Why the Grey crowned Crane and its habitat

While the Grey Crowned Crane, Balearicaregulorum is the national bird and symbol for Uganda, the species is threatened by wetland degradation, human disturbance during breeding, illegal trade in the cranes, domestication and power line collisions. The population of the Grey Crowned Cranes in Uganda is about 10,000 birds and has faced sharp decline of over 40% in the last 30 years. It continues to decline.  The country’s key populations of cranes are found in densely-populated landscapes where wetlands are threatened by agricultural encroachment and unsustainable harvesting of plants. Wetlands occupy 13% of Uganda’s surface area, where they provide ecosystem goods and services (water, agriculture, fisheries, grazing, and non-timber plant products) all critical for community livelihoods. While wetlands are the critical habitats that cranes need for successful breeding, the rate at which they have been degraded is so worrying and calls for urgent conservation measures. Equally, the rate at which the crane population has declined in the last three to four decades is so worrying that immediate and deliberate conservation strategies have to be instituted so as to halt or reverse the plummeting trend.

The lifelong devotion demonstrated by mating pairs of cranes has resulted them in being symbols of peace, love, happiness and longevity. Several countries have adopted them as national symbols. The blue crane is South Africa’s national bird, the Black Crowned Crane is Nigeria’s national bird and the Grey Crowned Crane is Uganda’s national bird. Out of 15 crane species in the world, 11 species are endangered.

Crane partnerships

The international Crane Foundation (ICF) based in Baraboo, Wisconsin, USA, is a non for profit organisation that works all over the world to secure the plight of the world’s cranes.

On the African continent, ICF has partnered with the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) based in South Africa, to enhance the conservation of the 4 African resident crane species – the Grey Crowned Crane, the Black Crowned Crane, the Blue crane and the Wattled crane. In Africa, crane and wetland conservation is implemented under a programme called the African Crane Conservation Project (ACCP) which empowers individuals and organisations to develop conservation activities and promotes the sustainable use and wise management of wetlands and grasslands upon which cranes live. In Uganda, crane conservation has been implemented under the Uganda Crane and Wetland Conservation Project which has tirelessly sought to reduce the decline of cranes by improving the ecological integrity of wetlands and the promotion of mechanisms to protect the species in its breeding and foraging habitats. The wetlands which are crucial for crane breeding are important for human health and livelihoods. In May, this year, the ICF/ EWT partnership was extended to include ECOTRUST through a project titled “Securing Grey Crowned Cranes through collaborative action with communities and government”. The International Crane Foundation has, through EWT provided a grant of $15,575 for a three month project lasting between June – August 2016 that will be implemented in the south Kiruruma valley of Kabale district – along the Kabale – Katuna road, where cranes have not only been disturbed on their nesting sites but also been captured for sale and domestication. In the last 5 years, scores of cranes have been captured along this valley for sale into neighbouring Rwanda. Currently, a network of relevant stakeholders is being set up under the partnership project with the aim of increasing awareness of the key threats to cranes as well as the illegal crane trade in Uganda. This will be achieved by actively engaging with the relevant government individuals and by implementing an effective media campaign.

Linking crane conservation to the communities through a livelihood approach

It is envisaged that wetland degradation and crane removal for trade are a product of lack of appropriate livelihood actions that would not only engage the communities but also offer them the benefit of their time and energy investment. The project will thus provide input in the conceptualization of alternative livelihood projects linked to clear conservation impacts. Three communities have therefore, been identified and mobilized to secure their commitment to crane and wetland conservation. Their leadership has been be established and /or strengthened for them to have the ability to identify and prioritize livelihood options which are expected to, in the long run, appropriately address wetland overdependence and crane capture for sale. A training needs assessment (TNA) on the prioritized livelihood(s) is being conducted and training in the glaring gaps will be offered before the livelihoods are demonstrated. These livelihood interventions are hoped to improve food security and incomes of over 100 households that depend on the south Kiruruma valley. The community groups will also be helped to develop and implement community-based wetland management plans which are frameworks for regulating land use for balancing livelihoods and biodiversity conservation. It is hoped that well facilitated community groups will spearhead site-level conservation actions and also prompt community action to restore wetlands and protect crane breeding sites. It is also hoped that successfully demonstrated alternative livelihoods will reduce pressure on wetlands. Alongside these interventions, other innovations such as crane custodianships, or voluntary community commitments to protect eggs, breeding pairs, chicks and adults will also be promoted in the region.The partnership project will also provide input in the identification of barriers to addressing illegal crane trade including consultations of relevant individuals. This will further be complemented by strong awareness programs which will be done through the development and distribution of posters and pamphlets to highlight the need to address illegal crane trade in the region.  Upon successful completion of this short project, we hope to extend it to other parts of the country including, the Greater Bushenyi district, the Greater Masaka, Kampala and some parts of eastern Uganda where cranes are known to occur.

ECOTRUST is proud to be part of this partnership that fosters the conservation of the Grey Crowned Crane (the national emblem) and the wetlands whose services are badly needed by humanity.

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