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The Cranes

Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan

Introduction to Species Accounts

In this section, the conservation status and needs of the world’s cranes are examined on a species-by-species basis. These accounts are not intended to provide comprehensive coverage of existing biological knowledge for each species, but rather to summarize the most recent information relevant to their conservation. Readers interested in additional basic information on crane biology and ecology are encouraged to consult Walkinshaw’s Cranes of the World (1973), Johnsgard’s Cranes of the World (1983), the proceedings of crane conferences and workshops, and the sources listed within the Literature section at the end of this document. Additional resources are also available through the Ron Sauey Memorial Library for Bird Conservation at the International Crane Foundation (see Topic 3).

In preparing the species accounts, the authors and contributors have followed a standard but flexible format. For each species, information is provided under the following headings.


Each account includes a brief summary of the account as a whole, with information on: subspecies and populations, population numbers, conservation status, historic and present distribution; distribution by country; habitat and ecology; principal threats; current conservation measures; and priority conservation measures.


Recognized subspecies, populations, and (in some cases) wintering subpopulations are identified here. Subspecies have been described for four species (Black Crowned, Grey Crowned, Sandhill, and Sarus Cranes). Distinguishing characteristics of the subspecies are briefly noted. Where the intraspecific taxonomic structure has not been fully resolved, this too is noted. Populations are distinguished for eight species (Blue, Demoiselle, Wattled, Siberian, Sandhill, Brolga, Eurasian, and Whooping Cranes). Wintering subpopulations are distinguished for four of the migratory species (White-naped, Hooded, Black-necked, and Red-Crowned Cranes).

Population Numbers and Trends

Estimates of population numbers and general assessments of population trends are provided for each species. An effort has been made to provide this information at the lowest taxonomic level (species, subspecies, population, or subpopulation). In most cases, trends are reported on the basis of changes in the population numbers over the last 10-25 years. Although population estimates for cranes are more readily available and more reliable than for most other kinds of organisms, sizable margins of error still exist for many populations (especially among the most abundant species). These cases are noted. Sources of population data are also noted. Where several sources have been used to derive or corroborate a total, all are noted.

Conservation Status

This section presents the proposed conservation status of the cranes at the species, subspecies, and in some cases population level under the new categories and criteria outlined in IUCN Red List Categories (1994). Appendix 3 provides a full explanation of the new IUCN Red List Categories and the criteria on which they are based. The proposed crane categorisations are to be finalized after further review by members of the IUCN/SSC/BirdLife Crane Specialist Group and other crane experts. This section also lists the species’ status under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), as well as additional international conventions where relevant.

Historic and Present Distribution

Each species account includes information on the historic and present distribution of the species. Although reliable information on past distribution is usually scarce, an effort has been made to assess for each species recorded changes in the species range. For most of the cranes, historic records date back at most to the mid- to late-1800s. This is the general time frame covered in these discussions.

Distribution by Country

Because many conservation actions are organized and implemented at the national level, the distribution and status (breeding, migratory, wintering, resident, vagrant/occasional, extirpated) of each species is recorded here on a country-by-country basis. These listings also allow for cross-referencing with the regional-scale priorities described in Section 3.

Habitat and Ecology

Brief discussions of the species’ habitat and ecology are provided in this section. As noted above, these are not intended to be comprehensive reviews of existing knowledge on each species, but summaries of information relevant to their conservation status and needs.

Principal Threats

Leading threats to the species as a whole and to particular populations are described. Sympatric species (primarily those in East Asia) are often threatened by similar factors, and an effort has been made to minimize redundancy among these discussions.

Current Conservation Measures and Priority Conservation Measures

Each account includes a review of recent and continuing conservation measures undertaken for each species and a series of specific priority measures that are recommended for the future. Priority measures are listed in order of importance and have been formulated and ranked based on information provided by the IUCN/SSC/BirdLife Crane Specialist Group and other reviewers with expertise in particular species or regions. These priorities have been developed based on a 10- to 15-year timeframe, with critical shorter-term actions receiving higher priority. Current measures are discussed, and priority measures listed, under several general categories, including:

Legal and Cultural Protection

Available information on the legal status of cranes is provided here. Religious traditions and cultural mores have played an important role in the conservation of many crane species, and these too are noted. Priority measures pertain to legal actions needed to protect cranes as well as their habitats.

International Agreements and Cooperation

International cooperation is a critical factor in the conservation of all the cranes (especially the migratory species) and their habitats. Existing formal agreements and other cooperative actions are described here, along with the most significant needs for the future.

Protected Areas

In many cases, protected areas have been established specifically to safeguard cranes and key crane habitats. In other cases, cranes may not depend on protected areas, but use those that have been established for broader purposes. An effort has been made to describe existing protected areas of both types. Priority measures deal with the establishment of new reserves in areas critical to cranes, as well as the expansion and improved management of existing reserves.

