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The Cranes

Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan

Sarus Crane

(Grus antigone)

JPG-Sarus Crane

Population Numbers and Trends
Conservation Status
Historic and Present Distribution
Distribution by Country
Habitat and Ecology
Principal Threats
Current Conservation Measures
Priority Conservation Measures


The Sarus Crane is the only resident breeding crane in India and southeast Asia, and is the world’s tallest flying bird. Three subspecies are recognized, with a total estimated population of between 13,500 and 15,500. The Indian Sarus Crane (G. a. antigone) is still common in northern India, but has been extirpated from large portions of its historic range and continues to decline in areas where it still exists. The Eastern Sarus Crane (G. a. sharpii1) has been decimated throughout its historic range in southeast Asia. One known population, estimated at between 500 and 1500, survives in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos (and possibly elsewhere in the region). The Australian Sarus Crane (G. a. gilli) is limited to northeastern Australia, and probably numbers less than 5,000. Sarus Cranes, possibly of a distinct subspecies, formerly occurred in the Philippines. This population is now presumed extinct. The species is classified as Endangered under the revised IUCN Red List Categories. The Indian and Eastern subspecies are classified as Endangered. Too little is known about the Australian subspecies to classify it at this time.

The three subspecies use widely varying habitats. The Indian Sarus Crane has proven to be highly adaptable in the face of high human population pressures. The birds are able to use even small wetlands if they are not persecuted or heavily disturbed. Breeding pairs and families with pre-fledged chicks are typically dispersed among scattered natural and artificial wetlands. Adult pairs will use drier habitats such as cultivated and fallow fields. Eastern Sarus Cranes are less tolerant of people and are almost completely dependent on natural wetlands in both the wet and dry seasons. Australian Sarus Cranes nest in open wetlands during Australia’s wet season and feed in upland agricultural fields and grasslands at other times of the year.

Loss and degradation of wetlands—due to agricultural expansion, industrial development, river basin development, pollution, warfare, heavy use of pesticides, and other factors—are the most significant threats to the species, especially in India and southeast Asia. In many areas, high human population pressures compound these threats by increasing the level of disturbance. Human population growth and planned development projects on the Mekong River are acute threats to the Eastern Sarus Crane. Hunting, egg stealing, and the capturing of chicks are also significant problems in some areas, and especially affect the Eastern Sarus Crane. Trading in adults and chicks has been reported in India, Cambodia, and Thailand.

Local traditions and religious beliefs have protected the species in many parts of its range, especially northern India, Nepal’s western Tarai, and Vietnam. The species has been the focus of increased conservation activity in recent years, including: international agreements and collaborative conservation projects in southeast Asia; field studies of the species in India and Nepal; intensive surveys of the Eastern Sarus Crane during the dry season in Vietnam, and during the breeding season in Cambodia; establishment of the Tram Chim National Reserve in Vietnam and efforts to restore the reserve’s wetlands; convening (in 1990) of an International Sarus Crane and Wetland Conservation Workshop; initial development of a PHVA for the Eastern Sarus Crane; and focused education programs in Nepal and Vietnam. Sarus Cranes are not now being reintroduced, but plans for reintroduction have been advanced in Thailand and discussed in other portions of the species’ historic range.

Priority conservation measures for the species include: transfer of the species to CITES Appendix I; identification and protection of breeding areas in India, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Laos, and of additional dry season habitat areas in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia; full implementation of the management plan for Vietnam’s Tram Chim National Reserve; protection, maintenance, and restoration of village ponds and other small wetlands in India; watershed-level conservation planning in the Mekong River basin; expanded efforts to survey and monitor Eastern Sarus Cranes; further research on distribution, ecology, movement, and habitat needs throughout the species range; expanded surveys and basic ecological studies of the Australian Sarus Crane; development and implementation of national-level wetland conservation plans in range countries; preparation of full PHVAs for both the Indian and Eastern Sarus Crane; and assessments of existing habitat and the potential for natural recolonization in areas where the species is now rare or extinct.

1The spellings G. a. sharpii and G. a. sharpei have been used interchangeably in the literature. Similarly, G. a. gilli is the most commonly used spelling for the Australian Sarus Crane, although schodde et al. (1988) introduced the subspecies as G. a. gillae.

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Indian Sarus Crane G. a. antigone
Eastern Sarus Crane G. a. sharpii
Australian Sarus Crane     G. a. gilli

The three subspecies are distinguished mainly by morphological differences. G. a. antigone is taller than G. a. sharpii and G. a. gilli. The plumage of all three is generally grey, but G. a. antigone has a white collar and white tertials. G. a. sharpii and G. a. gilli are a uniform (and slightly darker) grey. The dividing point between the ranges of G. a. antigone and G. a. sharpii falls in Eastern India and Myanmar. G. a. sharpii may exist in two separate populations: the known birds of the lower Mekong basin in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam; and (assuming it still exists) an isolated population in eastern India, Myanmar, and Yunnan.2 G. a. gilli occurs exclusively in Australia. Schodde et al. (1988) differentiated it based on its smaller size, larger and darker ear patches, and more extensively feathered throat. Its status as a subspecies may be clarified through DNA analysis (Krajewski and Archibald in prep., C. Krajewski pers. comm.). The Sarus Cranes that occurred in the Philippines may have belonged to a distinct subspecies Grus (Antigone) antigone luzonica, although no taxonomic studies have been undertaken to confirm this status (see Hachisuka 1932, 1941).

