Some 30km outside Barkly East at the top of the beautiful Saalboom Valley, cattle farmer Thero Wink and his wife Anri run a crane sanctuary on their farm De Hoop. T hero looks the rough-and-ready farmer and is an excellent rifle shot, competing at a national level. His interest in conservation may come as a surprise, but after a brief time with him and Anri, their passion for nature and their lifestyle becomes obvious. “When we first arrived on the farm there was limited wildlife, so we bought in some guinea fowl chicks and now there are hundreds,” says Thero. “Fate helped start the sanctuary, way back in 1996. I was driving to town when noticed a labourer walking with a bird tied over his shoulder. stopped and when realised the bird was a crane, took it from him.
“When got home realised had no idea what to do with it, not even how or what to feed it. just knew somehow had to save it. Panicked, started phoning around and found the number of the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT). spoke to John Smallie, who provided me with all the details to save the bird, which at this time was badly malnourished. He was incredibly supportive and even came to check on the crane. “It was his enthusiasm that prompted us to open this crane sanctuary. John helped us register with the various environmental affairs departments and we’ve been going ever since.” hero and Anri began advertising around the district, educating farmers on crane numbers in the areas, and conducting generally informative discussions on crane conservation. “We received a lot of support from the farmers, particularly in terms of evaluating populations and movements,” says Thero.
Trial and error
Thero and Anri are grateful to the local East Cape Agricultural Co-op, which has started contributing towards food for the cranes. At first the Winks bought all the food fed to injured or orphaned cranes themselves, and they still fund countless trips to vets 170km away for really sick birds. “It’s been a story of humble beginnings, and we learned as we went,” adds Thero. “Initially we really had no idea what we were doing, and that cost us a bit. “It’s all been worth it, though. My wife and are both adamant about nature, and the affection one develops for these birds is amazing, particularly when there’s a success story and a crane is rehabilitated. But we still feel very teary when the birds return to the wild – you can’t help but wonder if they’re okay. We cry like babies if one doesn’t make it.”
“A story particularly remember is when we received five orphaned crowned cranes when we first began, and a couple died. Anri stayed up for weeks tube-feeding them and they even lived with us in the house – even the dogs were confused. We tried very hard to keep them alive and each time one died it was very traumatic, but because we were new in the game we couldn’t understand why – we were doing everything by the book. “We eventually realised they were dying of metal poisoning.
The birds had a mineral deficiency and were eating all the little bits of metal and steel around the house. Out of desperation to get them to eat gave them some dog food, which they couldn’t get enough of, thereby supplying them with the minerals required. Hence my food mix for all our cranes is one-third dog food to two-thirds bird feed.
A human touch “When we started our sanctuary, we tried to rehabilitate in the most-prescribed fashion of housing the birds in cages without human contact,” recalls Thero. “We used to pull shade cloth over the cages when feeding