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Grey-crowned crane with golden spray headdress winging its way to extinction

Grey Crowned Cranes are seen in Amboseli National park, Kenya, February 11,2016. REUTERS

Scientists will embark today on the first comprehensive nationwide survey of grey-crowned cranes.

Kenya National Museums research scientist in zoology Wanyoike Wamiti said the survey will come up with a strategy to save the cranes from extinction.

The grey-crowned crane is one of the 15 living species of the cranes in the world and it is currently listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The National Museums of Kenya with Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union Germany and other partners will conduct the survey to March 8.Wamiti said previous studies estimated the species population in Kenya at around 35,000 in 1986.

However, Wamiti said a recent study by an author identified as Morison estimates it between 10,000 and 12,500 as recently as 2015. They fear the numbers are below 10,000 owing to multiple threats they continue to face. The census will let the country know the accurate figures, he said.

“We want to know the number of cranes remaining so we can put in place appropriate conservation measures for the population to recover,” he said. It’s like a human census, he said.

The grey-crowned crane is the world’s fastest disappearing crane. Found only in Sub-Saharan Africa, it was once common in the wetlands of Democratic Republic of Congo through to Eastern Africa and stretching down to South Africa.

Wamiti said the bird is two steps from extinction as it has already been listed as endangered. The main threats are habitat loss, especially the wetlands which have been converted to other uses such as agriculture and infrastructure.

Wamiti said the birds use wetlands for breeding as well as feeding.

The destruction of wetlands has dealt a major blow to the bird that feeds on tips of grasses, seeds, insects and other invertebrates, small vertebrates, groundnuts, soybeans, maize and millet. Other threats are live capture and egg collection for commercial trade, unintentional or intentional poisoning and power line collisions, he said.

Adult cranes have a grey body, white wings with feathers ranging from white to brown to gold. Their heads are topped with stiff golden feathers, white cheek patches, red gular sack under the chin, black legs and feet and a short grey bill.

The juveniles have a greyish body, brown nape, buffy face, crown spiky and golden buff.

The scientist said the grey-crowned crane plays an important role in seed dispersal. If wetlands are not in good shape, you will know by reduction of the cranes or the absence, he said.

Wamiti said they intend to get a relative count of the birds countrywide. “We will have eight teams that will spread out to the strongholds of the cranes. Records from national museums will be used to locate the strongholds,” he said.

Awareness about threats facing the bird will be raised during the census.



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