Mr Gilbert Tumushabe, the executive director of International Cranes Foundation, rescues a grey crested crane injured by a local farmer in Lwengo District last month. PHOTO/MALIK FAHAD JINGO

Ritualists killing crested cranes to ‘save marriages’

Ms Mary Jude Namulema, the Lwengo District environmental officer, said their recent survey revealed that traditional healers “waged” a war on the birds, claiming they have an element that “can solve family affairs”.

Ms Namulema says the traditional healers dupe their clients into believing that eggs of grey-crested cranes and their chicks can help married couples stay in peace like the cranes live in pairs, which she says has left many birds killed, especially during the breeding seasons of November, December and January.

“Many of the traditional healers we have interacted with have confirmed that they kill these treasured birds for ritual sacrifice, which is very bad,” she said at the weekend.

Ms Namulema, however, called upon the traditional healers and the public to desist from this practice because it will lead to the extinction of the bird.

Mr Emirio Luswata, one of the leaders of traditional healers in Lwengo, confirmed that a section of their members are using the grey crested cranes in the treatment of clients’ problems like barrenness and unstable relationships.

“We are trying to sensitise them to get other means of solving these issues rather than using the blood of crested cranes,” he said.

Mr Gilbert Tumushabe, the director of the International Cranes Foundation, said they recently convened a meeting with traditional healers in Lwengo and spoke to them about the dangers of killing the crested cranes, but a few turned up.

“We are now using the few [traditional healers] that have been sensitised to work as ambassadors to sensitise others about the effects of killing the crested cranes, we hope cases of killing cranes for ritual sacrifice will soon reduce,” he said.

Mr Tumushabe said they received information that traditional healers use the locals and boda boda cyclists in the area to get the eggs and young cranes.

“We are also working with Uganda Wildlife Authority to save those cranes that have been injured by the community, especially farmers, and take them for treatment, though some die in the process,” he added.

A study done by International Cranes Foundation in 2021 showed that about 108 grey crested cranes had been poisoned between January and October of the same year and the blame was put on farmers that are cultivating in swamps.

Although death is reported only among crested cranes, conservationists say the poison used by farmers also kills other birds indiscriminately.

Commonly known as the crested crane, it is a bird of national significance to Uganda, occupying a prime position on the country’s national flag and coat of arms. Yet despite its serenity, beauty and popularity, the crested crane is facing extinction.

In 2012, this decline saw the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, an organisation working in the field of nature conservation, put the grey-crowned crane on its list of endangered bird species.

Only about 10,000 to 20,000 grey crowned cranes are left in Uganda, compared with an estimated 100,000 four decades ago, according to statistics from Nature Uganda and the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife.