African Wattled Crane Programme

To monitor the status and threats to the survival of wattled cranes across Africa


The wattled crane, Bugeranus carunculatus, is the largest and rarest of the six crane species that occur in Africa. Its distribution ranges from Ethiopia down to South Africa with outlying populations in Namibia and Angola. It is the most wetland-dependent of all crane species. Since 2000 the species has been listed as vulnerable by Birdlife International and IUCN since it may have undergone a rapid decline in the last three generations. With threats continuing or increasing, this decline is projected to continue.


East African populations are small: there are only about 150 wattled cranes in Ethiopia and about 200 in south-west Tanzania. Historically, the species was more abundant and more widely distributed across southern Africa than at present, with the greatest losses occurring in South Africa. Between the mid-1980s to mid-1990s the total estimated population of 13,000' to 15,000 birds remained seemingly stable, but this was essentially due to the discovery of 2500 birds in the Zambezi Delta in Mozambique. In Zambia, which belongs to the core area of the species, numbers fell during that period from 11,000 to some 7,000 birds. In Zimbabwe, all of the farms in the Driefontein grasslands, about 180 km south of Harare, were part of the government's resettlement plan resulting in farming practices changing to the detriment of the cranes. A first population survey since the land occupation, carried out under the auspices of the Wattled Crane Programme of the Endangered Wildlife Trust in September/ October 2004, revealed the presence of only 138 cranes. In Namibia, the Tsumkwe pans have about 80 birds, which is the largest population in that country. In South Africa, the population has seen a 35% decline over the last two decades, and the species is now rated critically endangered with only 235 bird left in the wild. In Swaziland the species is extinct.


The most important threats to the species are loss and degradation of wetlands due to intensified agriculture , indiscriminate use of wetland resources and dam constructions with subsequent changes of flooding regimes. As Wattled Cranes occasionally forage on agricultural fields alongside Blue and Grey Crowned Cranes, they are also vulnerable to accidental and purposeful poisoning. Other threats include disturbance by humans and livestock at or near breeding sites, poisonig and collision with electric power lines.


The African Wattled Crane Programme (AWAC) was launched in 2001 to monitor the status and threats to the survival of Wattled Cranes in each range country and to empower conservation biologists and managers to develop pro-active conservation programmes for the management of wetland systems for the benefit of people and wildlife. The programme pursues the following aims:


  • To assess training and capacity requirements within AWAC, develop a plan to address any needs and ensure that the required capacity is developed, so that a team of skilled conservationists is developed for both AWAC and for conservation in the relevant countries. Successional planning should become an integral part of this.
  • To ensure that the five regional collaborative programmes are investigated, and ensure that at least two of them are started within the next year.
  • To build on and develop the AWAC network to ensure continuity and long term support of and involvement in the programme.
  • To provide assistance to all in-country programmes to ensure that the vision and mission of AWAC is fulfilled.
  • To assess and address the issue of trade which is impacting negatively on wild crane populations.
  • To support local initiatives to involve communities in conservation action in Zimbabwe and Tanzania.


WAZA Conservation Project 05022 is implemented by the International Crane Foundation and the Endangered Wildlife Trust. The EWT and ICF are responsible for the overall coordination of AWAC and its associated regional programmes and for assisting each member country with programme development, technical training, and fundraising, as needed. Key partners include the BirdLife Botswana Crane Working Group, Nouvelles Approches and Department of National Parks staff working in southeastern D.R. Congo, the Ethiopia Wildlife and Natural History Society, the Museums of Malawi, the Mozambique Museum of Natural History, the Namibia Crane Working Group, the South Africa Crane Working Group, the Zambia Crane and Wetland Conservation Programme, Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania, and the BirdLife Zimbabwe Crane Working Group.


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