June 13, 2011
By Jimmy Muheebwa, Project Coordinator, Nature Uganda
Uganda’s Grey Crowned Crane population is estimated at about 13,000 birds (Muheebwa 2000). They inhabit most of the country except in the north where Black Crowned Cranes occur. They breed in the seasonally flooding wetlands and forage on farms showing little fear of human presence. Not only is the bird the national symbol for Uganda, but it is also interwoven into culture and beliefs. Its death, for example, if not naturally caused, is believed to attract calamity to the society that meted out the death. The Crane Conservation Project’s community awareness programmes, supported by the ICF/EWT Partnership, emphasize respect and tolerance for the birds.
Despite this significance, cranes are occasionally encountered in very compromising human- initiated situations like snaring, domestication and poisoning. Young cranes are the easiest targets and worst affected. This year unfolded badly for two Grey Crowned Crane chicks at Kishanda wetland in Mitooma district where a man illegally captured and kept the chicks tethered to a tree stump in his compound. They shunned the steamed bananas he threw to them for food. The restlessness, frequent hovering and loud cries of the bereaved parents who were attempting to locate their young, attracted the attention of Yorokamu Katumbura, a member of the local Wetland Management Committee. Yorokamu called me for help in the search for the young cranes.
My passion for cranes has never wavered and despite the approaching nightfall and long distance to the place, I went straight away to bolster Yorokumu’s efforts. The suspected culprit fled upon seeing us approach, an indicator that he indeed was the captor. In no time we located the tethered and traumatized chicks, and removed the ropes on their long legs. It was fast getting dark but we induced the chicks to make a “cry for help” sound which triggered the response of the parents. I judged that the parents had now become aware of the presence of their young. I released the chicks and bade them farewell. They disappeared into the nearby marsh, but kept vocalizing. The following morning they had reunited with their parents. I sighed in relief. They were saved!
Meanwhile, George Archibald, the Co-founder of the International Crane Foundation was already in Africa, with Uganda as part of his itinerary. I deliberately included the now rescued chicks on his travel plan. George was able to see the chicks and parents in the wild, though they had now become timid to human presence. Their survival is a tribute to the awareness programmes of the Crane Conservation Project.
Photo: Yorokamu Katumbura pictured at left with his grandchildren and the rescued crane chicks. Yorokamu, a member of the local Wetland Management Committee notified Jimmy of the plight of the chicks. At right, Jimmy Muheebwa of Nature Uganda. Photo by Earnest Muheebwa.
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