CRANES, PEO­PLE

Nomad Africa Magazine - - Tourism Update | Rwanda Eyes Mice For Tourism Grow - Words: JA­NIS THERON

As I look at the Africa pro­gramme and where the pri­or­i­ties are for crane con­ser­va­tion on the con­ti­nent, I do at times feel over­whelmed. Within Africa, we have four of the world’s most threat­ened crane species (Blue, Grey Crowned, Black Crowned and Wat­tled Cranes), each re­quir­ing sig­nif­i­cant ef­fort to se­cure their fu­ture.

how­ever, I be­lieve strongly that the African Crane Con­ser­va­tion Pro­gramme (ACCP) team is de­vel­op­ing pow­er­fully and know that over the next few years, we will in­crease the num­ber of projects and ini­tia­tives we have in Africa – one step at a time. - (Ker­ryn Mor­ri­son)

Have you ever been lucky enough to see Blue Cranes fly­ing over­head, call­ing in their gut­tural language? Or have you ever had the for­tune to see a pair of Grey Crowned Cranes stalk­ing re­gally through a wet­land, their blue eyes alert and golden crowns like torches? See­ing a huge Wat­tled Crane with a chick is akin to see­ing an en­dan­gered Rhino with a calf.

“These el­e­gant birds, in their stature, grace, and beauty, their wild fierce tem­per­a­ment, are strik­ing metaphors for the van­ish­ing wilder­ness of our once boun­ti­ful earth,” writes au­thor and nat­u­ral­ist, Peter Matthiessen in his book The Birds of Heaven.

He notes also that cranes have a spe­cial pur­pose in na­ture, act­ing as in­di­ca­tor species for the health of wet­lands, the air and the soil wherein they live. Pro­tect­ing cranes ac­tu­ally “sus­tains the as­ton­ish­ing va­ri­ety of forms in na­ture (with their habi­tats and ecosys­tems) known as bio­di­ver­sity”.

This ar­ti­cle looks at the re­la­tion­ships be­tween cranes and com­mu­ni­ties in Rwanda, Zam­bia and South Africa and how crane con­ser­va­tion­ists are suc­cess­fully work­ing with both.

Wet­land Con­ser­va­tion in Africa

When he trav­elled the world to dis­cover all 15 crane species, Matthiessen met up with Ker­ryn Mor­ri­son, head of the African Crane Con­ser­va­tion Pro­gramme (ACCP), un­der the In­ter­na­tional Crane Foun­da­tion / En­dan­gered Wildlife Trust (ICF/EWT) Part­ner­ship. With her help, he dis­cov­ered that South­ern Africa is the only place on earth where the Grey Crowned Crane, the Blue Crane and the Wat­tled Crane oc­cur to­gether.

All cranes de­pend on wet­lands for their sur­vival. Osi­man Mabehachi, Com­mu­nity Projects Co­or­di­na­tor for the ICF/EWT Part­ner­ship, notes that the mind-sets of many in­di­vid­u­als and or­gan­i­sa­tions have not shifted, de­spite the fact that dry­ing of wet­lands is one of the pro­jected long-term im­pacts of cli­mate change. This is “partly be­cause con­ser­va­tion­ists have not suc­ceeded in mak­ing wet­land con­ser­va­tion an emo­tive is­sue that spurs peo­ple to act,” he says.

It is per­ti­nent then that Grey Crowned Cranes, the iconic, charis­matic flag­ships for South­ern and East Africa’s grass­lands and wet­lands, have un­der­gone a long-term large-scale pop­u­la­tion de­cline of up to 80% over the past 45 years.

Rwanda: Rugezi Marsh Hotspot

Mabehachi of­ten jour­neys to Rwanda’s Rugezi Marsh, in the North­ern Prov­ince of Rwanda, to mon­i­tor Grey Crowned Cranes res­i­dent there. This marsh is not only one of the big­gest wet­lands in Rwanda, cov­er­ing an area of nearly, 7 000 ha, but it is also the most crit­i­cal site for the Grey-Crowned Crane in the East African coun­try.

This vi­tal nat­u­ral re­source sus­tains the liveli­hoods of lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties and is also of na­tional im­por­tance be­cause the wet­land wa­ter flows into the Bulera and Ruhondo Lakes. Hy­dro-elec­tric schemes linked to these two reser­voirs sup­ply elec­tric­ity, meet­ing more than a third of the coun­try’s elec­tric­ity de­mand. This tan­gi­ble ben­e­fit can al­ways jus­tify the need for long-term con­ser­va­tion of the wet­land. The catch­ment of Rugezi, like most of Rwanda, how­ever, is com­pletely con­verted to sub­sis­tence agri­cul­ture and Eu­ca­lyp­tus plan­ta­tions. Loss of top soil erodes down the steep slopes into Rugezi wet­land. While the govern­ment has ini­ti­ated a buf­fer zone of trees around the wet­land to curb en­croach­ment into the wet­land by farm­ers, this does not mean that the wet­land or the cranes are se­cure.

Zam­bia: Ka­fue Flats

Fly­ing over the ex­ten­sive and breath-tak­ing Ka­fue Flats in Zam­bia for 29 in­ten­sive hours sur­vey­ing Wat­tled Cranes is not for the faint-hearted. Last year, the ACCP dis­cov­ered that this re­gion is home to more than 2,300 Wat­tled Cranes, the largest pop­u­la­tion of such wet­land birds in the world!

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