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The Cranes

Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan

Topic 1: Key Controversies in Crane Conservation

For most crane taxa, the critical conservation issues revolve around the protection, maintenance, and restoration of the ecosystems and habitats where cranes occur. However, three other topics—legal hunting (as opposed to poaching), crop damage, and artificial feeding stations—are of broad concern in crane conservation, and are often controversial.


Cranes are legally hunted for sport in parts of Canada, Mexico, the United States, and in Pakistan. Widespread subsistence hunting still occurs in Afghanistan, Canada, Nepal, Russia, and many African nations. In some areas, there may often be a fine line (or no line) between sport hunting and subsistence hunting.

The migratory Sandhill Cranes in North America number in excess of 500,000 birds, and the harvest of more than 25,000 annually does not appear to harm the population as a whole. There is concern, however, that Greater Sandhill Cranes of the southern prairie regions of Canada may be seriously jeopardized by current management practices. They bear the brunt of the hunting in September, before most of the abundant Canadian and Lesser Sandhills arrive and before the season is closed to provide protection for the migrating Whooping Cranes.

Hunting of Eurasian Cranes and Demoiselle Cranes in Pakistan is a popular sport among wealthier hunters (see the Demoiselle Crane species account in Section 2). When capture techniques were restricted to the traditional method—tossing soya (ropes with weighted ends) into low-flying flocks at night—only a limited number of cranes was taken. In recent years, however, the number of firearms used by local people in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan has risen, and more cranes have been shot. Although laws preventing the hunting of cranes in most areas of Pakistan are now being enforced, hunting continues unabated in tribal areas of the Northwest Frontier Province.

Hunting that occurs as a “spillover” effect of human conflict is often indiscriminate. In recent years, wildlife and wildlife habitat have suffered along with local people in many regions torn by war, civil unrest, and poverty. Such has been the case, for example, in Mozambique, Rwanda, and Cambodia. Under such circumstances, the margin of hope for survival of cranes and other large wild animals is thin.

Crop Damage

The success of the Sandhill, Eurasian, and Demoiselle Cranes can be attributed in part to the benefits they derive from foraging in agricultural landscapes. There is speculation that their numbers may now be much higher than in the past due to the abundance of available crop foods. In some areas, and at some times of the year, foraging cranes can cause damage to crops. Such damage can be especially severe in the spring when cranes probe for newly planted seeds or pull up and consume seedlings. Damage can also occur in the fall when migratory cranes are in large flocks and crops are ripening.

Hazing cranes from agricultural fields is a temporary and often ineffective solution to the problem; the birds simply move to another farmer’s fields. However, the planting of lure crops near roosting areas has been effective in keeping cranes away from commercial crops. Incentive and compensation programs may also reduce the economic burden for farmers who occasionally experience heavy damage. In all cases, additional research is needed to ascertain the actual timing and extent of damage, and to devise mitigation techniques and programs.

Feeding Stations

With the possible exception of the Siberian Crane, cranes are readily attracted to baiting sites. Without artificial feeding stations in Japan, the numbers of Hooded, White-naped, and Red-crowned Cranes might well have remained much below current levels. Feeding stations for Red-crowned Cranes have also been established on the species’ wintering grounds in Korea and China.

Although successful in increasing populations, feeding stations have also concentrated cranes to an historically unprecedented degree. This increases the risk from disasters related to weather, hunting, communicable diseases, and poisons. This is why artificial feeding programs are not being used to provide for Whooping Cranes on their wintering grounds in Texas—despite concern that the territorial requirements of the cranes may limit the number that are able to utilize the available protected areas.

Many (though not all) crane conservationists oppose the hunting of cranes and the establishment of artificial feeding stations. Alternatives to hunting and artificial feeding include the protection and restoration of natural habitats and planting of lure crops in areas where crop damage is substantial. However, extenuating circumstances make hunting and/or feeding necessary. Especially for species and populations of cranes whose numbers are increasing, these issues are likely to present a growing challenge to conservationists seeking to harmonize human needs with those of cranes and other wildlife.

Previous Section--Appendix 5: Securing Support for Crane Conservation Projects
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Next Section--Topic 2: Coordinating Efforts to Protect and Restore the Siberian Crane

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