Let Sarus crane be with a human partner!

New Delhi, March 28: If the world's tallest flying bird Sarus crane spends a considerable amount of time with a human, it will be difficult for the bird to bond with other cranes, says a global Sarus ecology and conservation expert who has watched stork nests for two-and-a-half decades.

Once such imprinting happens, it is not a good idea to shift the crane to captivity after a failed attempt to release it in the wild since that bird will seek that human companionship frequently.

Thirty-five-year-old farmer Mohammad Arif brought home an injured Sarus crane that he found in his village in Uttar Pradesh's Amethi district.

Last week, the farmer was booked for violating wildlife laws and authorities initially sent the bird to a nearby sanctuary and later shifted to the zoo in Kanpur.

Explaining the behavior of the Sarus crane, K.S. Gopi Sundar, the global Co-chair of the IUCN Stork, Ibis and Spoonbill Specialist Group, in a virtual interview told IANS on Tuesday that cranes belong to a group of birds called 'precocial', which hatch with downy feathers, and are able to start walking behind parent in a few hours after hatching.

"Such birds show a high preponderance to imprint on humans when they are kept in close proximity as young birds, or before they have found mates of their own.

"Once such imprinting happens, and especially if the crane and human have stayed together for a prolonged period of time, it is very difficult for the crane to bond with other cranes. Once such imprinting happens, it is not a good idea to release it into the wild since that bird will seek human companionship frequently."

Without mincing words, Gopi added, "Also the captivity is never a good thing for a wild born animal."

Explaining further, Gopi told IANS an imprinted crane will seek humans rather than other cranes if released into the wild.

"This puts the bird in harm. Since other humans may not have the same willingness to include the crane into their lives. Additionally, cranes coming into human settlements in places like Uttar Pradesh will face more dangerous threats like dogs, whose populations are increasing very rapidly with detrimental impacts on humans and wildlife alike, electricity wires, and so on."

In Uttar Pradesh, farmers are very protective of Sarus cranes and poaching is less of an issue here.

However, in other places like south-east Asia, crane poaching is extensive and widespread, he said.

Due to the hunting pressure, Sarus cranes are entirely restricted within protected sanctuaries in several countries in this region.

"In such areas, imprinted cranes have no hope of survival if they are released into the wild," Gopi said.

Explaining why the Sarus finds saviour in Uttar Pradesh despite growing human population, change of land use and urbanisation, he said, "It's not without reason why Uttar Pradesh has the world's highest population of Sarus cranes.

"That the highest population of the world's tallest bird occurs in an area with the most extensive farming and among the highest human population density is a genuine marvel. This situation could not have emerged or stayed without farmers ensuring the safety of the Sarus cranes.

"While most farmers may not do anything specifically to favour cranes, the vast majority will not harm the birds deliberately. In fact, they will protect the birds if anyone attempts to hunt the cranes. This relationship appears to be a few thousands of years old, and it seems plausible that Sarus crane benefitted greatly from the spread of irrigated agriculture across the Gangetic floodplains.

"This situation is being repeated in north-eastern Australia where cattle ranchers are making new small wetlands for the cattle, but are inadvertently benefitting breeding the Sarus crane."

The Sarus is a bird species that does best when people do not deliberately hunt it and when farming and other activities increase water availability at large landscape scales.

"The critical pieces of the equation are farming. Not all crops are conducive for the Sarus -- rice is good but sugarcane and soybean are not. Also the farmer friendly relationship is essential," he said.

The Editor-in-Chief of Waterbirds the International Journal of Waterbird Biology, Gopi has been monitoring over 1,000 Sarus crane pairs since 1998 when he began his studies of the bird in Uttar Pradesh.

In places like Uttar Pradesh where irrigation canals and the monsoon help provide water throughout the year, the breeding Sarus cranes maintain territories throughout the year.

In other areas like Rajasthan and some parts of Gujarat, where water dries up during the severely hot summers, territorial pairs are forced to join other cranes in the few existing water bodies on the landscape.

Is it advisable to reintroduce the Sarus crane in the wild? At this, he said, "It's highly unlikely that a Sarus crane imprinted on a human will rejoin other cranes."

The Sarus cranes are capable of travelling for several hundred kilometres in search of partners and territories, so the moving of the bird from one area to another is not a major issue.

"However, in Uttar Pradesh, all possible areas habitable by Sarus cranes are taken over. A crane taken to a new area will not find the resident territorial crane pairs to be welcoming."

So what is an ideal situation? It would be to let the crane be with a human 'partner'.

But the state will require consulting legal experts as to the repercussions of allowing this possibility.

The situation is sadly very complex and seems likely that not everyone will be left happy as the story takes its conclusion in captivity, which is never a good thing for a wild born species, he added.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at gulatiians@gmail.com)

Let Sarus crane be with a human 'partner'!
IANS 28 March 2023 Post Your Comments

Shared Recently!

UP forest officials soften stand on Arif-sarus issue
France edge Ireland, the Netherlands win ten-men Gibraltar in Euro Qualifiers