Crested Crane on way to extinction

By John Agaba

The cranes make nests in wetlands and breed between October and March.

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Experts have said that the Crested Crane, Uganda's heritage symbol, both on the country's flag and Court of Arms, is on its way to extinction if measures are not taken to save its habitats.

William Olupot of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) said only 21 districts still had the national bird out of the 35 where they were sighted about 10 years ago.

But the nests for the Cranes were sighted in only 13 out of the 21 districts, an indicator that the breeding grounds for the Cranes are declining and affecting the birds' population.

This was during a Save the Crane stakeholders meeting at the National Museum, aimed at raising awareness about the plight facing Uganda's most coveted symbol.

The cranes make nests in wetlands and breed between October and March.

The assistant commissioner in charge of wetlands, Paul Mafabi, said the seasonal wetlands were under threat because of conversion for cultivation of crops and destruction by wild bush fires.

"They tend to be particular with the kind of swamp where they breed and will always come back to the same place" Mafabi said.

Another unique characteristic of the Crane is that it is "very monogamous"; a male crane mates with only one female in its lifetime and vice-versa — which could explain the dwindling numbers.

Even when its partner dies, it does not ‘remarry', Mafabi said.

Olupot said because man has encroached on the crane's natural habitat and interfered with it, places that used to be sanctuaries for the crane were no more.

He said the report was conducted between 2005 and 2005, but all indicators point to a decline in the number of the birds.

The 2005 report indicates that Kenya has the highest number of the birds between 20,000 and 250,000 cranes, followed by Uganda with 13000-20,000 and Tanzania with lower than 1000s of birds.

The report also indicated that birds in Uganda constitute a big proportion of tourism, with Uganda taking 11% of the world's bird species and 50% of African bird species.

Jimmy Muhereza, the crane and wetland project coordinator from Nature Uganda called for more funding to conduct further studies on the Crane and how they can help increase its population.

Achilles Byaruhanga of Nature Uganda said there is need for awareness in the population, especially on proper use of the environment so "we can save" this precious and graceful bird.

"We may not know it. But, our cultures borrow a lot from the Crane. The Kikiga and Kinyarwanda dances are said to have been influenced by the Crane. We shouldn't let this symbol of our heritage and national unity just get distinct," he said.