Healthy Wetlands for the Cranes and People of Uganda

The wetlands of Rukiga District in southwest Uganda are home to Uganda’s national bird, the Grey Crowned Crane. They are vital to local communities, which rely on the wetlands for their food, water and livelihoods, or ways that community members support themselves and their families. But increasing human activity is putting pressure on the wetlands and their cranes.

A new project between the International Crane Foundation/Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) Partnership, Rugarama Hospital, the Margaret Pyke Trust, and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is working to respond to these pressures for the benefit of Rukiga’s wetlands, its cranes and its people.

The population of Grey Crowned Cranes in East Africa has declined by over 80% in the last 25 years, largely due to increasing pressure on wetlands. As cranes are pushed into smaller and more marginal wetlands to care for their eggs and young, they are increasingly disturbed by people, dogs, and livestock and cannot breed successfully. Chicks raised on fragmented and degraded wetlands are easily captured for traditional medicine use, domestication within Africa, or exported to captive facilities at zoos and safari parks. The population of Grey Crowned Cranes in Uganda (a stronghold for the species) is now believed to consist of only 10,000 to 20,000 individuals.

Grey Crowned Cranes feed on an agriculture field that was formerly a wetland in Uganda.
A flock of Grey Crowned Cranes forages on a crop field that was converted from a wetland.

Understanding the Communities’ Needs

As a first step, the project team spent six months undertaking research in Rukiga to properly understand the communities’ health, livelihood, social, and environmental challenges and views, and how the communities saw the connections between them. They reported a diversity of challenges, not least of which was inadequate healthcare, poor soil and water quality, and increasing sub-division and fragmentation of land on which to farm their crops.

For these reasons, project partners are implementing a Population, Health and Environment, or PHE, project that aims to empower communities to conserve their cranes and manage wetlands while also meeting the health and livelihood needs of Rukiga’s communities. The project research highlighted that the people of Rukiga District wanted better health services, including family planning. These resources in turn keep women involved in local livelihood activities to support their families and reduce pressure on local natural resources, benefiting both people and cranes.

Integrating Community Health With Wetland Conservation

The project team is engaging community members in various ways to raise awareness about wetland and crane conservation, sustainable livelihoods and family planning. For instance, in the same session, the International Crane Foundation/EWT conservation experts and Rugarama Hospital nurses raise awareness about the importance of wetlands for health, livelihoods and cranes, and the benefits of family planning. This integrated approach means that men and women hear messages that they might not have heard before. Similarly, even though both men and women undertake livelihoods, men are more likely to attend livelihood training, meaning that women often miss these important messages.

Community members listen to a project training. A woman in a blue shirt stands at the front of the room taking notes on several large pieces of paper.
Community members attend an awareness meeting with project staff.
A trainer holds a book while a group of women listen to her training.
A trainer provides family planning community outreach.


A group of community volunteers hold a device used to text water clarity
Community members are also raising awareness about sustainable farming techniques, sound waste disposal methods and healthcare. Leading this effort are the Conservation and Health Mobilizers. These volunteers share messaging on crane and wetland conservation, reporting crane poisonings and captures, monitoring wetland water quality, pictured, and referring people for healthcare services.
A group of people admire their erosion control efforts on a hillside.
Project interventions include activities designed to increase community capacity for sustainable land use planning and management, such as soil and water conservation, to meet food security and conservation objectives. These interventions aim to prevent soil erosion, pictured, restoring soil fertility and productivity of hillslopes that were exhausted due to unsustainable farming practices. In addition, this intervention seeks to reduce the expansion of agriculture into wetlands.
The project’s alternative sustainable livelihood provision enables communities to generate additional income to meet their family’s needs. Community members selected the livelihoods they wanted – pictured is a project to grow climbing beans – and the International Crane Foundation/EWT provided them with materials, training and mentoring to benefit their income generation and access to local markets.

By integrating actions across multiple sectors, PHE can reach more people linked to biodiversity outcomes, engage more men in reproductive health, and more women in livelihood and natural resource management. PHE can, ultimately, achieve more significant and longer-lasting conservation outcomes than would likely occur without integration.

Story submitted by Adalbert Aine-omucunguzi, International Crane Foundation/Endangered Wildlife Trust Partnership and Kathryn Lloyd, Margaret Pyke Trust