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The Cranes

Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan

Conservation Status

Table 1.1 presents proposed threat categories for the cranes under the revised IUCN Red List Categories system (IUCN 1994; see Appendix 3). The Red List Categories proposed here are based on information gathered during the preparation of this Action Plan, and are updated from those published in Birds to Watch 2. However, the updating process was not completed in time for the proposed categories to be published in the 1996 IUCN Red List. The Crane Specialist Group will be working with IUCN and BirdLife International to review and finalize the categories, and invites comments on the listings proposed here. Table 1.2 summarizes the current estimates of population levels and trends presented in the species accounts in Section 2 of this document.

The cranes are among the world’s most endangered families of birds. Under the new categories, eleven of the fifteen species are likely to be listed as Threatened (which includes the categories Critically Endangered, Endangered, and Vulnerable). As applied to the cranes, the new criteria tend to stress recent trends in populations in addition to total numbers. Thus, the Blue Crane is listed as Critically Endangered due to its steep decline in recent decades. Five species (Wattled, Siberian, Sarus, Whooping and Red-crowned) are listed as Endangered, and five others (Black and Grey Crowned, White-naped, Hooded, and Black-necked) as Vulnerable. The remaining species (Demoiselle, Sandhill, Brolga, and Eurasian) are considered Lower Risk due to their higher population numbers, although several subspecies and populations are listed as Threatened to varying degrees.

Three species—the Whooping, Red-crowned, and Siberian Cranes—now exist in such low numbers (205, 1700-2000, and 2900-3000 respectively) that special steps, including captive propagation, are being taken to assure their survival. The Whooping Crane, in particular, has been among the world’s most carefully monitored and managed wildlife species since reaching the brink of extinction in the 1940s (Allen 1952, Doughty 1989, Edwards et al. 1994, USFWS 1994). The intensive conservation work undertaken for these species reflects the vulnerability of their small populations and restricted habitats. The Blue, Wattled, Sarus, White-naped, Hooded, and Black-necked Cranes still exist in the low thousands. However, unless these birds and their habitats are effectively protected, they could easily follow the path of the more critically imperiled species. For example, South Africa’s endemic Blue Crane still numbers about 21,000. However, since 1980 the species has declined significantly in many portions of its range due to intentional and unintentional poisoning, as well as the extensive loss of its grassland habitat to afforestation (Allan 1994).

Although the two Crowned Cranes are threatened to a lesser degree at the species level, they are nonetheless of growing concern from a conservation standpoint. The Black Crowned Crane has declined precipitously in much of its range in sub-Saharan West African, mainly as a result of heavy human population and development pressures, compounded by long-term drought in the region. The species has been, or is on the verge of being, extirpated from several countries, including Nigeria, where it is the national bird. The Grey Crowned Cranes face somewhat similar pressures in eastern Africa.

Other cranes are threatened at the subspecies and population levels. The Indian Sarus Crane, though still relatively common in northern India, is declining in numbers, and has been extirpated from much of its historic range. The Eastern Sarus Crane has been reduced to no more than 1500 birds in Southeast Asia. Although the Sandhill Crane is the most abundant of the world’s cranes, two of its six subspecies—the Mississippi and Cuban Sandhill Cranes—number only about 120 and 300 birds respectively. Several other species include small isolated populations whose conservation status and needs are little known. These include, for example, populations of the Eurasian Crane in Turkey and Tibet, the Sarus Crane in Australia, and the Brolga in New Guinea.

The most abundant and extensively distributed crane species—the Sandhill, Demoiselle, and Eurasian—offer other conservation lessons and challenges. All three of these species have experienced declines, sometimes severe, in portions of their historic ranges. Some populations of these species have also recovered dramatically. For example, the Eastern population of Greater Sandhill Cranes in the Great Lakes region of North America and the Eurasian Cranes in western Europe have increased steadily in numbers in recent decades (Dietzman and Swengel 1994, Prange 1989). At the same time, these species are being forced to adapt to dynamic forces affecting their distribution, habitats, and population structure. All three species have been affected to one degree or another by fragmentation of formerly more contiguous populations. This has likely occurred, for example, in the southeastern United States, where resident Sandhill Cranes were more abundant in the past. Similarly, the Demoiselle and Eurasian Crane populations across Eurasia are becoming increasingly concentrated in discrete populations.

