldly blue and the quality of light would get filmmakers cartwheeling naked in the wheat fields.
'Stoffi' glides in, an elegant silvery blue crane, her flight feathers trailing behind her like the train of a faerie-queen's gown. A dust cloud gathers on the horizon and soon a white bakkie pulls up.

Out jumps Hannes the farmer to check up on his sheep. Yikes! A fearless large bird bears down on him, leaping about in a dramatic display and making loud whooping noises. He finds it difficult to drive away as the strange bird keeps jumping in the way. As the weeks go by, Stoffi the incurably lonely crane becomes more determined to seek out human company and rushes to court any bakkies driving along the roadside. Having been taken from the nest as a young chick and raised by humans, she had no idea that she was actually a bird!

Frantic calls to CapeNature and concerns that she would get run over by a vehicle resulted in Gareth Weis being sent on a mercy mission. Stoffi took one look at Gareth when he found her in a field and climbed into the bakkie. (Love at last?) And off they went, not quite into the sunset.

December 2001
We leap back in time to the golden fields of the Overberg. Enter Dudi, a handsome crane with a similar start in life. He had also been stolen from the nest but fortunately rescued by the Overberg Crane Group and taken to the farm outside Caledon. Eventually he made some fine-feathered friends and took off with the wild cranes to go where the wild cranes roam.

In the meantime Stoffi was settling into her new life foraging with a flock of rams on a field next to the Overberg Crane Group headquarters. The prospect of her rehabilitating to life in the wilds didn’t look optimistic as she was so heavily imprinted on humans and vehicles. Occasionally groups of wild cranes terrified her as they touched down on her field for a visit. Gradually she learned that they meant her no harm and they became welcome guests. One of these visitors was Dudi, who popped over with his friends and then started spending a lot of time on his own with Stoffie. The Crane Group tried to chase this romantic suitor away but the two cranes only became more persistent and in time they were left in peace.

September 2005
‘The two cranes set up house in the ram camp close to the farmer’s house. A small dam provided a roost site, leftovers from the molasses barley sheep feed provided a great take-away and oat pastures provided a fair amount of insects. In September 2005, this odd combination made a nest and produced an egg. It is unlikely that the egg is fertile as the chances of these two maladjusted cranes getting the whole copulation thing right are pretty slim but that has not deterred them and they are taking their role as potential parents very seriously. Whatever the outcome of this first breeding attempt, this is a wonderful tale of two cranes making the most of their rehabilitation.’

As expected, the egg was infertile and the next season they tried again with similar results - three infertile clutches. You must be thinking well, this is a fairly happy story but not quite a fairytale. Unconcerned, the crane couple continued with their domestic bliss and became well known in the Overberg. Until one day there was a tapping and a cracking inside two eggs and out tumbled two little chicks.

18 January 2007
A family at last: celebrity crane couple hatch two chicks
‘Despite one previous nesting attempt this season and three last season, all of which produced infertile eggs, Dudi and Stoffi … have at last created two fluffy, golden and very cute chicks. For all those who have followed this couple’s story, we’re happy to report that Dudi and Stoffi are immensely proud, devoted and fiercely protective parents. They aggressively attack anything that strays into their camp, be it an unsuspecting Egyptian goose, sheep or bakkie.’

17 May 2007
Ed: my sleuthing took me further on this one, I wasn’t content to just hear that they’d managed to produce two adorable little chicks; I wanted the ultimate happy ending. Knowing that the chances of survival were remote, I called Vicky Hudson with trepidation to enquire about the family’s well being.

“Oh, the chicks have made it, they’re flying around!” came her passionate response.
“I must send you the latest report. Its not often there’s such a happy outcome in the world of conservation”.

And here’s Vicky’s latest report:

Catch up from Celebrity Crane Couple!
For those who remember the two tiny crane chicks belonging to the celebrity crane couple featured in the media a few months ago, the good news is that they have been successfully raised by their first time parents. Both have fledged and are fully flighted even if not yet very experienced in the art of frequent flying especially in the strong Cape winds!
It was not all plain sailing for this crane family as they experienced many of the problems facing fellow crane pairs trying to raise chicks in the wild.

Their diet consists mainly of insects and these birds are on the move throughout the day with their chicks. Fences are an essential part of the agricultural landscape today but pose a life threatening obstacle to crane chicks which have to creep through them in order to move around in search of food and water. Dudi and Stoffi’s chicks got caught in fences on more than one occasion and it was only thanks to the crane aware farm staff and landowner that they were rescued in time. So huge thanks must go out to these people and all other members of the agricultural communities throughout South Africa who help with the conservation of wildlife as part of their daily farming routine.

The celebrity crane family is moving around locally but it will be sometime still before Dudi and Stoffi chase their chicks off to ‘boarding school’ or non-breeding flock to socialize with other cranes where in time they will find a suitable mate and establish a breeding territory. As is clearly visible in the photos these chicks have been colour-ringed so that they can be identified individually & their whereabouts monitored. This information will be used to increase our knowledge about the cranes’ movements which will in turn aid in the conservation of the species and their habitats.

We wish these two crane colts (teenagers) well in their travels over the vast expanses of the Overberg, possibly even the Western Province, over the next few years.

Where can I stay if I want to see blue cranes? Book the ultimate indulgence at Bartholomeus Klip or book a bed in the Overberg region.

Many thanks to:
Vicki Hudson of Community Conservation, CAPENATURE, for permission to quote from her articles.
Photos of the crane family: Kevin Shaw.
Author: Samantha Black

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