2In the summer of 1996, as this action plan was going to press, the presence of Sarus Cranes in Myanmar was confirmed (J. Barzen pers. comm.). the subspecies status of these birds is as yet unclear.

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Population Numbers and Trends

Subspecies Number Trend Source
G. a. antigone     8,000-10,000 Declining P. Gole pers. comm.
G. a. sharpii 500-1500 Unknown; likely declining     J. Barzen pers. comm.
G. a. gilli <5,000 Unknown A. Haffenden pers. comm.
Total 13,500-15,500     Declining

The figures presented here are based on the best current estimates of members of the Crane Specialist Group. P. Gole (pers. comm.) notes that the estimate for the Indian Sarus Crane is lower than estimates published in recent years. The Eastern Sarus Crane has not been accurately surveyed due to the remoteness of its widely dispersed breeding grounds, and the possible existence of additional wintering areas. There have been no range-wide surveys of the Australian Sarus Crane and thus no basis for accurate estimates. A. Haffenden (pers. comm.) estimates that 750-1200 birds winter on the Atherton Tablelands and notes that “this may be the majority of the total population, as few are seen elsewhere in winter in any numbers.”

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Conservation Status

IUCN category     Endangered, under criteria
CITES Appendix II
Subspecies IUCN Category
Indian Sarus (G. a. antigone)     Endangered, under criteria
Eastern Sarus (G. a. sharpii) Endangered, under criteria
Australia (G. a. gilli) Data Deficient
Philippine Extinct

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Historic and Present Distribution

GIF-Distribution Map

The Sarus Crane occurs in the northern Indian subcontinent, southeast Asia, and northeast Australia, and is the only crane species that breeds in Asia south of the Himalayas. Although Sarus Cranes are non-migratory, populations do move on a seasonal basis in response to monsoons and droughts. In general, Indian Sarus Cranes are more sedentary than Eastern and Australian Sarus Cranes, undertaking extended movement only during times of severe drought.

Indian Sarus Crane (G. a. antigone)

The current range of the Indian Sarus Crane includes the plains of northern, northwestern, and western India and the western half of Nepal’s Tarai lowlands. The population has declined sharply over the last several decades. This decline is probably continuing, given the species’ relatively low recruitment rate within India (Gole 1989b, P. Gole pers. comm.). Sarus Cranes are most common and densely distributed in the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Haryana; they are less common in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh (Gole 1989b). The population in Nepal is small (200-500) and apparently declining (R. Suwal pers. comm.). In Pakistan, India’s Punjab, and western Bangladesh, the Sarus Crane now occurs rarely (Gole 1989a, 1989b, 1991b; Iqubal 1992; M. Ahmad pers. comm.). Since 1993, a few have been observed along the Indus River in Pakistan not far from the border with India in Sindh/Rajasthan (A. Ahmad pers. comm., M. Ahmad pers. comm.).

The current distribution of the Indian Sarus Crane represents a substantial constriction of its historic range. Sarus Cranes formerly occurred across the subcontinent, from the province of Sindh in Pakistan in the west to Bangladesh in the east, throughout the Gangetic plain, and in the arid and semi-arid regions of the Deccan Plateau of south-central India. They were common in the dry season in Pakistan until the 1960s (Gole 1989a, 1989b). In Nepal, they have been extirpated from the eastern half of the Tarai lowlands (Suwal 1995). Although still common in India, where the association between people and Sarus Cranes is ancient and close, they are increasingly restricted to regions where traditional land and water management practices are maintained (P. Gole pers. comm.).

Eastern Sarus Crane (G. a. sharpii)

The Eastern Sarus Crane formerly occurred throughout Indochina. Over the last fifty years it has been decimated throughout this range. It has apparently been extirpated from Thailand and the Malay Peninsula; its status in Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia is uncertain (but see n. 2 at bottom of previous page) In China, the Eastern Sarus Crane occurred historically in Yunnan Province, but has probably been in decline since the 1960s. Extensive surveys undertaken in Yunnan in the late 1980s failed to locate any birds (Yang 1987a, 1987b, 1991; Yang and Han 1987). The Philippine population of Sarus Cranes occurred on the island of Luzon (Hachisuka 1932, 1941; Delacour and Mayr 1946; Dickinson et al. 1991). The cranes were relatively common in some areas until the 1940s, but declined rapidly over the next two decades. Rare sightings were reported into the late 1970s, but surveys undertaken in the 1970s and 1980s failed to locate any birds (Madsen 1981, Dickinson et al. 1991).

