Phionah Orishaba, Educator, Buranga Primary School
Phionah Orishaba, a teacher implementing the EWT’s “Cranes in the Classroom” programme in Kabale, Uganda recently led a crane rescue effort, and shares the story with us.
“My role in the crane conservation project has for the last while been that of a patron for the Buranga Primary School “Cranes in the Classroom” programme. This programme was introduced to us by the EWT/ICF Uganda Project Coordinator, Jimmy Muheebwa, about two years ago. It came in handy when the cranes in Kabale were facing incredible persecution through capture for sale across the border into neighbouring countries. My school and I embraced the “Cranes in the Classroom” programme and subsequently we have been keeping an eye out for any persecuted cranes in the village. On a fateful Saturday afternoon in March, I received a call from our former local council chairperson, Happy Addy, to alert me to the fact that his neighbour had captured a pair of chicks from South Kiruruma wetland, and wanted to sell them. I asked Happy to tell his neighbour that I would pay for the chicks, to buy time while I sought advice, and also to allow me time to get to the site to collect photographic evidence. I liaised with Jimmy, who was in South Africa at the time, and he advised on how to rescue the chicks. I also roped in a crane custodian, Kagyenda, and a colleague of mine, Saturday, who implements “Cranes in the Classroom” in a sister school. We raced to the house where the chicks were being held, and were welcomed by their captor. He was quite unconcerned that he had captured these now traumatised chicks, saying he was feeding them what they would eat in the wild, and that while the law forbids killing cranes, it doesn’t say anything about keeping them.
I explained that the chicks were best off with their parents, in their natural environment, and told him a little about the work we do to save cranes, our national symbol, heritage and flagship for environmental health. The local council chairperson also arrived and, sharing my passion for cranes, reiterated the legal and cultural implications of keeping cranes in captivity.
By this point, the captor was trembling, thinking he was under arrest. He pleaded for us to allow him to deliver the chicks back to the wetland where they were captured. We only allowed him to lead us to the site but once there, took control of the situation as Jimmy had advised. We carried the chicks to the site, and soon spotted the frustrated and almost bereaved parents in the distance. As advised by Jimmy, we tickled the chicks to get them to make some distress sounds, which attracted the attention of the parents. The chicks made a sharp, shrill “peep” sound which in turn alerted the parents to return the call. As the parents hovered, we released the chicks who quickly took off into the wetland, and were welcomed back into the fold.
Since then, they have occasionally been seen gracefully feeding under the care of their parents, and we are all happy and relieved that this mission was successfully accomplished – with passion, we save one, and save all!”