Aerial surveys illustrate how consistent population monitoring over time can shape the way we approach conservation efforts. This method has been used to monitor a range of endangered species, and the technique has been employed successfully in Rwanda.
Here, grey-crowned cranes are threatened by human factors often driven by conditions of poverty and a lack of conservation awareness. While the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association (RWCA) and its partners have been working to eliminate the illegal trade and boost the population numbers, surveys were necessary to establish these population numbers.
Previous population estimates suggested fewer than 500 grey-crowned cranes in Rwanda.
In August 2017, with the help of the International Crane Foundation/Endangered Wildlife Trust Partnership, the RWCA conducted the first national census of grey-crowned cranes in Rwanda. The aim of this survey was to form the baseline for a sustained annual crane survey. This census incorporated both aerial and ground surveys to include as much of the country as possible.
Results showed at least 487 grey-crowned cranes in Rwanda and included details on distribution and habitat type. The results of the survey highlighted challenges for grey-crowned crane conservation at different sites and suggested action that can be taken to ensure the long-term viability of this species.
In August 2018, the partnership conducted the second national census, which yielded a count of 458 cranes. These results then posed questions on the migration of cranes between neighbouring countries and breeding habitat selection type from the first two years of survey.
With time it is hoped the questions posed become clearer and the target strategies become more defined as the baseline information for the species grows.
Special thanks goes to the RWCA and ICF/EWT partnership for collaborating on the national census and the National Geographic Society, Whitley Fund for Nature and the Houston Zoo, as without their support, the national census would not have been possible.
Written by René de Klerk
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