Conserving Africa’s cranes

Schoolchildren from Rwantsinga Primary School in Uganda take part in the National Crane Festival held this week. | Supplied

Schoolchildren from Rwantsinga Primary School in Uganda take part in the National Crane Festival held this week. | Supplied

Published Mar 3, 2024


Durban — The conservation of cranes contributes to the simultaneous safeguarding of the wetlands that provide cranes, people and other species with essential goods and services.

Through the African Crane Conservation Programme, a partnership between the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and the International Crane Foundation (ICF), these charismatic birds are being used as a “flagship” species for wetland protection, restoration and management.

To celebrate the successes achieved thus far and highlight the importance of crane conservation, the National Crane Festival was held at the Rwantsinga Primary School in the Mbarara District of Uganda this week.

Initiated by the EWT and ICF under the theme “Connecting People and Cranes”, which is in line with the national and global theme, “Connecting People and the Planet: Exploring Digital Innovation in Wildlife Conservation”, it emphasises the interdependence of human and crane survival and the need for collaborative conservation efforts.

Uganda’s National Crane Festival was a lead-up to World Wildlife Day on Sunday (March 3). The festival is integral to Uganda’s conservation calendar and aims to protect the grey crowned cranes and their habitats.

The grey crowned crane population has declined by over 80% in the last 25 years. | Supplied

Uganda’s Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities Tom Butime said it was prudent that people reflect on the effect of their actions on habitats and species such as cranes.

“We need to ask the question: have our actions affected the survival of the cranes? Are we among those poisoning the cranes by destroying their habitats?” he said.

“I would be very sad if we lose our national bird due to our reckless actions and activities. If the current situation does not change, our grandchildren may never see cranes in the coming years.”

Addressing wetland encroachment and degradation, as well as the poisoning of cranes by farmers, is thus a priority to ensure the survival of the species.

The celebrations featured diverse activities, bringing together stakeholders from various sectors – schools, local communities, policymakers and the private sector. Key partners at the event included the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre, Uganda Wildlife Authority and the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife and Antiquities.

Although some people see cranes as symbols of peace, happiness and longevity because of their lifelong devotion to their mates, populations are on the decline globally.

In South Africa, the decline has been attributed to habitat change and loss. Without careful management, many crane species are doomed to extinction.

Ten of the world’s 15 crane species are threatened: all four of sub-Saharan Africa’s resident crane species – blue crane, grey crowned crane, wattled crane and black crowned crane – are threatened by habitat loss and disturbance, illegal wildlife trade, collisions with power lines, electrocutions and poisoning.

By securing the wetlands where these birds nest, breed and feed, the prospects of these species can be improved to ensure they have a viable future.

Uganda’s wetlands, essential for both human survival and the endangered grey crowned cranes, face significant challenges. Rapid human population growth has intensified the need for farmland, putting pressure on these vital ecosystems.

Key issues include human-wildlife conflicts due to crop damage, lack of sustainable livelihood alternatives leading to agricultural encroachment into wetlands, unsustainable agricultural practices, over-harvesting of wetland plants, and water pollution.

Consequently, the grey crowned crane population has declined by over 80% in the last 25 years, primarily due to habitat loss, human disturbance and illegal trade. Often found on private lands, these cranes struggle to breed successfully as they are forced into increasingly marginal habitats.

The Crane Festival, therefore, serves as a crucial platform for raising awareness and driving conservation efforts.

Sunday Tribune