In addition, the future of these abundant species is unpredictable due to accelerating changes in their habitats. Changes in land use in western Europe will play a key role in determining the future of the Eurasian Crane in that portion of the species’ range. Similarly, the rapid conversion of the Eurasian steppes to cropland is forcing the Demoiselle Crane to adapt to artificial conditions during its breeding period (Kovshar et al. 1995, Winter et al. 1995). Changes in hydrology and vegetation along the Platte River in the central United States have affected habitat conditions in an area used by approximately 80% of the total population of the Sandhill Crane during spring migration (Currier et al. 1985, Vanderwalker 1987). Large-scale and long-term factors such as these are of vital importance to these species if they are to avoid the declines that have affected the more endangered members of their family.

Table 1.1 Proposed conservation status of cranes under the revised IUCN categories (IUCN 1994).
See Appendix 3 for an explanation of the revised categories and criteria.
Taxon IUCN Category Criteria
Black Crowned Crane Vulnerable A1c,d    A2c,d
West African Crowned Crane        Endangered A1c,d
Sudan Crowned Crane Vulnerable A1c,d    A2c,d
Grey Crowned Crane Vulnerable A2c,d,e
South African Crowned Crane Endangered A1a,b,c,d,e
East African Crowned Crane Vulnerable A2c,d,e
Blue Crane Critically Endangered        A1a,c,e
South Africa pop. Critically Endangered A1a,c,e
Namibia pop. Critically Endangered D
Demoiselle Crane Lower Risk (lc)
Atlas pop. Critically Endangered A1a,c,d    A2c,d    C1    C2b    D
Turkey pop. Critically Endangered A1a,c,d    A2c,d    C2b    D
Black Sea pop. Endangered A1c    C2a
Kalmykia pop. Lower Risk (lc)
Kazakhstan/C. Asia pop. Lower Risk (lc)
E Asia pop. Vulnerable A1c
Wattled Crane Endangered A1b,c,d,e    A2c,d,e
Ethiopia Endangered D
SC Africa pop. Endangered A2c
South Africa pop. Critically Endangered C1
Siberian Crane Endangered A1c    C1    C2b
Eastern pop. Endangered A1c    C1    C2b
Central pop. Critically Endangered A1a,c,d    A2b,d    B1c,e    C1    C2b    D    E
Western pop. Critically Endangered A1a,c    A2b,c    B1    B2e    C1    C2b    D    E
Sandhill Crane Lower Risk (lc)
Lesser Sandhill Crane Lower Risk (lc)
Canadian Sandhill Crane Lower Risk (lc)
Greater Sandhill Crane Lower Risk (lc)
Florida Sandhill Crane Lower Risk (lc)
Mississippi Sandhill Crane Critically Endangered C2b
Cuban Sandhill Crane Critically Endangered C2a
Sarus Crane Endangered A1b,c
Indian Sarus Crane Endangered A1b,c
Eastern Sarus Crane Endangered A1b,c,d,e
Australian Sarus Crane Data Deficient
Philippine Sarus Crane Extinct
Brolga Lower Risk (lc)
Northern pop. Lower Risk (lc)
Southern pop. Vulnerable C1b,c    D
New Guinea pop. Data Deficient
White-naped Crane Vulnerable A1c,d    A2c    C1
Hooded Crane Vulnerable A2c    C1
Eurasian Crane Lower Risk (lc)
W Europe pop. Lower Risk (lc)
E Europe pop. Lower Risk (lc)
European Russia pop. Vulnerable A1a,c,d
Turkey pop. Data Deficient
W Siberia pop. Lower Risk (nt)
C Siberia/N. China pop. Vulnerable A1    C1
Tibet Plateau pop. Data Deficient
Whooping Crane Endangered D
Black-necked Crane Vulnerable A1b,c,d    A2c    C1
Red-crowned Crane Endangered C1
Mainland pop. Endangered A1c,d    A2c    C1
Hokkaido pop. Endangered C2b


