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The Charisma of Cranes in Promoting Environmental Management and Sustainable Livelihood

Grey Crowned CranesCranes are the largest family of birds. They are embedded in different cultures across the world including Asia as a symbol of happiness and youth. The Grey Crowned Crane is the national bird of Uganda, appearing on the national flag and coat of arms. Many African countries honor cranes as it appears on a number of stamps as well as in their traditional folklore. Even with its significance among different cultures, 11 out of 15 species of cranes are formally endangered.

The Africa Biodiversity Collaborative Group featured Richard Beilfuss, President and CEO International Crane Foundation to speak about Cranes as Flagships for Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Livelihoods in Africa, as part of its Washington DC, speaker series on April 2, 2019.

Richard explained that in Africa, there are four crane species that are scattered across the continent. The Grey Crowned Cranes fall in the category of endangered species with a population of less than 31,000 which is rapidly decreasing. These are majorly found in western Kenya, Uganda and northern Rwanda. The Black Crowned Cranes, majorly found in western Africa are considered to be in a vulnerable situation with a population of about 35,000. Wattle Cranes are found in South African countries and are also in a vulnerable situation as they are rapidly decreasing. Currently, they are less than 10,000. Blue Cranes are majorly found in South Africa with a success story of an increasing state of more than 25,000.

Cranes, like other endangered species face a number of threats including; overexploitation of wetland areas, hydrological changes, catchment degradation, water quality degradation and uncontrolled fires, The charisma of Cranes is what has inspired International Crane’s Foundation involvement in community and protected land conservation, stated Richard. Since 1990, International Crane Foundation has been working with community-based leaders towards community based conservation efforts in Kenya and Uganda by establishing Community Site Stewardship Network. These efforts were geared towards the conservation of Grey Crowned Cranes. The Foundation has been working with communities on ways of creating and promoting conservation awareness in these areas through, the use of drama, dance, debate, conservation clubs and wildlife clubs. Conservation efforts involved the promotion of an alternative to intensive wetland use that is compatible with crane conservation. This practices include developing fish points adjacent to sensitive wetlands areas, reforesting catchment areas with indigenous species and restoring abandoned farmland back to productive wetlands.

There is, however, an urgent need to scale up. Conservation challenges, as he explained, are growing significantly with population, health and environmental pressures as well as declining livelihoods in the regions. In Uganda for example, energy demands such as the demand for biogas generators are among issues that contribute to degradation. In as much as there is working legal and policy frameworks, such as Uganda’s legislation governing the ownership, use and access to wetlands and their resources called Wetlands and the Law, these are still insufficient because of pressures for livelihood and from the community.

In Southern Africa floodplains, 80% of global Wattled Cranes population lie in the Okavango Delta and Zambezi delta. Kafue flats in Zambia is of great interest as it has more than 470 bird species hence considered an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International and Wetland of International Importance by Ramsar Convention. It is home to more than 1/3 of world’s Wattled cranes population. There’s hundreds of thousands of people dependent on the floodplain ecosystem services for water and fisheries.However, degradation of land upstream affects ecosystems and biodiversity downstream by depositing sediments and affecting water quality, and loss of downstream ecosystem services that sustain human well-being reducing the capacity to adapt and cope with climate change. There is therefore an urgent need to target local conservation impact. International Crane Foundation is working to recover substantial flood plain through correctly timed annual floods.

International Cranes Foundation is promoting a shift into adapting a more holistic conservation approach through Population, Health and Environment sustainable livelihoods frameworks: Population through empowering women and men to make informed household decisions, supporting girls to stay in school for full education, and focusing on most vulnerable sectors of communities, Health and Climate resiliency by targeting key environment issues linked to community health and finally Environment and Sustainable livelihoods by significantly scaling up bamboo production and market access, scaling up upland fodder production, shifting from training to mentoring successful implementation and point water sources and water tower protection.

Click below to watch the webinar recording for more in-depth information:

Click here to download the pdf presentation.

Featured Speaker
Dr. Richard Beilfuss is President & CEO of the International Crane Foundation (ICF), a nonprofit organization working worldwide to conserve endangered cranes and the wetlands, grasslands, and agricultural systems on which they depend. Beilfuss provides oversight, direction, and prioritization to ICF programs across Africa, Asia, and North America, working closely with ICF regional offices in Zambia, Uganda, South Africa, China, Cambodia, India, and Texas. Through the charisma of cranes, ICF brings people together to protect and restore the landscapes they depend on—and by doing so, find new pathways to sustain our water, land, and livelihoods. From 1992-2006, Beilfuss was responsible for developing and managing ICF’s regional program in Africa, working with partner organizations in more than 20 countries across the continent and spearheading public and private efforts to implement innovative water management practices in the Zambezi River Basin for the benefit of cranes, many other species, and human livelihoods. From 2006-2009, he served as Director of Conservation Services for the Gorongosa National Park Restoration Project in Mozambique. Beilfuss is a licensed professional hydrologist and teaches a graduate course on environmental flows at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.