Ugandan Cranes Declining Due to "Witch Doctors"

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Poachers from Tanzania, reputed to run one of the biggest wildlife trading centers in Africa, also illegally capture cranes, according to the report.

Poachers poison the birds or catch them with rough tools, such as metallic traps. Sometimes the cranes' wings are cut.

The birds are then transported—often without adequate food or space—in wire mesh cages across Lake Victoria into Tanzania for eventual sale as pets in Europe. (Related news: "On Africa's Largest Lake, Fishers Suffer Falling Stocks, Rising Demand" [March 13, 2007].)

Chicks sell for at least 30 U.S. dollars and adults sell for 20 U.S. dollars.

But not all the cranes survive being captured, the report said.

"To catch a hundred cranes, you have to kill four or five times as many in the process," Byaruhanda of Nature Uganda said.

Often, older birds caring for their young are captured, endangering future generations of the birds in Uganda. Gray crowned cranes are also found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, and parts of South Africa.

Encroached Wetlands

Despite the crane's respected status, conservationists say the Ugandan government has made no effort to conserve the wetlands where the species lives.

Rice farmers are increasingly draining wetlands in western Uganda where the cranes nest and forage.

"The crowned crane is systematically being displaced," said Moses Mapesa, director of the Uganda Wildlife Authority. The animals often end up outside of protected areas, he added.

As a result, Nature Uganda is collaborating with other regional African wildlife groups to educate traditional communities on how to preserve remaining wetlands.

"This is our national symbol," Mapesa said.

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