In the Kigezi Sub-Region of Uganda, the national bird known as the Grey Crested Crane is facing a decline in numbers. This is mainly due to wetland encroachment by farmers and a significant demand for these birds in neighboring Rwanda and DR Congo.
Wetland Encroachment and Its Consequences
Farmers encroaching upon wetlands have caused a situation where Crested Cranes are compelled to venture into farmlands in search of food. Unfortunately, this has led to conflicts with farmers, who sometimes kill or poach the birds for sale. These actions are primarily driven by the demand for Crested Cranes in Rwanda and DR Congo.
Henry Mtifundinda, Programmes Manager at Nature Uganda, expressed concerns about the impact of wetland encroachment on the Crested Cranes. He pointed out that the birds cross to farmlands, putting them at risk of poisoning. Furthermore, theft of Crested Crane chicks and eggs has a detrimental effect on their population. He highlighted the alarming decline in their numbers, as the population has dwindled from over 100,000 in 1980 to a current estimate of 10,000 to 20,000.
Threats Beyond Wetland Encroachment
Theft of Crested Cranes for purposes such as witchcraft and traditional use in neighboring countries has added to the challenges faced by these birds. These activities further complicate the plight of a species with a seriously declining population. Experts are urging the government to implement stringent measures for wetland restoration to help protect the Crested Cranes.
The State of Wetlands
Jane Amumpire, the Natural Resources Officer in Rubanda District, revealed that nearly 97% of the wetlands have been encroached upon, leaving only 3% vulnerable to total degradation. This encroachment is attributed to population growth and the degradation of catchment areas. She emphasized the need for continuous community sensitization to raise awareness about the importance of wetlands.
Loss of Breeding Grounds
Henry Tumwesigye, Natural Resources Officer in Kabale District, stressed that wetlands serve as vital habitats for Crested Cranes, as they are crucial breeding grounds for the species. He noted that the loss of 60% of wetlands has meant a corresponding loss of breeding grounds for the birds. Much of this encroachment is due to human activities like crop production and brick making.
Presidential Initiative and Enforcement
In response to the crisis, the government has taken measures, including a clear presidential directive to evict those who have encroached on wetlands. The President has also urged regional district commissioners and parish chiefs to take action against wetland encroachers.
A Symbol of Beauty
Crested Cranes were designated as Uganda’s national bird in the formative years of the country, chosen for their beauty. However, their decline due to wetland encroachment and demand in Rwanda now poses a significant threat to their population.