N3TC Hero – Ann Burke of the KZN Crane Foundation


Ann Burke by Nikki Brighton

“There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot.” Aldo Leopold

Sometimes people are born on the wrong continent. Ann Burke was. Her mom, Joann realised this early on. “Her favourite puzzle was of warthogs in a muddy water hole” Joann remembers fondly. “I thought it was an ugly picture but she loved it. When she was just four years old, she told me that she was going to live in Africa. Most kids wouldn’t even know where Africa was, but Ann was sure. ” Ann laughs “Mom believes I imprinted on this puzzle!”

Growing up in Wisconsin, USA with long, cold, dark winters is about as far as you can get from Africa. Nowadays, Ann Burke lives in Nottingham Road where she manages the KZN Crane Foundation. Regarded as an expert in cranes and especially, hand rearing of captive birds, she is having a big impact on the conservation of cranes in the Midlands. Her mentor and friend, co-founder of the International Crane Foundation (ICF) and a leading authority on cranes, George Archibald says “In 1993 when she experienced the magnificent Blue, Crowned and Wattled Cranes on a visit to South Africa for the first time, her destiny was sealed. Ann’s combination of intelligence, high energy and motivation is now completely focussed to help these special birds in KwaZulu-Natal.”

George and Ann spent hundreds of hours with a captive flock of rare Whooping Cranes, and established several techniques to rear cranes in human care, such as having human handlers wear crane costumes to avoid human imprinting. Ann fell madly in love with cranes and was fascinated by the fact that the world’s 15 Crane species were able to galvanise action across international borders. “I was truly inspired by community conservation efforts which helped the birds and people at the same time. Often the focus was on provision of fresh water and sustainable livelihoods.”

When an offer arrived to assist with the Wattled Crane captive rearing programme in 2010 (there are only 260 critically endangered Wattled Cranes left in the wild), Ann packed two suitcases and started her new life as a volunteer at the KZN Crane Foundation – a non-profit conservation organisation established in 1989 to combat the causes leading to the decline of South Africa’s three crane species.
She has been instrumental in fundraising to build the isolation-rearing facility at the new Wattled Crane Nursery on the Bill Barnes Crane and Oribi Reserve, where the KZN Crane Foundation is headquartered. “I am terribly excited about the architecturally designed ‘green’ nursery, built with sustainable principles,” comments KZNCF Board member Jon Bates, adding “Ann is an absolute a delight to work with. Her enthusiasm is boundless and she has influenced our entire community to ‘think crane’.” South African, David Oosthuizen, illustrator of ‘The Wisdom of Cranes’ (a book celebrating the special ethos of cranes) says “I am embarrassed to say that it took a de-tribalised American to teach me about these incredible birds right on our doorstep.”

Ann is well known in the Midlands community now. Recently, she set up an education outreach in local schools (funded by N3TC) believing that education is vital if the captive breeding and release programme is to work. The programme highlights the importance of protecting the Midlands fresh water resource by teaching about the habitats which are necessary for the cranes survival – wetlands and grasslands. “The crane’s reliance on wetlands is a reflection of our own survival. The human need for clean water cuts across race, gender, age and religious affiliation and connects us to all living things. Cranes embody values of faithfulness and courage which are important across human cultures.” Ann concludes, “We can learn so much from cranes.”
South African cranes have the most astonishing ally in Ann Burke.

Recently Ann has been told she has advanced breast cancer. For the past few years, Ann has been working for a minimum stipend with no medical aid. These are dire circumstances and a committee specifically tasked to support Ann has been formed by the KZNCF to assist Ann with the funds she requires for treatment. Should you wish to support Ann’s recovery, donations can be made to the following account. Account Name Ann Burke; Account no.9291220193; ABSA Branch code 632005; Swift code ABSAZAJJ Please use your name as a deposit reference, as Ann would like to thank everyone personally. Contact Sej on 082 560 3729 for more info.