The Zambia Crane and Wetlands Conservation Programme (ZCWCP) was launched in May 2014. The primary goal of programme is to secure crane populations and the wetland habitats on which they depend through conservation action and the implementation of a long-term monitoring and research programme. The framework of this project has evolved since its initiation between 2000 and 2003, under the then African Wattled Crane Programme (AWAC), a joint initiative between the International Crane Foundation and the Endangered Wildlife Trust. The main focus of the programme was to conduct intensive, nation-wide surveys of Wattled Cranes Bugeranus carunculatus. The surveys also involved counts of Grey Crowned Cranes Balearica regulorum and other large waterbirds in all of the major wetland systems of Zambia. This work highlighted the global importance of Zambia for the conservation of Wattled and the Grey Crowned Cranes.
The global population of Wattled Crane is currently estimated to be around 8000 individuals. At present, the Wattled Crane population in Zambia is estimated to be approximately 5000 individuals, which is more than 62% of the global population. Three wetland ecosystems are considered to be the species’ strongholds: The Barotse Floodplains (including Liuwa Plains National Park) with a population estimate of 1900 individuals, Kafue Flats Wetlands with a population estimate of 1800 individuals and the Bangweulu Swamps with a population estimate of 1000 individuals. Smaller populations exist in many other wetlands including the Busanga Plains, Lukanga Swamps, and the Chambeshi Swamps with numbers exceeding 300. In as much as the project highlighted the importance of these wetlands for the crane conservation, little still is known about the ecology, movement patterns, nesting and roosting sites of and threats to Grey Crowned and Wattled Cranes. The newly re-established ZCWCP seeks to address these gaps in knowledge and enhance the conservation efforts of cranes throughout its range.
The project has five key components:
- Population surveys to better understand the status and distribution of cranes in Zambia.
- Basic and applied research to improve our understanding of crane ecology and to better manage and conserve the population. Our research will cover, among other things, the inter-relationship between feeding grounds, water, and grazing; and breeding success under different conditions.
- Direct involvement in wetland management activities such as invasive species control.
- Ecological monitoring linked to Environmental Flows in support of the regional Zambezi River Basin Environmental Flows Programme focusing on impacts on indicator species. For example, relationship between water conditions (timing, magnitude, duration, extent of water conditions, and Wattled Crane distribution and productivity). The ZCWCP will could provide data on indicator species—Wattled Cranes, Kafue Lechwe and Grey Crowned Cranes.
- Assessment of ongoing and emerging threats in all important crane habitats in Zambia. Some of the threats are linked to human activities, including fishing at Liuwa, capture for illegal trade, powerline collisions, and especially mining (geothermal, gypsum). The ZCWCP will also focus on building capacity for local professional staff and students in crane research and monitoring to ensure sustainability of monitoring of cranes in Zambia. Through partnerships with Zambia Wildlife Authority, WWF-Zambia, African Parks and other relevant conservation organizations in Zambia, ZCWCP will strategically position itself to influence management decisions that will directly benefit the long-term sustainability of cranes in Zambia. One of the emerging threats to the cranes on the Kafue Flats floodplains is the spread of invasive alien plants, with Mimosa pigra being the most common and destructive species. The woody species that is native to South America has resulted in negative impacts for waterbirds as well as herbivore populations on the Kafue Flats. The ZCWCP will play an important role in finding ways to reduce the spread of this species as well as its management through supporting research that is aimed at finding cost effective methods of controlling the proliferation of the species, as well as actively engaging local communities to physically remove the plants and retain the vast wetlands to productive land able to support biodiversity.
By focusing our efforts at sites important to cranes across Zambia and working in collaboration with key partners and relevant communities, we aim to secure Zambia’s populations of cranes.