JPG - Eastern Sarus Cranes

The Eastern Sarus Crane survives in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia (Duc 1991). The subspecies formerly bred throughout the Mekong River delta, but large areas of the delta were devastated by war, and the Sarus Crane was presumed to have gone extinct in the area. In 1984, however, local officials in Vietnam reported that the species had reappeared. In 1986, ornithologists from the University of Hanoi confirmed that a flock had spent the dry season (December-April) on the Plain of Reeds, a 62,500 km² depression in the delta. The plain extends from Phnom Penh in Cambodia almost to the South China Sea (near My Tho, Vietnam). The flock was discovered in Vietnam at a 7500 ha impoundment, the Tram Chim wetland (Brehm Fund 1987, Duc 1987, Harris 1987, Duc et al. 1989). The exact location of this population’s breeding grounds have yet to be determined, but Eastern Sarus Crane nests have recently been confirmed at three sites in northeastern Cambodia (Barzen 1994). Seasonal movements of the subspecies have not been well studied. They may entail distances of up to several hundred kilometers within the Mekong River basin (R. Beilfuss pers. comm.).

Eastern Sarus Cranes have occasionally been reported during the breeding season in northern Myanmar, and the Rangoon Zoo is known to have had Eastern Sarus Cranes in captivity. A few individuals appear at the beginning of the monsoon season in the eastern Indian states of Tripura and Manipur (P. Gole pers. comm.). If wild Sarus Cranes still exist in this region, they may move into Yunnan Province, China, during the dry season (Yang and Han 1987, Yang 1991). Given the distance between these areas and the lower Mekong River basin where the other birds are found, these individuals may constitute a second, distinct population.

Australian Sarus Crane (G. a. gilli)

The Australian Sarus Crane occurs in northeastern Australia, almost exclusively on the Cape York Peninsula in northern Queensland (Blakers et al. 1984, Marchant and Higgins 1993). Over the last twenty years it has been reported at several additional sites in north central Australia (Marchant and Higgins 1993), but further surveys are required to verify their current status in these areas (Tanner and Jaensch 1988). The birds in Queensland undertake limited migrations between wet season breeding areas near the coast and inland dry season wintering areas (Archibald and Swengel 1987, A. Haffenden pers. comm.).

Reports of Sarus Cranes in Australia date to 1953 (Archibald and Swengel 1987). Ornithologists first positively observed the species in Normanton in 1966 and in the Atherton Tablelands the following year (Gill 1969). It is probable, however, that Sarus Cranes have long been present in Australia (see Schodde et al. 1988, Krajewski and Archibald in prep.). Native Australians differentiated between Sarus Cranes and Brolgas, calling the former “the crane that dips its head in blood” (G. Blackman pers. comm.). The Australian Sarus Crane has occasionally hybridized with the Brolga, and may be outcompeting the smaller Brolga in areas where they are found together (Archibald 1981a, Archibald and Swengel 1987). A. Haffenden (pers. comm.) notes that differences in diet, nest site selection, and other ecological and behavioral differences are likely to minimize interbreeding between the two species.

Over the last several decades, environmental changes—especially the introduction of cattle into Australian Sarus Crane habitat—may have indirectly allowed the population to increase and expand across the Cape York Peninsula toward the east. Cattle grazing has reduced the relative proportion of shrub cover in this area while promoting the growth of grasses used by Sarus Cranes in and around temporary wetland depressions. This may have allowed the population to expand and disperse eastward until it reached the grain fields of the Atherton Tablelands, which now serve as a large and dependable source of winter food. This “discovery” allowed the population to increase further. This explanation is supported by the fact that in the winter Sarus Cranes do not occur elsewhere in the region in concentrated or significant numbers (A. Haffenden pers. comm.).

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Distribution by Country

Australia R
Bangladesh     r
Cambodia r(b), r(d?)
China X(b)?
India R
Laos r(b)?, r(d)?
Malaysia X
Myanmar r(b)?, r(d)?
Nepal r
Pakistan r
Philippines X
Thailand X
Vietnam X(b), r(d)
R = Resident (populations > 1500)
r = Resident (populations < 1500)
(b) = Breeding season only
(d) = Dry season only
X = Extirpated
? = Unconfirmed

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Habitat and Ecology

JPG-Breeding habitat of the Eastern Sarus Crane, Cambodia

Indian Sarus Crane (G. a. antigone)

Indian Sarus Cranes have adapted to the dense human population in India and interact closely with people in areas where traditions of tolerance prevail. They breed throughout the year (except in May and June, with a peak from July-September), moving locally and utilizing a wide variety of habitat types depending on food availability, cropping patterns, and other seasonal factors. Their optimal habitat includes a combination of marshes, ponds, fallow lands, and cultivated lands (Gole 1989b, 1991b). The diet includes aquatic plants, invertebrates, and grains.

