Saving Senegal’s black crowned cranes

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The vibrant African country of Senegal is known for its pink lake, rich musical culture, and the House of Slaves museum with its Door of No Return. It is also home to a variety of threatened wildlife, including the black crowned crane (Balearica pavonina). For two years Black Crowned Crane Conservation,  Senegal, a collaborative effort between the International Crane Foundation (ICF) and the Endangered

Wildlife Trust (EWT), has been working to protect this totem bird from extinction. “Most of the black crowned crane’s range is unsafe and we are unable to work in these regions,” explains Kerryn Morrison, EWT senior manager Africa and ICF/EWT Partnership manager.

“This species is found in wet and dry open habitats, but prefers freshwater marshes, wet grasslands, and the peripheries of water bodies,” says Morrison. The project focuses on two areas – the Senegal River Delta in the north, and subtropical Casamance, sandwiched between The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau in the south.

Black crowned cranes have declined due to habitat loss and degradation

drawing of black crowned crane

Sketch: Graham Kearney

The black crowned crane is a sacred symbol among the Diedhou people in Casamance, so they do not disturb or harm the birds, despite nest disturbance being one of the major threats for Senegal’s cranes.
“Both areas are affected by habitat loss due to drought and more broadly climate change,” says Morrison.

In addition to climate change, damming upstream in both locations has resulted in hydro-agriculture in the regions. The initiative has employed one crane contractor to monitor breeding pairs, general crane distribution and numbers. One of the contractor’s other roles is to educate local communities about the plight of the birds. Black Crowned Crane Conservation, Senegal is also in the process of training community crane monitors.

Black crowned crane population

“Black crowned cranes have declined primarily due to habitat loss and degradation, domestication and illegal trade, and human and livestock disturbance around nesting sites,” explains Morrison. It is estimated there are 2 000 black crowned cranes in Senegal. Once widespread across its native range, the species is believed to have undergone a significant decline in certain countries, like Mali. A population study in 2004 placed the western subpopulation at 15 000 birds and the eastern population between 28 000 and 55 000.

Black crowned cranes are darker and more contrasting in colour than their grey cousin. Unlike other African cranes, both crowned cranes species are able to perch.

Written by: Georgina Lockwood

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