During these extensive journeys along three migration routes, called flyways, they overcome considerable obstacles such as high mountains and vast deserts. Major threats like hunting in West and Central Asia and the drainage of critical wetlands in East Asia put them at an even greater risk. Only 3,000 to 3,500 birds remain globally.
During the last century agricultural use, dams, pollution and inappropriate water management, oil and urban development have destroyed 60% of wetlands in Europe and 90 % worldwide.
The United Nations Environment Programme's Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) convened this meeting in Bonn to enhance the future of this bird species protected under the auspices of the CMS Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) concerning Conservation Measures for the Siberian Crane. This conservation tool, which was established in 1993, provided the framework for the ambitious Siberian Crane Wetland Project supported by UNEP's Global Environment Facility (GEF). Under the project, Government officials as well as experts and conservationists came together to adopt strategies to reduce hunting, improve water management and mitigate the impact of climate change.
CMS Executive Secretary Elizabeth Maruma Mrema said: "During the International Year of Biodiversity, CMS continues to protect this majestic bird and its wetland habitats that are critical to humans and species alike. Not only these ecosystems supply drinking water, but they act as a flood defence and as carbon sinks to mitigate climate change."
Captive breeding and the reintroduction of the species into the wild in West Siberia during the last 20 years have been conducted in response to significant declines in the Western and Central Asian populations, largely due to the loss of birds from hunting. The use of satellite technology for crane tracking, raising awareness at community level and better education of hunters form significant components of this conservation strategy.
The revision of the current strategy to include responses to existing and emerging threats, knowledge transfer from Europe and North America and the introduction of formal national legislation will enhance the efficiency of a framework for sustainable hunting. Monitoring and research to better explore migration patterns and determine wintering grounds will help to protect the Siberian Crane across its range.
Loss of wetland habitats is a major threat to the Siberian Crane. Water management for wetland areas is therefore crucial. Agricultural use, diversion of water resources and channels has resulted in severe water shortages at Siberian Crane critical habitats. Mismanagement is being enhanced by the effects of climate change such as droughts and intensifies the pressure on species and humans in the long term.
The International Crane Foundation and Wetlands International are preparing plans with CMS and governments in Central Asia to improve the resilience of key wetlands for migratory waterbirds to climate change.
In particular, improved water resource management is envisaged at sites designated under the West and Central Asian Site Network launched within the Memorandum. In this regard, the meeting designated two new sites as part of the network - the Thanedar Wala Game Reserve and the Taunsa Barrage (Punjab), both located in Pakistan - in recognition of their importance for migratory waterbirds and potential for the Siberian Crane.
The Siberian Crane Wetland Project with US$10.3 million in GEF financing, which was initiated to make the journey of Siberian cranes and other waterbirds safer by securing major waterbird habitats, was completed earlier this year. It has played a catalytic role in implementing the CMS Siberian Crane MoU and succeeded in safeguarding a network of 16 critical wetlands for waterbirds in China, Iran, Kazakhstan and Russia while securing water flows to sustain wetland ecosystem services including supplying purified water to millions of people in the Eurasian region. An expansion of the critical site network and infrastructure established earlier during the project will now be applied to hotspots in 11 countries that are signatories to the CMS Siberian Crane's MoU.
The Siberian Crane is the third most endangered crane species in the world, facing a range of threats. The ecological integrity of its main wintering site at the Poyang Lake in China's Jiangxi Province is a cause for serious concern in the face of water regulation projects affecting the system, in particular a proposal for a new dam across the connection between the Poyang Lake and the Yangtze River that may impact critical habitats required by the Siberian Crane and many other waterbirds. As Poyang Lake is the wintering site of 99% of the world's Siberian Crane population, this area is a crucial site.
The global population cranes come from Eastern, Central and Western Asia. The Central and Western populations are almost extinct mainly due to unsustainable and illegal hunting. Efforts focus on restoring these populations and reducing hunting pressure.
Measures against threats to habitats as a result of rapid economic development are foreseen along the Eastern Flyway. Threats to migratory waterbirds along their flyways continue to be addressed through monitoring, management and education of diverse audiences at site, national and international levels.
The Siberian Crane MoU continues to urge participating governments to expand partnerships and to fulfil their commitments towards saving the Siberian Crane and its habitats through the exchange of information and conservation action at important sites across the three flyways from Russia, to Azerbaijan and Iran in the West, through Uzbekistan to India in Central Asia and to China in the east.
The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (Bonn Convention) is an intergovernmental treaty concluded under the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and focusing on the conservation of migratory species and their habitats. Its membership includes 113 Parties from Africa, Central and South America, Asia, Europe and Oceania. The CMS Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) concerning Conservation Measures for the Siberian Crane provides the basis for governments, NGOs and scientists to work together to save the crane species and its habitats. 11 countries are signatories to the MoU.
At the global level the Siberian Crane is classified as "Critically endangered" by the IUCN Red List. It is included in CMS Appendix I and II and legally protected in all range states.
Global Environment Facility (GEF):
The GEF unites 179 countries in partnership with international institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the private sector to address global environmental issues while supporting national sustainable development initiatives. Today the GEF is the largest funder of projects to improve the global environment. An independent financial organization, the GEF provides grants for projects related to biodiversity, climate change, international waters, land degradation, the ozone layer, and persistent organic pollutants. Since 1991, the GEF has achieved a strong track record with developing countries and countries with economies in transition, providing $8.6 billion in grants and leveraging $36.1 billion in co-financing for more than 2,400 projects in over 165 countries. www.thegef.org
Siberian Crane Wetland Project (SCWP):
The project with the Siberian crane as flagship species to protect migratory birds was launched in 1998 with US$ 10.3 million in GEF funding to enhance public awareness and collaboration among governments, conservationists and local communities to safeguard wetlands across Eurasia. It was implemented by China, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and the International Crane Foundation with support from CMS, and provides some benefits to other range states through regional activities.
International Crane Foundation (ICF):
The International Crane Foundation (ICF) is a non-governmental organization based in Wisconsin, United States, that works worldwide to conserve cranes and the wetland and grassland ecosystems on which they depend. ICF programs stress the interdependence between wildlife and their habitats and the relationships that exist between wildlife, habitat and people in Eurasia and has served as the international executing agency for SCWP. Website: www.savingcranes.org
Wetlands International (WI):
Wetlands International (WI) is a non-governmental organisation based in Ede, the Netherlands with a mission "to sustain and restore wetlands, their resources and biodiversity for future generations". WI promotes the flyway approach to manage migratory waterbirds and their wetland habitats through building local capacity and awareness. We support the establishment and management of international networks of protected and well managed wetlands along flyways that benefit migratory waterbirds, other biodiversity and people that depend on them. Website: www.wetlands.org
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