International Crane Foundation

River tern, Chambal River

Upper Ganges Conservation Story

River tern, Chambal RiverUpper Ganges

The Chambal and Yamuna Rivers of northern India flow through a rich landscape – one dominated by rice fields, annual monsoons, ancient cultural traditions, and the most populous state in India, Uttar Pradesh.

The region also supports the largest known population of Sarus Cranes in the world, hundreds of other bird species, and rare wildlife. How do these seemingly contradictory elements co-exist, and what can we learn from this region that can be applied to other areas in the world, where cranes and humans are increasingly relying upon the same resources?


ICF in Action

This is a central question that ICF Research Associate K.S. Gopi Sundar has been studying. Gopi has been monitoring over 250 Sarus Crane pairs in western Uttar Pradesh since 1998 and recently completed a detailed field survey in 26 counties in the state. This research is helping us understand how Sarus Cranes and people co-exist in this region, which is vital for Sarus Crane conservation. Major supporters of Gopi’s research include the National Geographic Society’s Conservation Trust, University of Minnesota (Bell Museum of Natural History), The Waterbird Society, and ICF.  

In western Uttar Pradesh, Sarus Cranes time their nesting with the flooding of rice fields by farmers just before the Indian monsoons. Thanks to farmer tolerance, Sarus Cranes making nests in rice paddies are as successful as pairs that nest in natural wetlands. However, natural wetland habitat amid the fields improves chances of Sarus Cranes raising their chicks successfully, as the wetland vegetation hides the chicks from predators. When the monsoons arrive on time, the farmers reap a good rice harvest, and Sarus Cranes have a good breeding season. Sarus pairs do poorly either when rains are late, or the amount of rains is lower than necessary to flood the landscape. Flooded rice fields during the Sarus’ breeding season, nice wetlands scattered amid croplands, and friendly farmers seem to be ingredients for a healthy Sarus-scape.


Sarus Crane family

Sarus Crane family (note the two chicks) in a rice field.


The Way Forward

In Uttar Pradesh, the lowest human density occurs in the west, and the numbers of people increase to the east. Interestingly, the numbers of Sarus Cranes and other bird species have opposite trends – more species occur in the west and decline to the east. With growing human density in the western counties comes a greater need for farm land, more roads and towns, more urban infrastructure, and less habitat for cranes and other wildlife. But we are now armed with information to begin combating these threats. Through Gopi’s research, we know where most cranes are, and can focus conservation efforts here. We know where the situation for Sarus Cranes is tenuous, and can focus restoration efforts there. And we know what aspects of these landscapes require immediate research, and are already working to fill these gaps.

Read our update on Gopi’s research, Agriculture, rainfall and Sarus Cranes in north India: piecing together a complex puzzle

View our slide show and learn about our 2012-13 winter survey, Mapping distribution, human dependence, and bird use of wetlands in a north Indian SarusScape.

Click to enlarge


“Flooded rice fields during the Sarus’ breeding season, nice wetlands scattered amid croplands, and friendly farmers seem to be ingredients for a healthy Sarus-scape.”


Sarus Crane adult and juvenile

Black-necked stork

Sarus Crane adult and juvenile (top) and Black-necked Stork pair.