Countering the Decline of the Iconic Siberian Crane

Unique Migratory Bird Project Boosts Wetland Sites for Endangered Species and Water Birds Across Large Parts of Asia

Bali, 24 February 2010 - The future of the iconic Siberian Crane, Grus leucogeranus, a critically endangered species, is looking brighter thanks to an international effort by China, Iran, Kazakhstan and Russia, four countries along the bird's dramatic migratory routes.

The conservation project, supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and implemented by the International Crane Foundation through the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), is the first of its kind to use a 'flyway' approach to stabilize and to sustain the remaining 3,000-3,500 Siberian Cranes and millions of other migratory waterbirds. A flyway is a flight path used in annual bird migration from breeding grounds to non-breeding areas, which often span continents and oceans.

This partnership has also played a catalytic role in boosting the conservation and rehabilitation of wetlands covering some 7 million hectares -ecosystems of high environmental and economic importance.

Every year the Siberian Crane, one of the word's most endangered birds, migrates up to 5,000 kilometres from its breeding grounds in northern Siberia, along two migration routes to wintering sites in southern China and Iran.

During these immense journeys, the cranes cross some of the highest mountains on Earth, as well as some of the harshest deserts. However, in recent years, the draining of critical wetlands, where the birds normally take respite on route, as well as hunting, have threatened the survival of the cranes and other migratory waterbirds.

The story of this unique 10 year-project along two main flyways in Eastern and Western Eurasia is told in the book Safe Flyways for the Siberian Crane which was launched today at UNEP's 11th Special Session of the Governing Council/Global Ministerial Forum in Bali, Indonesia.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: "The Siberian Crane Wetland Project underlines how conservation of biodiversity and human concerns go hand in hand: a key point to underline in the UN's International Year of Biodiversity."

"The Siberian Cranes need the wetlands to rest and to feed. But communities and countries need wetlands too. Not only are they important suppliers and purifiers of drinking water and productive fisheries, but they play a significant role in flood defence and combating climate change. Indeed, by some estimates wetlands may be storing between 10 per cent and 20 per cent of all land-based carbon," he added.

Monique Barbut, Chief Executive Officer of the GEF, said: "Some 60 per cent of wetlands worldwide - and up to 90 per cent in Europe - have been destroyed in the past 100 years, principally due to drainage for agriculture but also through pollution, dams, canals, groundwater pumping, urban development and peat extraction."

"Thus this project has been a cost-effective investment in both people and wildlife - securing the future of this iconic bird but also assisting to secure the future health and well-being of hundreds of thousands if not millions of people," she added.

The project

The race to conserve the wetlands and this rarest of birds-the Siberian Crane -came as its numbers plummeted. Despite decades of conservation efforts, seven of the world's fifteen crane species were threatened with extinction by the 1970s.

Similar trends appeared among the ducks, geese, swans and other waterbird groups. Globally, 40 per cent of known waterbird populations are declining, and in Asia the statistics have risen to 59 per cent.

While the causes of the declines are diverse and vary among species, population growth, hunting and escalating demands on limited water supplies, have contributed to the loss and degradation of wetland habitats on which waterbirds, like the crane, depend.

The Siberian Crane Wetland Project which arose out of concern for the widespread loss of wetlands, is an unique example of how concerted action in four countries supported by regional efforts, has resulted in safeguarding a network of 16 critical wetlands over two flyways.

The project chose the Siberian Crane as a flagship species for inspiring action to safeguard all migratory birds. Launched a decade ago, with US$10.3 million in GEF financing, the SWCP emphasized public awareness and working with governments and local communities to protect key wetlands across Eurasia - to date over 7 million hectares, a landmass equivalent to Ireland or 3.5 times the area of Israel.

The project has been successful on many fronts. It not only strengthened the 16 critical wetlands across Eurasia for the waterbirds but has also assured improved water supplies for millions of people living in this region.

The project has also achieved the following:

  • Water management planning, wetland restoration and related hydrological monitoring and research in China and Kazakhstan;

  • A "flyway" environmental education programme covering 120 sites in nine countries that integrates subjects on wetlands and waterbird conservation through crane celebrations and the development of national school curricula;

  • Development of "Practical Advice for Reducing Avian Influenza Risks at Wetlands of Importance to Waterbirds", benefiting both human health and bird conservation;

  • Improved knowledge of monitoring programmes and knowledge of migratory waterbird distribution which help to identify and respond to emerging threats;

  • Secured key wetland sites through international recognition and improved national protection;

  • Improved recognition of the benefits of engaging stakeholders and local communities which have shifted towards constructive engagement and conflict resolution;

  • Increased ecological awareness and giving stronger support for conservation, especially among schools and youth;

More specifically, at wetland sites in each of the four countries where there are flyways, project managers report significant collaboration and achievements.

These include:

China has pioneered approaches on resolving water distribution and wetland conservation. In northeastern China on the Songnen Plain livestock wetland grazing impacts were mitigated through community development programmes to help local herdsmen better manage the grazing of their animals on the wetlands.

A network of forestry protection stations have been developed in 15 counties around Poyang Lake Basin in southern China, significantly enhancing waterbird protection. Midwinter counts have been conducted across 68 sub-lakes of the Poyang Lake Basin over six consecutive years, this combined with regional water studies, providing a sound scientific base for management decisions.

Iran has supported alternative methods of governance of wetland reserves through community involvement; microcredit schemes have been set up with several bird-trapper associations in Iran and integrated pest management pilots were run in the Fereydoon Kenar Non-Shooting Area in an effort to reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides, protecting the health of both humans and birds.

Kazakhstan has expanded and established nature reserves and used public communications to raise awareness and engage stakeholders. A highly effective environmental education programme was implemented, and local communities benefited from sustainable livelihood training and development of community-based organizations on subjects ranging from water management and biodiversity conservation to care of disabled children.

Russia has created effective ecological monitoring programs and piloted innovative ways for providing local support for federal nature reserves.

The project has dramatically strengthened the network of wetlands for the waterbirds and the local communities who depend on these wetlands. Globally, 34 per cent of waterbird populations are stable and 17 percent are increasing. In Asia, 27 per cent are stable and 10 per cent are increasing.

The fate of the birds and the wetlands depends on increased protection and effective management of water resources. While captive breeding and release back into the wild is now being pursued, the survival rate will still depend on wetland management and safe flyways.

While the project has been largely successful on the Eastern Flyway, which is used by most of the Siberian Cranes and spans Russian and China, more attention will be given to the Western Flyway that covers Russia, Kazakhstan and Iran where hunting and wetland drainage continues to endanger the birds.

An agreement with the Convention of Migratory Species (CMS), which has been signed by 11 range states, is ensuring that follow-up work on protecting the Siberian Cranes and all migratory waterbirds along both flyways will continue into the future.

Notes to editors:

International Crane Foundation (ICF):

The International Crane Foundation (ICF) is a non-profit organization based in Wisconsin, United States, with programmes in over 20 countries focusing on the conservation of cranes and the wetland and grassland ecosystems on which they depend. Through the charismatic crane, ICF has improved livelihoods and protected resources important to human communities all over the world. ICF has a 36-year history of productive collaboration with the governments and communities in Eurasia and served as the international executing agency for the SCWP.

Quote by James Harris, ICF Vice President: "The Siberian Crane is a magnificent flagship. Of strong cultural significance wherever it has occurred, this critically endangered species has inspired conservation efforts for decades. The International Crane Foundation and the network of crane conservationists along two long flyways of the crane welcomed the opportunities provided by SCWP."

"The book being launched today proudly shares the work and achievements of this four-country effort. Through the cranes, SCWP has addressed resource issues of major significance for biodiversity conservation and human development - for example, our work on water supply for wetlands in China and Kazakhstan, or with community participation in protected area management in Iran. At the regional level, the project developed a new flyway site network for West/Central Asia under CMS, and coordinated an expanding flyway education programme across Eurasia to build support for conservation. "

"Through SCWP, these two flyways have become safer for migrating waterbirds. Yet migratory birds require long-term, international collaboration - SCWP has laid the groundwork for that continued effort - that will happen under auspices of the CMS MoU on the Siberian Crane and other flyway conservation initiatives. Our deep thanks to UNEP, GEF, CMS, the four countries and other partners. "

Contact: Claire Mirande, SCWP Project Director, at


Convention on Migratory Species (CMS):

The Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) is an intergovernmental treaty concluded under the United Nations Environment Programme and focusing on the conservation of migratory species and their habitats. CMS's membership includes 113 Parties from Africa, Central and South America, Asia, Europe and Oceania. CMS established a Memorandum of Understanding concerning Conservation Measures for the Siberian Crane, which now has 11 signatory states covering the entire range of the species, as well as ICF and other non-governmental organizations. The CMS MoU provides the main framework for formal international cooperation for the Siberian Crane, and CMS has played an important role in the overall direction of the SCWP.

"The countries through which the Siberian cranes travel on their annual migrations have shown true commitment to protecting the species through the UNEP/GEF project. Progress in China, Iran, Russia and Kazakhstan is particularly noteworthy. The many success stories prove how effective the international community can be at addressing conservation problems."