Adult pairs use cultivated fields, fallow land, and other drier habitats, as well as flooded fields, rice paddies, and degraded (saline and water-logged) lands. Families with pre-fledged chicks, however, use wetlands almost exclusively (Gole 1993a). Breeding pairs use larger wetlands where they are available, but are typically scattered across the landscape, nesting in fields, along canals and irrigation ditches, beside village ponds, and in shallow marshes, rice paddies, jheels, and reed beds (Gole 1989b, Suwal 1995). The size of nesting territories ranges from 1 ha in populated areas to 27 ha within protected areas (Gole 1989b). Nests of all the subspecies consist of wetland vegetation and other available materials. Usually two eggs are laid. Incubation takes 31-34 days and chicks fledge at 85-100 days. Increasing human demands on India’s wetlands may be contributing to the decline of the Sarus Crane by reducing the recruitment rate within the population.

Eastern Sarus Crane (G. a. sharpii)

In contrast with the Indian Sarus Crane, Eastern Sarus Cranes are intolerant of people and depend almost completely on natural wetlands. They breed during the monsoon season (May-October), during which time they are isolated and territorial. Their breeding areas are largely unknown, hence their breeding habitat requirements are poorly understood. Of three nests recently found in northeastern Cambodia, all were located in isolated wetlands less than 150 ha in size and surrounded by dry, open dipterocarp forests (Barzen 1994). As the dry season progresses, the birds gradually concentrate, form flocks, and move to their dry season habitats in the Mekong River delta. In the delta they use shallow wetlands, dried-out sedge meadows, rice fields, and burned-over wet grasslands. They feed primarily on the tubers of sedges (Eleocharis ochrostachys) and small vertebrates and invertebrates (Duc et al. 1989).

Australian Sarus Crane (G. a. gilli)

See Marchant and Higgins (1993) for a review of habitat, movements, diet, social organization and behavior, and breeding characteristics. During northern Australia’s dry season (April-November), Australian Sarus Cranes forage in a variety of habitats (including shallow marshes, upland agricultural fields, and tussock grasslands), as long as water is available. In areas where both Brolgas and Sarus Cranes occur, Brolgas tend to restrict themselves to lowland sedge marshes, while Sarus Cranes use drier habitats (Archibald 1981a, Archibald and Swengel 1987). Although the wetland habitats of the two species overlap to a greater degree during the wet (breeding) season, the two species appear to differ in nest site preferences, with Brolgas preferring more open nest sites than the Sarus (Archibald and Swengel 1987, A. Haffenden pers. comm.). The diet includes seeds, bulbs, and other plant materials as well as insects and small vertebrates. Within Australia, Sarus Cranes are partly migratory (Marchant and Higgins 1993). Some birds migrate on a regular annual basis between summer breeding grounds on western Cape York Peninsula and winter feeding grounds in the eastern part of the peninsula, a distance of about 400 km (A. Haffenden pers. comm.). As noted above, human land use impacts may be benefitting the Sarus Crane by expanding the extent of grasslands and disturbed areas at the expense of native forests and wetlands.

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Principal Threats

JPG-Fate in India is dependent on maintainance of the quality of water and small wetlands

Wetland loss and degradation are the most significant threats to the Sarus Crane throughout its range. These result mainly from agricultural expansion (especially for rice production), the adoption of highly intensive agricultural methods, and accelerated industrial development. These, in turn, reflect increasing human population pressures, especially in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Yunnan, the Philippines, and Vietnam (Gole 1991b, Suwal 1995).

In many parts of India and Nepal, large-scale agricultural development projects undertaken since the 1960s have resulted in extensive loss of wetlands used by the Sarus Crane. Many wetlands in these countries have also been drained in efforts to control mosquito populations. In Nepal, emigration from the mountains to the lowlands has played a key role in the Sarus Crane’s extirpation from the eastern Tarai (R. Suwal pers. comm.). In Vietnam, Sarus Cranes disappeared when the Plain of Reeds in the Mekong delta was devastated by draining and burning during the Vietnam War. In addition, large birds of many species were (and in some areas of Cambodia still are) shot for food or target practice. Although cranes have returned to the Plain of Reeds, the high rate of human population growth in the area has led to rapid and extensive conversion of the wetlands to intensive rice production. At the regional scale, population growth and the restoration of peace in the region have increased pressures to pursue large development projects within the Mekong River system, with profound implications for the wetlands associated with the river (Lohmann 1990, Tran 1994).

Human population growth and intensified agricultural production also have indirect impacts on wetland habitat, including hydrological changes, high rates of sewage inflow, extensive agricultural runoff, and high levels of pesticide residues. These have significantly affected water and wetland quality in India, Nepal, Vietnam, Philippines, and other areas. In areas where the human population is particularly high, extreme levels of contact with people—in particular, disturbance of cranes on their nesting territories—may be contributing to low recruitment rates (Gole 1989b). All of these factors are of special concern in India, where the future of the Sarus Crane is closely tied to the quality of small wetlands that experience heavy human use (e.g., borders of canals and village ponds, shallow marshes, jheels). Cranes have also died due to pesticide poisoning in India (Muralidharan 1992).