Table 1.2 Population estimates for crane taxa
Wintering subpopulation
Number Trend
Black Crowned Crane
B. p. pavonina 11,50-17,500 Declining. Extirpated (or nearly extirpated) in some nations.
B. p. ceciliae 55,000-60,000 Uncertain. Generally stable, but possibly declining locally. Still fairly abundant in Sudan.
Total 66,500-77,500 Declining
Grey Crowned Crane
B. r. gibbericeps 75,000-85,000 Declining
B. r. regulorum approx. 10,000 Unknown
Total 85,000-95,000 Declining
Demoiselle Crane
Atlas (N. Africa) population <50 Declining
Black Sea population approx. 500 Declining
Turkey population <100 Unknown
Kalmykia population 30-35,000 Stable
Kazakhstan/Central Asia population 100,000 Stable to increasing
Siberia/East Asia population 70-100,000 Stable to declining
Total 200,00-240,000 Stable
Blue Crane
Southern population 21,000 Declining
Namibia (Etosha Pan) population <100 Stable
Total 21,000 Declining
Wattled Crane 13-15,000 Declining throughout range
South Africa population 250-300 Declining
South-central Africa population 13,000-15,000 Declining
Ethiopia population several hundred Unknown
Total 13,000-15,000 Declining
Siberian Crane (winter count)
Eastern population 2900-3000 Unknown
Central population 4 Steadily declining. Observed on the traditional wintering grounds in February 1996 after a two-year absence.
Western population 9 Holding at 9-11 birds on the wintering grounds since mid- 1980's. Highly vulnerable.
Total 2900-3000 Unknown. C and W populations highly vulnerable.
Sandhill Crane
G. c. canadensis Probably stable
G. c. rowani approx. 450,0001 Unknown due to difficulty in distinguishing from Lesser Sandhills G. c. canadensis; probably stable.
G. c. tabida 65-75,000 Increasing rapidly in the eastern portion of its range. Generally stable elsewhere. Some western populations may be declining.
G. c. pratensis 4,000-6,000 Generally stable, with local increases and declines. Includes the Okefenokee portion of the population (about 400 individuals).
G. c. pulla 120 Numbers in wild increasing through augmentation. Reproduction n the wild is below replacement level.
G. c. nesiotes 300 Generally stable. New populations recently discovered.
Total 520,000 Stable to increasing.
Sarus Crane
G. a. antigone 8,000-10,000 Declining
G. a. sharpii 500-1500 Unknown; likely declining
G. a. gilli <5,000 Unknown
Total 13,500-15,500 Declining
Northern Australia 20,000-100,000 Generally stable
Southern Australia approx. 1000 Stable to declining
New Guinea Unknown Unknown
Total 20-100,000 Generally stable; possibly declining in SE Australia
White-naped Crane (winter counts)
Japan (Izumi) 1800-2100 Increasing
Korean Peninsula 100-200 Declining
China (Poyang Lake) approx. 3,000 Unknown
Total 4900-5300 Stable to declining (based on loss of breeding habitat)
Hooded Crane (winter counts)
Hubei (China) up to 425 Unknown
Dongting Lake (China) up to 200 Unknown
Poyang Lake (China) up to 360 Unknown
Shengjin Lake (China) 300 Stable, but habitat declining
West Taegu (South Korea) 180-250 Unknown
Yashiro (Japan) 50 Declining
Izumi (Japan) approx. 8,000 Stable
Total 9400-9600 Stable
Eurasian Crane
West European population 60-70,000 Stable to increasing
East European population >60,000 Stable to increasing
European Russia population approx. 35,000 Declining
Turkish population (non-migratory) 200-500 Declining
West Siberia population approx. 55,000 Declining
C Siberia/NE China population 5,000 Declining
Tibetan Plateau population 1000 Stable
Total 220,000-250,000 Increasing overall, but with local declines
Whooping Crane (adult birds as of August 1996)
Aransas-Wood buffalo population 150 Increasing slowly
Rocky Mountain population 3 Declining
Florida population 52 Increasing through artificial augmentation
Wild population sub-total 205
Patuxent Env. Science Center 39
International Crane Foundation 29
Calgary Zoo 18
San Antonio Zoo 4
White Oak Conservation Center 1
Captive population sub-total 91
Total 296
Black-necked Crane (winter counts)
NE Yunnan/W Guizhou 1300-1600 Unknown
NW Yunnan <100 Stable to declining
SC Tibet 3900 Stable
E Tibet <20 Declining
Bhutan 360 Stable
India-Arunachal Pradesh <10 Declining
Total 5600-6000 Stable but vulnerable
Red-crowned Crane (winter counts)
Mainland China 600-800 Unknown
North Korea 300-350 Increasing
South Korea 200-300 Unknown
Japan 594 Stable to increasing
Total 1700-2000 Stableto declining (based on loss of breeding habitat)
1Population estimates of the mid-continental population sof Sandhill Cranes do not distinguish between Lesser and Canadian Sandhill cranes (a relatively small number of Greater Sandhill Cranes are also included in the total). Estimates are based on 3-year running averages of spring counts conducted on the Platte River during migration. The figure given here represents the 1995 survey results for the midcontinental populations (420,866) plus about 25,000 Lesser Sandhill Cranes from California.

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