Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Centre’s steps into Conserving the Endangered National Bird – The Grey Crowned Crane.

Bulemu Hannington and Diana Kibuuka

Mandated with responsibilities of promoting conservation and development of wildlife resources through conservation education and wildlife captive breeding of endangered species found abandoned, badly injured with fatal injuries, trafficked, Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Centre (UWEC) commonly known as Entebbe Zoo is making big strides in the conservation of the National Bird – the Crested Crane.

Records show that the population of the cranes has gone down in the past four decades and Bashir Hangi, the communications manager for the Uganda Wildlife Authority, says the current gray crowned crane population in the country ranges from 15,000 to 22,000, a steep decline from about 35,000 counted in a 1995 census – This is a clear indicator that this National Bird in under threat.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), lists the crested crane as endangered, facing major conservation threats due to; degradation of wetlands which act as; the principal breeding, habitats, feeding sites and roosting sites, human wildlife conflicts, especially when the birds get to the gardens and eat groundnuts, maize, human population growth and urbanization that encroaches on the wetlands for expansion of human settlements and infrastructures while in the rural areas there is steady conversion of wetlands for agricultural use, electrocution on overhead power lines, loss of partners which marks the end of the breeding process  and failure to breed in captivity, not forgetting predators – Following the challenges faced by the National Bird, UWEC was prompted to intervene.

Since1952 to 1969, no records were found pertaining the rescue and release of the crested cranes until 1970 where documentations started showing up in records and in 2001 one successful rescue of the cranes was registered since then, records have been consistently collected

Just like other rescued animals, when rescued, cranes undergo a quarantine period, health checks and physical examinations are done, and after a successful quarantine he fate of the crane is determined, whether fit for release or is to be retained at Centre for conservation education, research and captive breeding as an endangered species.

Why captive breeding at UWEC?

It’s one of the Centre’s mandate to breed endangered and threatened wildlife species, to maintain a viable captive population, to increase the overall population to aid the re- introduction to the wild, to increase the overall population to aid the re-introduction to the wild, and to allow the birds and other animals fulfill and demonstrate reproductive behavior and breeding.

Successful stories of Grey Crowned Crane Conservation and Breeding at UWEC

Laid Crested Grey Eggs

In 2021, the Centre took care of five cranes in various aviaries and in 2022  reproductive activities were noted in both the Fish Eagle aviary and the wetland aviary where the cranes were living.    

In October 2022, the Courtship activities in the Fish Eagle aviary out competed those in the wetland aviary, although in both aviaries successful courtship and copulation was marked. This union however didn’t yield fruits, but in early march 2023, courtship and display were seen expressed by the male in the wetland aviary – The male crane was observed gathering wet grass forming a nest in the water logged wetland and during this period aggression levels were high especially from the male crane as it marked and defended the and offering security to the female during this the brooding season

One egg was laid on the 10th of April 2023, interventions were taken immediately to eliminate on the human or keeper interactions and this saw other bird species like the shoe bills transferred from the wetland aviary to the fish eagle aviary.

On the 12th of April 2023, the she crane started incubating the egg, this was an exciting and learning moment to the zoo keepers and educators, as the she crane kept on smearing mud all over the egg as a temperature regulation methodology adopted by wading birds. After 28days on 10th of May 2023, a chick was hatched at 11am! –  It was bright, alert and responsive and after some hours it started moving, eating and spreading the wings.

After three months of successful breeding and raising the chick, the courtship process started again after the male chasing away the now juvenile chick. This time round three eggs were laid and following the construction projects at the Centre that has started, the birds were temporarily relocated to veterinary which wasn’t a suitable environment for the brooding process, and instead the zoo keepers took on a decision to try use a duck which was incubating in the nearby community, to have the eggs hatched, a thing that worked out perfectly – Although it involved risks like the duck rejecting the foreign eggs, and different hatching time, much as both birds take 28days to have her eggs hatched.  

The Centre goes an extra mile to work closely with the local communities to conserve and protect the wetland ecosystems which acts as the principal breeding and roosting grounds for the endangered bird species. UWEC has fully empowered communities through its connecting to nature program which supports and educates communities on harmonious and sustainable utilization of wetland resources to improve on local community’s livelihoods in Mabamba and Makanaga wetlands.

Facts about Ugandan’s National Bird –  Grey Crowned Crane.

Its beauty and elegance are the reasons the Crested Crane was chosen as Uganda’s National Emblem by the then Uganda Governor and ornithologist Sir Fredrick Johnson in 1893.  Most crested cranes live in mixed wetland habitats, on riverbanks, around dams and open grassland. As a result, they often forage on agricultural lands, which are close to wetlands or riverbanks, feeding on grass seeds, small toads, frogs, insects and other invertebrates.

They lay between 2 and 4 eggs in a clutch, and the eggs are ready to hatch in about 30 days. They reach maturity at 3years and live upto 22 Years.

History of Wetland Conservation and Management in Uganda.

The Ramsar Treaty, signed in Iran in 1971, marked the beginning of initiatives to safeguard wetland habitats from development around the world. A standard was set upon which to identify wetlands of international importance and besides being a habitat for wildlife species, wetlands provide water, food, and materials that are harvested by women to make crafts such as baskets and mats on top of serving as carbon sinks.

Uganda joined the Ramsar Convention in 1988 and became the second country after Canada to legislate a wetland protection policy. Today, the country has 12 designated Ramsar sites including Rwenzori mountains, Lake Mburo-Nakivale, Mabamba bay, Lake Bisina, Lake George, Lake Nabugabo, Lake Opeta, Lake Nakuwa, Nabajjuzi, and Lutembe wetland systems, all protected under the National Policy for the Conservation and Management of Wetland Resources launched in 1995.

About The Author

Diana Kibuuka

Diana Kibuuka is an Environment and Climate Change female journalist from Uganda. She's also running a Climate Change Podcast; Dina;s planet: and and Climate change blog;

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