Sarus Cranes have been hunted in portions of their historic and present range (mainly the Philippines, Yunnan, Vietnam, and some portions of India). Although hunting is no longer a critical threat in most countries, eggs and chicks are still stolen for food or for pets in Nepal, Cambodia, and possibly Laos (Tran 1994, Suwal 1995, J. Barzen pers. comm.). The impact of these activities is unknown, but it may be a critical factor affecting the Eastern Sarus Crane’s recovery. Trade may also be a threat in some areas. Significant numbers of birds have reportedly been used for trade in India, and chicks have also been smuggled from Cambodia and Thailand (Mirande et al. in press a).

In contrast to the many threats to the species in India and Southeast Asia, the Australian subspecies faces few acute hazards. However, the species should not be considered secure in Australia. The population’s actual size and distribution is insufficiently known. Few basic ecological studies have been undertaken, and none are now underway or proposed. Little research has been done to assess existing or potential threats to the population. At present, none of the subspecies’ breeding grounds or winter feeding areas are protected, and important breeding and wintering areas are highly vulnerable to changes in the agricultural economy and in land management practices (A. Haffenden pers. comm.).

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Current Conservation Measures

Legal and Cultural Protection

Sarus Cranes are fully protected by law in most of the countries where they are found (the exceptions are Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar). However, the effectiveness of law enforcement varies widely. For example, although the Thai government has recently taken action to halt the Cambodia-Thailand trade in Sarus Crane chicks, trade continues.

Local traditions and religious beliefs have played a significant role in protecting the species (Gole 1989a, 1993a; Suwal 1995). Especially in northern India, the western Tarai in Nepal, and Vietnam, they are regarded as sacred birds. However, in some of these areas—especially where development and population pressures have recently stimulated emigration—these traditions of veneration have been eroding (R. Suwal pers. comm.). Gole (pers. comm.) notes that the lack of strong cultural protections in eastern and east-central India (i.e., Assam, eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar) has been a significant contributing factor in the disappearance of the species from these areas.

International Agreements and Cooperation

Of the ten countries where Sarus Cranes are known or suspected to occur, seven are signatories to the Ramsar Convention (the exceptions are Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar).

Since the rediscovery of Eastern Sarus Cranes in the Mekong River delta, several international initiatives have been undertaken to protect the population and its habitats (Harris 1987, Duc et al. 1989). In 1986, Vietnam and Cambodia began planning cooperative research on the status of the subspecies as a foundation for establishing new protected areas. To date, progress in this effort has been limited. Through a series of agreements with Vietnamese officials, ICF has assisted in research, education, and habitat management programs at the Tram Chim National Reserve. In 1990, an International Sarus Crane and Wetland Conservation Workshop in Vietnam brought together many of the crane and wetland conservationists who have worked with the Sarus Crane. In 1992, representatives from Cambodia, Thailand, and ICF prepared and signed a Memorandum of Agreement that outlined plans for Thai and Cambodian researchers to study the breeding grounds in Cambodia; for collaborative field studies in the Plain of Reeds; and for Cambodian crane biologists to receive training in Thailand and the United States (ICF 1992, Archibald 1992c). In 1994, a team of wetland managers from Vietnam visited natural floodplain wetlands in northern Australia to study and compare wetland management techniques (Beilfuss 1994). In 1995, representatives from Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and ICF met in Bangkok to lay plans for a coordinated conservation program for the Eastern Sarus Crane.

Protected Areas

In general, little Sarus Crane habitat is protected within reserves. In India, most Sarus Cranes are found scattered throughout private and village lands, but they do occur in many protected areas, including Keoladeo and Madhav National Parks, the National Chambal Sanctuary, and the Karera Bustard Sanctuary. At the end of 1994, ICF signed an agreement with the Lumbini Development Trust in Nepal to lease 120 ha of land at Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha, to establish the Lumbini Crane Sanctuary and to protect the habitat of Nepal’s remnant population of Sarus Cranes (Harris 1992b, R. Suwal pers. comm.).

The rediscovery of the Eastern Sarus Cranes’ dry season habitat in Vietnam’s Tram Chim wetlands played a critical role in the designation of this area, first (in 1986) as a district-level reserve, and later (in 1994) as a national reserve. The conservation, management, and education programs at the Tram Chim Reserve continue to place heavy emphasis on the fate of the cranes. Plans to identify and protect 3-4 additional areas used by cranes during the dry season in the Plain of Reeds are progressing under the direction of the Institute of Forest Management and Planning in Vietnam’s Ministry of Forestry (R. Beilfuss pers. comm.).

Australia’s Sarus Cranes are found mainly outside of protected areas. They occur as breeding and wintering birds in Lakefield National Park, and have occasionally been reported at Kakadu National Park (A. Haffenden pers. comm.).