Habitat Protection and Management

The fate of most crane species will be determined by the availability and quality of habitat outside of strict reserves. Thus, the maintenance, restoration, and management of habitat often depends on integrating crane conservation efforts with other human activities on the landscape. The status of non-reserved habitat protection and management efforts is reviewed here. Priority measures pertain primarily to habitat that is unlikely to be included within reserves in the future.


Successful conservation depends upon an understanding of the size of and trends in crane populations. For each species, the extent and duration of surveying and monitoring efforts are summarized, along with the most critical needs for the future. Habitat surveys are generally discussed under the sections “Habitat Protection and Management” (above) or “Research” (below), but are described under this heading if they have been undertaken in conjunction with population surveys.


As a family, the cranes have benefitted from the sustained interest of ornithologists and conservation biologists around the world. Especially since the mid-1970s, research on cranes has expanded significantly. The development and status of research efforts, including important avenues of research and the geographic areas in which they have been conducted, are summarized here. Emphasis is placed on field research with conservation applications. Extensive research has also been undertaken on cranes in captivity. Where such research is particularly relevant for conservation actions, it is noted. Readers interested in research on cranes in captivity are urged to contact the IUCN/SSC Conservation Breeding Specialist Group (CBSG) and the Crane Conservation Department of ICF. Research priorities have been formulated in response to gaps in knowledge that are critical to future conservation projects and programs. These priority topics are intended to strengthen the foundation upon which other recommended actions are built.

Population and Habitat Viability Analyses (PHVA) and Recovery and Management Plans

PHVAs and PVAs (population (and habitat) viability analyses) have been undertaken for several crane taxa. Findings from these analyses are summarized. Similarly, recovery and management plans have already been developed and implemented for several taxa. The provisions and goals of these plans are also summarized. PHVAs are recommended for several crane taxa.

Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs)

Non-governmental organizations have played a significant role in the conservation of cranes and crane habitat throughout the world. These activities are highlighted in several species accounts. In most cases, support for NGOs is not included specifically under the lists of priority measures. However, many (if not most) of the priority actions will take place under the auspices, or with the close involvement, of NGOs. Continued support for their efforts should be considered a general priority.

Education and Training

Cranes have unusual value as the focus of education projects, and offer special opportunities for more broadly conceived conservation education programs. Educational programs involving cranes have been developed in many parts of the world for children, communities, and the general public, as well as for more specific audiences (such as hunters and farmers). Current programs are described, and priority needs identified. In addition, directed professional training programs and needs are discussed under this heading.

Captive Propagation and Reintroduction

The threatened status of cranes at the species and subspecies level has stimulated concerted captive propagation, release, and reintroduction programs. These have been, and are likely to remain, an integral part of comprehensive conservation planning, especially for the Whooping Crane, Siberian Crane, and several crane subspecies.

Programs for the management of captive crane populations for conservation purposes, and for dovetailing in situ and ex situ conservation actions, are well developed. The Crane Conservation Assessment and Management Plan (CAMP) summarizes the status and needs of these programs (see Captive Propagation and Reintroduction and Mirande et al. in press a). The CAMP has been developed under the auspices of the IUCN/SSC Conservation Breeding Specialist Group; the Crane Specialist Group; ICF; the Regional Captive Propagation Programs (which includes the major zoological associations in North America, Europe, and China); and the Calgary Zoological Society. Information and recommendations from the CAMP and from the Global Captive Action Recommendations (GCAR) for cranes are presented (and occasionally updated and/or supplemented) under this heading.

For all species, the CAMP recommends that management of captive crane populations be carried out at one of four levels: “Intensive-1,” “Intensive-2,” “No,” or “Pending.”

Intensive-1 management is defined as follows:
The captive population should be developed and managed in a manner sufficient to preserve 90% of the genetic diversity of a population for 100 years (90%/100). The program should be developed within 3 years. This is an emergency program based on the present availability of genetically diverse founders.

Intensive-2 management is defined as follows:
Initiate a captive program within three or more years. Captive population should be developed and managed in such a manner that a nucleus of 50-100 individuals is organized, with the aim of representing as much of the wild gene pool as possible. The program may require periodic importation of individuals from the wild population to maintain the high level of genetic diversity in a limited captive population. This type of program should be viewed as protection against potential extirpation of wild populations.
Species for which captive programs are not currently recommended are assigned a No rating. Species for which captive programs are not now recommended but may be considered pending further data are assigned a Pending rating. Assigned levels in the CAMP are reported here under this heading. Captive management programs were also ranked according to their priority (A, B, or C priority), and these rankings are also reported.

Many of the species accounts include additional categories of current and priority conservation measures. These reflect special actions or needs, often particular to the species or a given population. In some cases (efforts to deal, for example, with poisoning or crop depredation), they reflect special problems that require well coordinated responses. In a number of cases, several crane species share priorities and benefit from the same conservation measures. This is most often the case with the cranes of East Asia. As in the discussions of principal threats, an effort has been made to minimize redundancy within the text.

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