Dwindling crested crane, shoebill numbers worry tourism ministry
Posted Tuesday, October 8 2013 at 01:00
Kampala- Uganda without the crested crane is almost impossible to imagine but according to the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, this symbol of identity and heritage together with the shoebill could soon be no more if encroachment on its habitat continues.
The crested crane and the shoebill have been listed as the country’s top most endangered birds according to the latest 2012 birds’ population monitoring report conducted by the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities.
There are currently only 200 shoebills remaining from more than 1,000 in 1989 whereas only 8,000 crested cranes are left, down from 35,000 in 1989, according to the report.
Mr Akankwasah Barirega, the principal wildlife officer, says Uganda presents the highest opportunity to see shoebills in the world as the bird is a vulnerable species getting extinct world over.
He said if those responsible do not act now, Uganda may lose its national bird just like Nigeria did with the black-crowned crane.
Appeal to developers
“The developers should spare wetlands. We need support of everybody to save our heritage; Imagine Uganda without cranes? It will be a national disaster,” Mr Barirega, who is also the acting public relations officer at the Ministry of Tourism, said.
The causes of decline include habitat destruction, especially of wetlands, disturbance through grazing, hunting for domestication and or trade, live trapping for domestication, over exploitation of wetland resources, urban expansion and illegal trade.
Uganda has 11 per cent of global bird diversity which is 50 per cent of Africa bird species diversity but conservation of birds in Uganda is still in its infancy.
Mr Barirega said the government has currently partnered with conservation organisations such as Nature Uganda and UN African Eurasian Water board Agreement to develop action plans for conservation of Cranes and Shoebills not only in Uganda but also across the entire range states.
Mabamba Bay in central Uganda is now a global tourism site for seeing shoebills whereas Kabale and Bushenyi districts have crane conservation programmes under Nature Uganda.
“We are promoting community based tourism in habitats with these much coveted birds so that the local people can benefit through tourism Birding in Uganda is developing at a high rate,” Mr Barirega said.
Uganda is globally known as the bird heaven and birding is one of the biggest tourism products for Uganda. According to the Ministry of Tourism, , Uganda generates more than $ 6 million annually from birding tourism alone.
ABOUT ENDENGERED BIRDS
The crested crane, chosen as Uganda’s crest (national symbol) nearly 100 years ago, is one of the most cherished birds in the country. The unusual gracefulness of the crowned crane attracted the then Governor of Uganda, Sir Frederick Jackson, who, in 1893, chose it to embellish the Union Jack. There are 16 different species of cranes in the world, four of which are found in Africa.
The shoebill derives its name from its massive shoe-shaped bill. Its prey includes fish (notably the African lungfish, it’s favorite), water snakes, water birds and even young crocodiles. Although never easy to find, certain key locations including Lake Kyoga, on the shores of Lake Victoria in Mpigi District, Murchison Falls, Lake Mburo and Queen Elizabeth national parks, among others.