Habitat Protection and Management

Habitat management for the Sarus Crane reflects the diverse conditions in which the three subspecies are found. In India and Nepal, only limited habitat management has been undertaken, although the studies of Gole (1989, 1991a, 1991b) and Suwal (1995) provide the foundation for more concerted efforts in the future. Proposed designs for the Lumbini Crane Sanctuary include plans to create wetlands to support breeding cranes (J. Harris pers. comm.). The Eastern Sarus Crane has benefitted from intensive efforts to restore and manage the Tram Chim wetlands in Vietnam (Barzen 1991, Kiet 1993, Beilfuss and Barzen 1994). In addition, broader concerns over the habitat of the Eastern Sarus Crane have stimulated efforts to strengthen buffer zone management at Tram Chim, to develop a national wetland management plan for Cambodia, and to coordinate development and conservation plans at the watershed scale in the Mekong basin (J. Barzen and R. Beilfuss pers. comm.). In partnership with international conservation organizations, Vietnam and Laos have also begun to develop national wetland conservation plans (J. Barzen pers. comm.).


Sarus Crane populations have been most closely surveyed and monitored in India (Gole 1989b, 1991a, 1991b) and Nepal (Harris 1992b, Suwal 1995). Counts of the population at Keoladeo National Park have been carried out by K. Kumar since 1983 (D. Ferguson, pers. comm.). The Eastern Sarus Crane population has been counted at the Tram Chim National Reserve in Vietnam at least once each year since 1986. Comprehensive surveys of the flock on its breeding grounds have not been possible, but limited surveys have recently been conducted in Cambodia: at Tonle Sap and in the Plain of Reeds in 1992; in wetlands throughout the country in 1993; and in the northeast portion of the country in 1994 (Archibald 1992c, T. Mundkur pers. comm., Barzen 1994). The former range of the Sarus Crane in the Philippines was last surveyed for possible remnants of the population in the late 1970s and 1980s (Madsen 1981, Dickinson et al. 1991). No comprehensive survey of the Australian Sarus Crane has been undertaken. Marchant and Higgins (1993) summarize recent observations. Sarus Crane numbers have been monitored intermittently at Bromfield Swamp, a major winter night roost in the Atherton Tablelands, since 1989 (A. Haffenden pers. comm.)


Little sustained research on the Sarus Crane was carried out until the 1980s. Desai (1980) reported on the biology of the Indian Sarus Crane, and Gole (1987) on studies of the subspecies at Keoladeo National Park in India. Gole’s studies (1989, 1991a, 1991b) of the status and ecological requirements of the Sarus Crane in India are the most extensive yet undertaken on the species. Iqubal (1992) studied breeding behavior in the India population. In Nepal, a three-year-long Sarus Crane Survey Project (Suwal 1995) has provided detailed information on population size, home ranges, habitat use, and nest site selection in that country’s Tarai region. The rediscovery of the Eastern Sarus Crane in Vietnam has stimulated studies of that population’s status, ecology, habitat requirements, and management (Duc et al. 1989, Barzen 1991, Kiet 1993, Beilfuss and Barzen 1994). The Eastern Sarus Crane has also been the subject of population modeling efforts preliminary to the preparation of a complete PHVA (Tran 1994). Studies of the Sarus Crane in Australia have focused mainly on their habitat use and their relationship with the Brolga (Archibald 1981a, Archibald and Swengel 1987). The taxonomic relationship among the three subspecies is the subject of ongoing research by C. Krajewski of the University of Illinois at Carbondale (Krajewski 1989, Krajewski and Fetzner 1994, Krajewski and Archibald in prep.).

Non-governmental Organizations

Non-governmental organizations have played a key role in supporting Sarus Crane conservation work. The India Crane Working Group and Bombay Natural History Society have collected information on the Sarus Crane’s status in India, and the Ecological Society (based in Pune, India) has provided a base for field research (Gole 1989b, 1991b). In Nepal, the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation has supported the Sarus Crane Survey Project (Suwal 1995). Wetland restoration and education projects are being developed at Lumbini through the Lumbini Development Trust. Projects involving conservation of the Eastern Sarus Crane have been coordinated and implemented with the assistance of (among others) the Asian Wetland Bureau, the Brehm Fund for Bird Conservation, the Christopher Reynolds Foundation, Earthwatch, ICF, the MacArthur Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and the National Wildlife Federation (Harris 1987, Barzen 1991).

Education and Training

Public education programs involving the Sarus Crane have special opportunities to emphasize the uniqueness of the Sarus Crane as the world’s tallest flying bird; the importance of wetland conservation and sustainable use of wetland resources (especially in areas where reintroduction is under discussion); and watershed-level approaches to river systems and the costs and benefits of development plans. Similarly, professional training programs are able to stress techniques in wetland management (especially the need to coordinate surveys, research, wetland restoration, water management, and watershed-level planning) and the relationship between sustainable land use practices and the quality of wetlands and crane habitat.

