THE UGANDA CRANE FESTIVAL 2020 DRAWS GREY CROWNED CRANES TO THE CELEBRATIONS

Jimmy Muheebwa, Uganda Projects Coordinator, Gilbert Tayebwa, Research and Monitoring Field Assistant, and Phiona Orishaba, Community Education Field Assistant, EWT African Crane Conservation Programme
JimmyM@ewt.org.za, GilbertT@ewt.org.za, and PhionaO@ewt.org.za

The unusual happened as the International Crane Foundation/Endangered Wildlife Trust/NatureUganda Partnership celebrated cranes on 2 March 2020 in Kabale, Uganda.  The function that was held at Kikungiri Primary School and attracted hundreds of participants including primary school children, university students, conservationists, civic leaders, the media community, private sector practitioners, and politicians. Surprisingly, cranes, which were slated to be the centre of the talk during the celebrations, made an appearance, to the amazement of many.

The Uganda Crane Festival formed part of the build up to World Wildlife Day 2020, and was intended to promote partnerships and engagements with stakeholders who may be impacting on wetlands and cranes, increase crane and wetland awareness among youths in the project area, and engage communities to improve their appreciation of wetlands and their connection to Grey Crowned Cranes.

By 8:30 on the morning of the festivals, hundreds of participants had gathered at Highland Hotel Kibale, where they received t-shirts and banners. Guided by the traffic police and led on by a brass band, the procession marched through Kabale town up to the celebrations venue, Kikungiri Primary School. The guest of honour on this auspicious occasion was the Minister for Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Godfrey Kiwanda, who was taken on a tour of a variety of wetlands-based arts and crafts exhibitions displayed by schools and communities to demonstrate sustainable use. The EWT’s Jimmy Muheebwa was afforded the opportunity to share project initiatives such as Crane Custodianship, “Cranes in the Classroom”, and the Conservation Agreement approach, and how the initiatives have contributed to improved crane breeding success. A “Cranes in the Classroom” school assessment had also been conducted, and the winning schools received their prizes – a plaque for first place and certificates for second and third places – at the festival. Katuna Primary School were well-deserving winners, while Rushabo Primary School and Buhara Primary School took second and third place respectively.

As Minister Kiwanda took to the podium, a flock of cranes hovered in the area, clearly considering landing in the area. The crowd had been taught how to make crane calls, and put this knowledge to good use, calling for over five minutes, which then transformed into dancing, singing, gesturing, and clapping in imitation of Grey Crowned Cranes. The minister was amused by the timing of the cranes’ appearance, just as he was about to speak, and wondered if it had been prearranged. He was glowing in his praise of the work being done by the cranes project, and paid special tribute to EWT partners, the International Crane Foundation. The minister also launched the National Species Action Plan for the Grey Crowned Crane, the development of which NatureUganda had championed, on behalf of the government of Uganda. The proceedings were closed with local communities staging a crane dance, which the minister couldn’t resist joining.

Minister Kiwanda launches the National Species Action Plan for the Grey Crowned Crane