Community-Based Conservation of Wetlands and Cranes in the Lake Victoria Catchments, Uganda

Jimmy Muheebwa is Project Manager of Nature Uganda’s Crane and Wetland Conservation Project.  Receiving over 60 inches of rain per year, the wetlands of Southern Uganda form part of the catchment of Lake Victoria and are an important ecosystem for both biodiversity and the communities who surround them.

In recent decades as human population has risen, the wetlands have become degraded and fragmented, with large areas drained and converted for agriculture and livestock production.  Wildlife has declined, and worst affected has been the Grey Crowned Crane – The National Bird of Uganda.  Loss of breeding grounds and food sources have seen populations decline by 80% over the past 30 years.  Forced to raid crops for food, birds have been persecuted and trapped for illegal trade, further contributing to their decline.

Over the last eight years, Jimmy has led conservation efforts for the species.  Using cranes as a flagship, his work has had a tremendous impact on both wildlife and the communities who depend on the wetland’s natural resources.

Recognising that community participation is essential to conservation success, Jimmy works with local people to raise awareness of the free services wetlands provide.  The project helps local people develop alternative livelihood practices that reduce the pressure on wetlands whilst empowering them to improve their lives.  People are moving their farming activities out of the wetlands and are benefitting from increased income through more sustainable practices such as rearing chickens or goats.

With the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, home to Uganda’s only population of mountain gorillas, bordering wetland areas, Jimmy is now seeking to develop the possibility of eco-tourism ventures, a potentially significant source of income to the region’s impoverished communities.

Local people are also taking active part in the monitoring of crane populations.  Farmers are participating in “Adopt–a–crane” programmes, enhancing hands-on approaches to wetland conservation and fostering a sense of responsibility.  To date, 37 crane breeding pairs have been identified by community members whose farms cranes breed on.

A draft Wetland Action Plan is ready for implementation and areas of degraded wetland are being restored. Together with the projects other activities, the future is looking brighter for cranes, wetlands and the wider ecosystem.  Jimmy explains “Wetland related services previously lost through human impact are increasingly being restored.  These include more and cleaner water, more thatch, mulch, tying and fuel materials and more biodiversity.”

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