In several parts of the species range, these opportunities have already been incorporated within conservation education programs. In Nepal, Bird Conservation Nepal, the IUCN Environmental Camp for Conservation Education, and the Gaida Wildlife Camp at Royal Chitwan National Park have all focused on the Sarus Crane in their programs (R. Suwal pers. comm.). At the Lumbini Crane Sanctuary, an environmental education center is being developed that will explore the connections between conservation and the teachings of the Buddha (Harris 1992b, Suwal 1995). Vietnam’s Tram Chim National Reserve includes a public education center and serves as a focal point for local crane and conservation education projects (R. Beilfuss pers. comm.). An environmental education video that features the Eastern Sarus Crane and wetland restoration work at Tram Chim has been produced in Vietnam. In Australia, several ecotourism operators have included Sarus Cranes within their tour itineraries. A viewing platform with interpretive materials has been constructed at one roost site. School groups also use this site for field trips (A. Haffenden pers. comm.).

Since the mid-1980s, biologists and wetland managers from Vietnam, Cambodia, Australia, and the United States have participated in several national and international-level training programs focusing on issues related to the species. These programs have taken place within the Eastern Sarus Crane’s range in Vietnam and Cambodia, at sites with similar wetlands in Australia, and at ICF in the United States (Beilfuss 1994).

Captive Propagation and Reintroduction

The Sarus Crane as a species is well represented in captivity. The GCAR for cranes identified a total of 403 Sarus Cranes in captivity as of 1993 (Mirande et al. in press a). Of these, an estimated 41-50 were identified as Eastern Sarus Cranes, 28 as Australian Sarus Cranes, and the remainder as Indian Sarus Cranes. A large but unknown number are also thought to be held in private collections (Mirande et al. in press a, M. Wellington pers. comm.).

Many of the captive Eastern Sarus Cranes are birds from northern Cambodia that were confiscated by the Thai government after being brought into captivity illegally by dealers. These birds are now being managed to support a possible reintroduction program. When the Eastern Sarus Crane was believed extinct, more than 20 Australian Sarus Cranes were brought into captivity as the first step in establishing a reintroduction program. After the native southeastern Asian population was rediscovered, the captive population of Australian Sarus Cranes was maintained (it currently numbers 28) to support a planned reintroduction program. However, no Australian Sarus Cranes will themselves be released in southeast Asia.

Although Sarus Cranes are not being released or introduced at present, such plans have been discussed and proposed for Thailand; Yunnan, China; Assam and the Punjab region of India; and the Sindh wetlands in Pakistan (Harris 1987, Yang and Han 1987, Gole 1991b). The program in Thailand has progressed the furthest. In 1984, the Thai Royal Forest Department established a Crane Propagation Center at the Bangphra Wildlife Research Center. Captive cranes are also maintained at the Phuhkieo Sanctuary, Khao Kheow Open Zoo, Nakorn Ratchasima Zoo, and Chiang Mai Zoo. In 1995, representatives from Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and ICF met in Bangkok to discuss the coordination of captive management and reintroduction efforts (M. Wellington pers. comm.).

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Priority Conservation Measures

The priority measures described below reflect the general status of the three subspecies. Although declining, the Indian Sarus Crane is still found in much of its historic range, and opportunities exist to prevent further losses by maintaining traditional habitats and to promote the return of the species to areas from which it has been extirpated. The Eastern Sarus Crane has been decimated over much of its range and requires immediate efforts to gain information about its status, to protect and manage key remaining habitats, and to stimulate international conservation projects. The status of the Australian Sarus Crane is poorly understood, and the emphasis here is on actions to expand and strengthen the knowledge base for conservation.

Legal and Cultural Protection

  1. Enact strong laws at the national level to protect Sarus Cranes (this pertains primarily to Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia).

  2. Strengthen enforcement of existing laws prohibiting the hunting of Sarus Cranes and protecting their wetland habitats (this pertains primarily to India, Pakistan, Nepal, Thailand, and China).

  3. Enact trade restrictions and adopt penalties to discourage dealers who capture wild Eastern Sarus Cranes in Cambodia (this pertains primarily to Thailand and Cambodia).

  4. Strengthen the legal foundation for protected areas used by Sarus Cranes by instituting bans on hunting and other disturbances, prohibiting further conversion of habitat, and carefully regulating human use of resources in the reserves.
International Agreements and Cooperation
  1. Transfer the species from CITES Appendix II to Appendix I.

  2. Continue international-level watershed planning for conservation and sustainable development in the Mekong River basin.

  3. Support the signing and ratification of the Ramsar Convention in range countries where this has not yet occurred, and implementation of its provisions in signatory countries.
Protected Areas
  1. Identify and secure protection for important Sarus Crane breeding areas in India, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Laos.

  2. Identify and secure protection for Eastern Sarus Crane dry season habitats in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and China. In Vietnam, a second reserve is needed to protect early dry season habitat.

  3. Provide continued support for the Tram Chim National Reserve management plan. The plan outlines measures to improve water management by restoring the natural hydrological regime; to restore native flora and fauna; to integrate resource conservation and income-generating activities in buffer zone areas; to provide training opportunities for reserve personnel; to expand education programs to include local schools as well as national audiences; and to develop ecotourism opportunities.

