As expected, due to increasing human activity/urbanization, the population of Grey Crowned Cranes is decreasing globally and the species was declared endangered in 2013. Uganda however still plays host to a significant number - approximately 10,000 cranes.
These birds are spread widely in most of Uganda's plains and wetlands especially in the central and south western parts. The Grey Crowned Crane is not just a national bird for Uganda but also a bird with strong cultural attachments to some clans whose social behaviour, customs and expressive practices such as art and music have been inspired by this big bird.
The African Crane Conservation Programme (ACCP), a project implemented by NatureUganda under the International Crane Foundation/ Endangered Wildlife Trust partnership conducts work on the conservation of the Grey Crowned Crane and wetlands in the range regions of Masaka, Kabale and Bushenyi.
On 6th April 2018, the NatureUganda Board of Governors/Executive Committee (EC), a policy making body of the institution visited the ACCP project sites. The visit was part of the Board members' itinerary as a build up to the annual EC meeting in Kabale - another region where the NatureUganda has taken great strides in conserving species, habitats and ecosystems.
Led by the Chairperson, Dr Robert Nabanyumya, the team set off from Kampala midmorning and made a stopover at the Crane and Sitatunga corner at the Nabajuzzi wetland (a Ramsar site) in Masaka district, a decision they would later appreciate. The first sighting was a shoebill, which seemed unbothered by the members' close proximity as it watchfully waited for its food in the then flooded wetland. As is the norm in this day and age, everyone immediately reached out for their smart phones and cameras to take pictures of this rare but spectacular species. Attempts to take selfies were also made.
The hope and enthusiasm to see a crane or two in its/ their natural habitat kept growing as the members closed in towards Kaku wetland. To their disappointment, the skies opened up and it started to rain, but it was not enough to drown their determination to see our national bird.
After the down pour, EC members braved the slippery landscape with anticipation and were later joined by the Country Project Coordinator for ACCP together with a team of crane custodians. Crane custodians are individuals who volunteer to keep watch of the cranes to ensure their safety especially during the breeding season when the young (chicks and juveniles) are leading a very fragile life before perfecting flight manoeuvres to outwit the dangers.
After a few remarks from the project Coordinator and crane custodians, members waded through the flooded paths and farms heading for one Yusuf Babumba's farm which is a common flocking site for the cranes.
Cranes, cranes, cranes..',shouted a crane custodian. Anxiety and happiness filled the visitors' faces. It was another irresistible photo opportunity.
An estimated count of the cranes was confirmed at more than 60 birds. The visitors could not hide their excitement after the entire experience and expressed heartfelt appreciation to the custodians who volunteer to take care of these birds.
Crane custodians equally appreciated the EC for recognising the role they play in conserving the endangered species. After some considerable hours with them, the visitors bid the cranes farewell, boarded their vehicles and headed for Kabale.
Other scenery wonders on the route include the Ankole long-horned cows, the impalas that usually stray out of Lake Mburo National Park and the beautiful highlands of Kabale. Once in Kabale, the travel would be incomplete without interfacing with the beautiful scenery of Lake Bunyonyi and going to the home of the Endemic Graurer's Rush warbler at Muchuya swamp, a focal site for the Echuya Forest Conservation Project implemented by NatureUganda.
The high altitude wetlands of Kabale are also well known for supporting remarkably big flocks of the Grey Crowned Cranes, the commonest being at Kyanamira, in the outskirts of Kabale town.