"Siberian Cranes are exposed to a variety of man-made threats. During the International Year of Biodiversity, CMS continues to support this most important UNEP/GEF project to protect this majestic bird and its habitat by reconciling human needs and sustaining the crucial wetlands that provide us with health and the vital services we depend on."

Contact: Douglas Hykle at or Marco Barbieri at


All-Russian Research Institute for Nature Protection (ARRINP):

The All-Russian Research Institute for Nature Protection (ARRINP) of the Russian Federation Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology was assigned National Executing Agency at the start of the SCWP. This role was eventually assumed by an independent management team. ARRINP as a research branch provides technical advice to the Ministry on matters of nature conservation including habitats and species.

Contact: Alexander Sorokin at Web:

Department of Environment (DOE):

The Department of Environment (DOE), the SCWP National Executing Agency in Iran, is a government agency focusing on the sustainable use of natural resources and the protection of Iran's environment and biodiversity. DOE manages the national protected areas system and is responsible for species conservation, including international cooperation. The Division of Wildlife and Aquatic Affaires of DOE's Department of Biodiversity and Natural Resources coordinated the SCWP in Iran.

Sadegh Sadeghi-Zadegan, SCWP National Project Manager for Iran

"In Iran, this project achieved pioneering efforts in demonstrating collaboration with local communities in the management of wetlands of importance for waterbirds and human welfare in a scientific manner. It can also be mentioned that another achievement was to restore the hydrology and ecological aspects and improve the management system of the selected sites using high-quality consultancies and ensuring the greatest possibility of restoring wetlands with minimal or no adverse affects to on-site resources or to off-site properties. In addition improved wetland functioning, and improved habitat for native species populations is another achievement. New alliances for conservation have been created through stakeholder participation and support for the development of local community-based organizations. The project also assisted Iran in achieving practical conservation measures under the CMS MoU on the Conservation of the Siberian Crane. We look forward to continuing our cooperative efforts through the Seventh Meeting of the CMS MoU in Tehran in March 2010.

Contact: Mr. Mohammad-Bagher Sadoogh, SCWP National Project Director, at Tel:+98 21 88269913


Forestry and Hunting Committee (FHC):

The Forestry and Hunting Committee (FHC) of the Kazakhstan Ministry of Agriculture served as the National Executing Agency for the SCWP in Kazakhstan. FHC is responsible for the management of the national protected areas system and species conservation, including international cooperation.

Contact: Bakhytbek Duisekeyev, SCWP National Project Director, at

Institute for Biological Problems of the Cryolithozone (IBPC):

The Institute for Biological Problems of the Cryolithozone (IBPC) of the Russian Academy of Sciences Siberian Branch coordinated SCWP activities in Yakutia, Russia. IBPC has been conducting research on the Siberian Crane for more than 30 years, and is a leading authority on environmental research in the tundra and boreal permafrost zones.

Contact: Nikolai Germogenov, SCWP Yakutia Project Director, at

State Forestry Administration (SFA):

The State Forestry Administration (SFA) was the SCWP National Executing Agency in China. SFA's Department of Wildlife Protection and Nature Reserve Management has responsibility for managing a large network of nature reserves and species conservation, including international cooperation within the developing framework of the East Asian - Australasian Flyway Partnership.

Contact: Wang Wei, SCWP National Project Director, at


East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP):

The East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP) focuses on migratory waterbird protection along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. The EAAFP's activities include development of a Waterbird Site Network, collaborative activities to increase knowledge and raise awareness of migratory waterbirds, and building capacity for the sustainable management and conservation of migratory waterbird habitat.

Contact: Roger Jaensch, Chief Executive, East Asian - Australasian Flyway Partnership at



Quote by Vera Inyutina, National Project Manager for the Republic of Kazakhstan: "We warmly welcome the launch of this book, which documents the international cooperation achieved through the SCWP to conserve the Siberian Crane, migratory waterbirds and their valuable wetland habitats. The book highlights one of the key project accomplishments in Kazakhstan - pioneering work in strengthening and extending the protected area system covering the steppe lakes of Kostanay region - a crossroads where major flyways converge, of particular importance for migratory goose populations. This included the dramatic extension of Naurzum Nature Reserve, creation of a buffer zone, site management plan, and capacity building so that this key site is now a management hub for several surrounding nature reserves. As a reflection of its outstanding global importance, Naurzum was designated as part of a World Heritage Site in 2008, and all 4 project sites in Kazakhstan are now Ramsar Sites. Kazakhstan continues to be engaged in flyway conservation through its membership of CMS and participation in the CMS MoU on the Siberian Crane."

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.

For further information, please contact:

Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson and Head of Media, +41 795965737 or +254733632755, or


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