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The Cranes

Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan

Threats: Direct Exploitation

In general, hunting and trapping do not now constitute an overwhelming threat to cranes. For several species and populations, however, direct exploitation has been a critical factor in the past, and hinders current protection and recovery efforts.


Hunting of cranes is prohibited in most countries where they occur. The most serious problem involving the legal hunting of cranes occurs along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where Eurasian Cranes, Demoiselle Cranes, and the Central population of Siberian Cranes pass during the spring and autumn migrations, and where crane hunting is a long-standing tradition. Sport hunting of the more abundant species still occurs, and in some areas has been reinstituted. From a strict management standpoint, the main threat associated with legal sport hunting involves the lack of accurate information on population status, harvests, and the impacts of hunting on specific populations. Accidental shooting is a significant concern in the case of the Whooping Crane and the other rare species (Lewis et al. 1992b).

Subsistence hunting of cranes is relatively uncommon, but does occur in limited portions of Africa, Asia, and North America. In the past, crane populations have tolerated such hunting, and could theoretically continue to do so if the kill rate remained below the recruitment rate. However, the impact of subsistence hunting is likely to become increasingly acute as human populations grow, firearms become increasingly available, cultural traditions of restraint weaken, and habitat continues to be lost. It has been an intermittent problem in areas where rural human population density is high, most commonly in parts of Africa and China.


Laws prohibiting the killing of cranes are widely ignored and poorly enforced in many countries. Most instances of poaching involve shooting, but trapping and other forms of exploitation have been reported. Cranes that are subject to poaching are usually used for food. In some cases, parts of the cranes have been used for their supposed medicinal properties. Crane feathers have reportedly been sold in Hong Kong for the production of fans.

JPG-Siberian Crane killed by poachers

Live trapping for commercial trade

Live trapping of cranes takes place both legally and illegally. In most cases, cranes are trapped for commercial purposes, usually for export, but also for sale in domestic markets. Grey and Black Crowned, Demoiselle, Blue, Wattled, and Sarus Cranes are the species most affected. The majority of documented cases of live trapping for trade come from Africa (Urban and Gichuki 1991, Mafabi 1991, W. Tarboton pers. comm.). About 100 prefledged Demoiselle Cranes are captured and sold each year in the Kalmykia region of Russia, but this practice is not thought to present a critical threat to the local population (which is estimated at more than 30,000).

Live trapping for domestication

In some countries, cranes are captured and kept as pets. Sometimes adults are taken, but more often crane chicks are captured and hand-raised. Blue Cranes, Grey and Black Crowned Cranes, and Brolgas are the most commonly domesticated species (e.g., Mafabi and Pomeroy 1988). In Pakistan, where many people keep Demoiselle and Common Cranes in their yards as pets, trappers capture and sell cranes (Ahmad and Shah 1991).
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