By Gerald Tenywa
A new crane species has been found in Uganda. The new bird, the largest of the crane family, is normally resident in southern Africa. It was found this month by a group of bird watchers at Kibimba Rice Scheme in Bugiri district, eastern Uganda.
Achilles Byaruhanga, the director of Nature Uganda, identified the new bird as the Wattled Crane. It is different from the two species of cranes that are known to occur in Uganda, the Grey Crowned Crane and the Black Necked Crane, in that it does not have a crown.
â€œIt is quite interesting to get a new record,â€ said Byaruhanga, adding that it brings the total number of bird species in Uganda to 1,040, more than the bird population of the US and Europe.
He said the bird was first seen by members of their Mbale branch, led by Sarah Nachuha, a lecturer at the Islamic University in Uganda.
A team from Kampala went on a verification mission on May 3 and spent a day in the swamp before spotting the rare and huge bird, weighing about 8kg and measuring 172cm.
According to the International Crane Foundation, there are about 8,000 Wattled Cranes worldwide.
They are mainly found in Southern Africa, with an isolated population living in the highlands of Ethiopia. More than half of the worldâ€™s Wattled Cranes occur in Zambia. The single largest concentration occurs in the Okavango Delta of Botswana.
Byaruhanga said cranes were not known to be migrating birds. He did not rule out the impact of climate change to explain the new craneâ€™s appearance in Uganda. â€œIt is a new trend which needs to be monitored. Species have started straying into areas they never used to go before.â€
Environmentalists have warned that the Wattled Crane, like other crane species, faces extinction. The bird, which mainly breeds in swamps, is threatened by wetland degradation and destruction for agriculture, human settlement or hydropower projects.
South Africa has only some 120 pairs of Wattled Cranes left, less than one tenth of the original population, because of damage to wetlands by draining, damming, burning and deforestation.
According to the International Crane Foundation: â€œHuman and livestock disturbance, powerline collisions, mass aerial spraying against tsetse flies, and illegal collection of eggs, chicks and adults for food are also significant threats to Wattled Cranes throughout their range.â€
Byaruhanga is skeptical about the chance of survival in Uganda for the new crane.
â€œThe problem is that it was found in a disturbed wetland. It does not give it hope for survival because of the massive spraying of pesticides.â€
Nature Uganda and the Government plan to engage Tilda, the company growing rice at Kibimba, to promote the survival of the bird. â€œWe are hoping to work with Tilda to employ more environmental-friendly methods,â€ he said.
Bird watchers have a chance to see the Wattled Crane on May 23 during the â€œUganda Big Birding Dayâ€, which will cover 40 sites countrywide. The destinations include national parks and forest reserves.
The Uganda Wildife Authority has waved entrance fees for bird watchers that day. Byaruhanga said the expedition is also being organised to commemorate Nature Ugandaâ€™s 100th birthday.
For more information, contact: www.natureuganda.org