By Petride Mudoola
An adult Crested Crane has become a beloved comforter for inmates in Katojo Prison in Fort Portal. The bird, thought to have come from nearby wetlands a few years ago, spends most of its time within the prison premises, especially around the male ward. It sleeps in the kitchen.
Prisoners like to play with the bird, saying it helps to relieve their stress. They feed it on posho and beans. The bird supplements this feeding by going into nearby bushes to eat grass, seeds, insects, frogs, worms and snakes.
Christopher Byagonza, a former death row inmate, says the crested crane is friendly to male inmates, but for unclear reasons, it does not like women. It often attempts to attack female prisoners and wardresses, especially if it feels threatened.
“The Crested Crane is part of us and spends most of its time in the detention facility. When it goes out of the prison, we always reserve some food for it to feed on when it returns,” Byagonza explains.
The executive director of Nature Uganda, Achilles Byaruhanga, explains that the Crested Crane is a sociable and gentle bird, that likes big compounds.
“It is not uncommon to find Crested Cranes associating with people,” Byaruhanga says.
He cites an incident in Kabarole district, when a Crested Crane was attached to a young girl to the extent that it even used to accompany her to and from school daily.
However, the bird is under threat of extinction, according to a survey by the Save the Crane project.
William Olupot, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society, says only 21 districts still have the national bird out of the 35, where they were sighted about five years ago.
“The breeding grounds for the Cranes are declining due to wetland destruction. The birds make nests in wetlands and breed between October and March.
“They tend to be particular with the kind of swamp where they breed and will always come back to the same place,” Olupot says.