Verloren Vallei translates to ‘Lost Valley’ in English and this sanctuary is located about 13 km from the trout fishing Mecca of Dullstroom in Mpumalanga. The 5 800 ha reserve forms part of the picturesque Steenkampsberg plateau and consists rolling grasslands and more than 30 different wetlands with seasonal and permanent marshes and streams, springs and peat lands
The Reserve was declared a RAMSAR wetlands site at the Swiss International Convention on Wetlands during 2003. This designates the reserve as a wetland of International importance, but Verloren Vallei’s main claim to fame is that it is the breeding ground of three endangered crane species – the wattled crane, the crowned crane and the blue crane. The Wattled Crane and Blue Crane, South Africa’s National Bird, are critically endangered and the Crowned Crane is listed as endangered.
The wetlands of Verloren Vallei provide safe haven for these species, especially the wattled cranes which mate for life and will occupy the same breeding site every year, all year round. Blue and crowned cranes pair off during the breeding season and establish their own territory every year. During winter they regroup with their flock once again.
An isolated ‘rear and release’ facility for the wattled cranes has been operating successfully at Verloren Vallei for some time. This conservation method involves collecting the second egg from the nests of breeding pairs and raising the chicks until the age of 6 months in a protected environment and under optimum conditions. To ensure success, conservationists have to disguise themselves as female wattled cranes and make use of puppets in order to care for the chicks during this time. A guided tour of this facility is a fascinating, entertaining experience and highly recommended. Guided walks into the reserve can also be arranged. Both these excursions need to be booked in advance.
Apart from the cranes, Verloren Vallei supports a fantastic range of butterflies and a healthy diversity of birds and animals such as the oribi, steenbok, brown hyena, caracal, serval, jackal, otters, zebras, wildebeest, blesbok, woodpeckers, chats, francolins, ibis, larks, cisticolas, shrikes and many others.