  4. Complete the planned Lumbini Crane Sanctuary in Nepal, including the creation of wetlands within the sanctuary as well as at satellite sites in the area.
Habitat Protection and Management
  1. Support efforts to develop and implement national-level wetland conservation plans. This is important in all range countries, but especially in India, Nepal, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

  2. Protect, maintain, and restore small wetlands in Nepal and India. Wetland conservation should be integrated into village-based farmer education and development programs and should aim to ensure the availability of water, maintain and enhance water quality, and protect breeding cranes from disturbance. As part of this effort, rehabilitation programs for injured Sarus Cranes should be established at the village level. Conservation of wetlands in the Brahmaputra Valley is especially important, since this region contains important habitat to which Sarus Cranes may return.

  3. Define dry season habitat needs for Eastern Sarus Cranes outside of existing protected areas in the Plain of Reeds in Vietnam and Cambodia.

  4. Conduct a thorough assessment of the status of Sarus Crane habitat in northeastern Australia.
  1. Expand efforts to survey and monitor Eastern Sarus Cranes in Cambodia, especially at Tonle Sap and in northern Cambodia (during the breeding season); and in the Mekong River delta between Phnom Penh and the Vietnam border (during the dry season).

  2. Conduct a comprehensive survey to determine the status of the Eastern Sarus Crane in eastern India, Myanmar, southern Laos, and the extreme southern and western portions of China’s Yunnan Province. This information should be used to clarify whether one or two populations exist in southeast Asia.

  3. Establish a program to monitor on an annual basis the Indian Sarus Crane population in India and Nepal, and to use this data to track long-term trends.

  4. Initiate a program to survey on a regular basis the Sarus Crane population in Australia.

Research priorities for the Indian Sarus Crane:

  1. Continue studies of Sarus Crane habitat needs, threats, local and seasonal movements, and wetland ecology.

  2. Study the impact on cranes and crane habitats of the increased use of machinery, fertilizers, and pesticides in agricultural production. Especially important are studies of the extent of pesticide use and its impact on cranes.

  3. Support research on traditional practices of land and water management and alternative means of sustaining and improving agricultural production that protect wetlands and water quality.
Research priorities for the Eastern Sarus Crane:
  1. Expand collaborative studies of the location, habitat needs, and behavior of breeding cranes in Cambodia and of the dry season flocks in the wetlands of the Vietnam/Cambodia border region.

  2. Determine the distribution of Eastern Sarus Cranes in Myanmar and Laos to clarify whether the subspecies exists as one or two populations.

  3. Expand hydrological studies of the wetlands associated with the Plain of Reeds.

  4. Undertake banding studies of the Tram Chim flock to determine local and seasonal movements.

  5. Confirm the extinction of the Sarus Crane in the Philippines and assess the potential for reintroduction of the species.

  6. Conduct research to support education and possible reintroduction efforts in eastern India.
Research priorities for the Australian Sarus Crane:
  1. Determine with greater accuracy the size and distribution of the subspecies.

  2. Initiate basic ecological studies of the subspecies.

  3. Define critical habitat, especially optimal breeding habitat, for the subspecies.

  4. Assess potential threats to the long-term viability of the population.

  5. Conduct studies of the interspecific relationship between Brolgas and Sarus Cranes during the dry season to understand better potential changes in the distribution of the two species.
Population and Habitat Viability Assessment
  1. Complete the PHVA that has been initiated for the Eastern Sarus Crane.

  2. Prepare a PHVA for the Indian Sarus Crane.
Education and Training
  1. Develop local school programs that focus on the biology of cranes, threats to cranes, minimizing of human impacts, and prevention of egg-stealing and chick-capturing. Such programs are needed in India, Nepal, and the countries of southeast Asia.

  2. Complete the planned environmental education centers at Tram Chim National Reserve in Vietnam and the Lumbini Crane Sanctuary in Nepal.

  3. Provide expanded training opportunities for wildlife conservation officials in Cambodia and Laos.

  4. Support increased exchanges among officials, researchers, and reserve managers from all range countries.

  5. Support farmer education and extension programs to improve farm practices and to provide information about sustainable agriculture practices and the importance of wetlands. Such programs are needed especially in India, Nepal, and the countries of southeast Asia.
Captive Propagation and Reintroduction
  1. Implement the following recommendations outlined in the GCAR and CAMP for cranes (Mirande et al. in press a).

  2. Evaluate reintroduction programs for the Eastern Sarus Crane as part of the PHVA workshop to be held in Thailand in 1996.

  3. Develop a studbook summarizing the subspecies and reproductive status and history of Sarus Cranes in Thailand’s captive breeding centers.

  4. Assess the status of existing habitat and the potential for natural recolonization in portions of the historic range where the species is now rare or extinct (i.e., Pakistan, eastern India, Thailand, Cambodia, China, the Philippines).

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