|Human civilizations have risen by the shores of seas, rivers, and wetlands, the latter being remarkably productive ecosystems, teeming with biodiversity such as waterbirds and fish. Yet, where water has been abused and lost, wildlife and civilizations too have vanished. Now, more than ever, as human population increases and water demands grow, people and wildlife need secure and adequate sources of water for survival. The Siberian Crane Wetland Project, implemented by UNEP and executed by the International Crane Foundation, demonstrated that the delicate inter-connections between water, wetlands, wildlife and human welfare can be successfully managed to the benefit of people and biodiversity.
The Project demonstrates how a flagship species can serve as the rallying cry for conservation and sustainable use of wetlands while generating benefits for wildlife and humans alike. To ensure that these benefits are sustained, the project has mainstreamed the continuation of site and national activities through national and provincial agency programs and budgets, established several long-term agreements, including grants, with stakeholders and related agencies and integrated key project activities with ongoing flyway conservation programs supported by the International Crane Foundation and CMS Secretariat.
By the 1970s, seven of the world’s fifteen crane species were threatened with extinction and 11 remain threatened with risk. Similar negative trends appear in Asia among the other waterbird groups: 59% of known waterbird populations are declining, 27% are stable and only 10% are increasing. Meanwhile escalating human demand on limited water supplies and arable land is accelerating the loss and degradation of wetlands in Asia.
To help reverse these trends, the Siberian Crane Wetland Project secured the ecological integrity of a network of 16 critical wetlands needed for the survival of the Siberian Crane and other migratory waterbirds along their annual migration route of 5,100 km from breeding to wintering sites, through, the Russian Federation, China, Iran and Kazakhstan. The flyway wetland sites used by the Siberian Crane are shared by at least 27 globally threatened waterbird species and sustain millions of migratory waterbirds along their migrations across the Asian continent. For example, Poyang Lake in Jiangxi Province, China is internationally famous for its birdlife with over 300 bird species of which at least 16 are globally threatened. Winter surveys at Poyang have recorded 425,000 waterbirds on average, with a peak count of 726,000 birds in 2005. At least 11 globally threatened waterbird species have been recorded, several of which breed in Russia with significant proportions of their global populations depending on Poyang Lake. For example, in recent years over half of the world’s Swan Geese Anser cygnoides and White-naped Cranes Grus vipio migrate to the lake and over 95% of the world’s Oriental Storks and Siberian Cranes depend on Poyang during winter months. These wetlands are also of considerable socio-economic and cultural importance, supporting the livelihoods of local communities, as well as contributing to regional development.
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Cranes have great cultural significance and none more so than the majestic Siberian Crane. Cranes delight us with their ritual dances, their stunning plumage, and their calls that resonate miles across marshes and wetlands. The Siberian Crane was chosen as a flagship species for the project given its cultural significance in the four participating countries: China, Iran, Kazakhstan, and Russian Federation. Throughout these diverse cultures the Siberian Crane generated intense commitment from a diverse group of stakeholders to conservation initiatives for the benefit of the Crane, other migratory waterbirds, and the wetlands they rely on along their annual migration route. The map below highlights the migratory flyways that are the focus of the project and the key sites for the Siberian Crane (Grus leucogeranus) and other migratory waterbirds.