The unusual happened as the International Crane Foundation, Endangered Wildlife Trust and NatureUganda Partnership celebrated cranes on March 2, in Kabale, Uganda. The celebration at Kikungiri Primary School attracted hundreds of participants, including primary school children, university students, conservationists, civic leaders, the media, private sector practitioners and politicians. Surprisingly, the cranes that were slated to be the centre of the talk during the celebrations made a maiden physical appearance to the amazement of many!
Our intensive preparations for the festival began at the field and secretariat level, resulting in the design and production of a variety of publicity materials, including t-shirts stating “Bend the curve of the crane population,” crane-labeled teardrop signs and banners.
On the eve of the festival, we participated in a radio talk show, during which we articulated several aspects of the upcoming festival and made a call to all to attend the function. By 8:30 a.m. the next day, hundreds of participants had gathered at Highland Hotel Kabale to receive t-shirts to don and banners to hoist as they matched. Guided by the traffic police and led on by a brass band, the procession marched through Kabale town up to the celebration venue. No sooner had the march ended than the guest of honour, the Minister for Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities Godfrey Kiwanda arrived and was welcomed by the Executive Director of NatureUganda. After the national and East African Anthems, the Minister was taken on a tour of a variety of wetland-based crafts and art exhibitions displayed by schools and communities to demonstrate sustainable use as proclaimed by NatureUganda.
The District Natural Resources Officer for Kabale and I alluded to the project activities in the Kigezi region. I further paid tribute to the Uganda Program project initiatives, including our local Crane Custodians who monitor breeding Grey Crowned Cranes, the Cranes in the Classroom education program and Conservation Agreements with local communities, and how these projects contribute to the enhancement of crane breeding success. The Executive Director of NatureUganda Mr. Achilles Byaruhanga emphasized the meaning of “Bend the Curve” and its relationship with the World Wildlife Day 2020 theme, “Sustaining All Life on Earth.” He further highlighted the economic importance of Grey Crowned Cranes and birds in general, as they contribute significantly to the national income.
Prior to the festival, we conducted a Cranes in the Classroom school assessment on performance against set parameters and the winning schools were awarded their prizes at the festival. Amidst cheers, Katuna Primary School scooped the winning plaque. They were closely followed by Rushabo Primary School and Buhara Primary School emerged the second runner-up, receiving certificates.
On his part, the District Chairperson of Kabale Mr. Keihwa Besigye condemned in the strongest terms the habit of harvesting cranes for food.
Meanwhile, our project team demonstrated with a set of rubbish bins the essence of effective rubbish disposal. The bins were later donated to Kikungiri Primary School, the festival host.
As the Minister for Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities took to the podium, a flock of cranes flew by several times with the intention of landing at the venue. In response, everyone made a loud crane-like call that lasted over five minutes! In amusement, the minister wondered if the cranes had been “tipped” to time and appear during his remarks time. The celebration then climaxed into dancing, singing, gesturing and clapping in imitation of Grey Crowned Cranes. The minister then made his remarks, full of applause for the crane project and NatureUganda at large, and in particular, he paid special tribute to the International Crane Foundation.
The Minister ended with launching the National Species Action Plan for the Grey Crowned Crane, a document whose development, NatureUganda had dominantly championed on behalf of the government of Uganda. The local communities then staged a “crane dance” to which the minister couldn’t resist joining in, an appropriate end to the celebration!
Story submitted by Jimmy Muheebwa, Uganda Projects Coordinator. Click here to learn more about our work in Sub-Saharan Africa.