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The Cranes

Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan


The fifteen species of cranes constitute one of the most endangered families of birds in the world. Cranes have also played an important role in the rise of the international conservation movement. In particular, the recovery of the Whooping Crane from near extinction has provided strong impetus to the conservation movement, and has opened the eyes of many people to the steep price that we pay for ignoring the damage we cause to the natural world.

The establishment of the International Crane Foundation (ICF) in 1973 and of Crane Working Groups in countries and regions around the world has stimulated unprecedented interest in cranes among specialists and the broader public in countries with diverse political and economic systems — including the USA, the former Soviet Union, Japan, China, South Korea, India, Iran, South Africa, and Australia. Thanks to the active programs of ICF, cooperative programs for the conservation of cranes have been initiated among many of these countries. Even during the most difficult years of the Cold War era, successful crane conservation programs were established and carried out such as: international projects for Siberian Crane conservation (“Operation Sterkh”); collaborative studies of the endangered cranes of the Far East; establishment of the joint Russian-Chinese nature reserve at Lake Khanka, as well as other protected areas; development of new centers for the captive propagation of endangered cranes at Oka and Khinganski Nature Reserves, Zhalong Nature Reserve in China, and other sites; and regular communications among colleagues from many nations. As a result, over the last twenty-five years we have been able to assess the status of all the crane species and their habitats, to identify possible threats, to establish many protected areas, and to sign various cooperative international agreements.

These results are especially valuable in that, for the first time in history, concerned individuals from throughout the world have been able to work closely together for the protection of a specific group of endangered species. In addition, these efforts have involved unprecedented close cooperation among the public and private sectors and national and international institutions in the development and implementation of specific projects. Through regular workshops and meetings, publications, newsletters, and the active involvement of the mass media, a broad-scale exchange of information, ideas, and experiences in crane conservation has been achieved, and a global network of enthusiasts has formed to protect and preserve these beautiful birds and their habitats.

In this way, cranes have come to play a unique role as ambassadors for peace, helping peoples from different countries to recognize the common ground that unites them. Principles and methods developed through the study and conservation of cranes have contributed to the foundation of broader national, international, and regional programs for the conservation of biological diversity and the implementation of the idea of sustainable land use. Cooperative crane conservation and habitat restoration projects have played a substantial role in the development of new forms of international collaboration. The cranes have accomplished what diplomats have been unable to do, bringing together scientists, conservationists, and government officials from countries whose relations for many years have been less than friendly.

As of today, however, many crane conservation goals have yet to be achieved. Often the most important and valuable information has been unavailable to those who need it. The situation in different crane habitats is highly dynamic, so that even small local changes in certain populations can significantly affect the status of species as a whole. The time is now ripe for a unified working document that coordinates the efforts and plans of all organizations and individuals involved in the conservation of cranes and their natural habitats.

This action plan provides such a document. This publication is unique in its highly detailed and complete treatment of crane conservation activities and needs, and in the extent to which crane scientists and conservationists from around the world have participated in its preparation. This plan represents the fruition of this highly productive period of activity in assessing and evaluating the status of cranes, selecting conservation priorities and mechanisms, and developing an international network of organizations and specialists. Its implementation will promote improved living conditions for the wide range of plants, animals, and people that live side-by-side with cranes.

Although this document is based on thorough scientific information, it has been written in lively and vibrant language, understandable to a broad audience, from scientists and conservationists to government officials and nature lovers in general. The plan effectively combines two approaches to cranes and their needs — by species and by geographic region. The fifteen species accounts present complete information on the population and status of each species, and on current conservation activities. The status of the cranes in different countries and regions is considered in the context of the varied political, economic, and cultural factors they face. Another beneficial feature of this action plan is the fact that it represents a working document that is open to additions and improvements. New information on the biology of the birds and the changes that their populations and habitats are undergoing can be easily and efficiently updated. The Ron Sauey Memorial Library at ICF, with its unique and extensive collection of crane literature from around the world, has been especially valuable in pulling this body of information together.

A great many specialists from around the world have participated in the preparation of this publication. Their contributions of advice, expertise, and information have helped to ensure this document’s high quality and reliability. In this respect, the plan represents the product of an international body of authors and contributors, and is now “ready to go to market” due to the hard work of the two compilers. One of the compilers, Dr. George Archibald, is among the world’s leading experts on crane biology, ecology, and captive propagation, and has been the key organizer of crane conservation activities over the last twenty-five years. The other, Dr. Curt Meine, is a professional writer and conservation biologist who has dedicated many years to issues of nature protection. Through their efforts, and those of our many colleagues around the world, the cranes may now face improved chances for survival in the decades to come.

Dr. Sergei Smirenski
University of Moscow/Socio-Ecological Union of Russia

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