Adalbert Aine-omucunguzi, Orishaba Phiona, and Gilbert Tayebwa, ICF/EWT African Crane Conservation Programme,

In 2012, the International Crane Foundation/Endangered Wildlife Trust Partnership (ICF/EWT) recruited and trained five community volunteers to safeguard breeding cranes in southwestern Uganda. This was in response to the escalating threats from crane poachers and wetland encroachment. These community volunteers were named Crane Custodians, and the approach was guided by the belief that securing a future for cranes depended on local people tolerating cranes on their farms, reporting poaching and other incidents, and receiving constant positive messages about cranes from their fellow community members. The Crane Custodians have since helped to raise community awareness about the importance of conserving cranes and have been instrumental in securing safe space for breeding cranes. The Uganda project has grown and now comprises  50 Crane Custodians, 17 females and 33 males

Despite this, in March and April 2021, over 60 cases of crane poisoning were reported in south-central Uganda. The poisoning is believed to have been driven by crop damaged caused by cranes. Some farmers are using agrochemicals, notably Furadan, to poison cranes that visit their crop fields. In response to escalating poisoning, our Crane Custodians have stepped up their awareness drive to educate communities so that they aware of the dangers of misusing agrochemicals, which are unfortunately readily available in local markets and can easily be purchased by anyone.

Through various available awareness-raising activities such as community meetings, church gatherings, music composition, and moving from house to house, the custodians are sensitising community members to the consequences of poisoning cranes and the need to protect Uganda’s National Bird.The custodians have been instrumental in building the current community support and pride for cranes that we see in Uganda. The dedicated volunteers also report and monitor cranes that are breeding, contributing to increased breeding success for cranes within these communities.

The Uganda project team is heavily indebted to these unsung heroes for their dedication to crane and wetland conservation and their willingness to volunteer their time to serve nature.