Sarus Crane FAQ 4

This page covers Sarus Crane conservation in Australia. If population declines continue in Asia, the Australian population will become more significant for global survival of the species. Lack of knowledge affects our understanding of both conservation issues and actions needed – see Sarus FAQs 1-3 and the Cranes Intro, which highlight unknown aspects of Australian Sarus ecology.


Status

Australia and all states follow the international rating of Least Concern. Although Australian Sarus are not migratory, Eastern Sarus Cranes migrate between countries in southeast Asia so Sarus Crane is listed in multiple international treaties as a protected migratory species. This triggers the EPBC Act for developments in parts of Australia where Sarus are located.

Details of Sarus Crane conservation status
LevelStatus
International Vulnerable
Australia & States Least Concern
Australia treaties Protected as a migratory species

Conservation actions BirdLife has declared Key Biodiversity Areas with Sarus Crane as the trigger species: the Atherton Tablelands and Gulf Plains, see Ozcranes Conservation Key Biodiversity Areas». Ozcranes Crane-friendly Fencing» guidelines were developed in consultation with north Queensland catchment groups in the 2005-2010 NRM plan process.

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Status commentMost Australian Sarus Cranes, and all known breeding sites, are located in Queensland. Early stage field work in the Gulf» has identified probable critical breeding habitats, but government Regional Ecosystem mapping does not yet include these habitat types as critical for cranes. Due to the ‘Least Concern’ classification there is no impetus for environmental funding towards Sarus Crane research, and no special focus on Sarus with issues like powerline impact, wetland drainage, or sustainable use with indigenous hunting or egg collection. This also affects public attitudes. For example during consultation to develop the Crane-friendly Fencing guidelines, one advisor stated that potential wetland fencing impacts on Sarus Cranes are ‘not a sustainability issue’ (see the Fencing Whiteboard). In 2017 a Northern Territory judge commented, in sentencing a taxidermist to a suspended sentence for over 300 wildlife offences, "There is no evidence to prove that any of the species in Mr Eswaran's possession were endangered in the NT" (more in Ozcranes Crane Hazards 2»). Though this applied to dead Brolgas (and other Least Concern wildlife), it could equally apply to Sarus Cranes taken for the illegal taxidermy trade.

Ozcranes view (John Grant and Elinor Scambler) is that Sarus Crane conservation should be more seriously considered than for other ‘Least Concern’ species in Queensland including Brolga. This is based on concern that Sarus in Australia may have little resilience to significant change in essential habitat, or increased mortality events, due to (1) Almost no reliable information on population size, status, and life history parameters in Australia (2) Low recruitment rate (based on wintering population study, Grant 2005 and unpublished data); (3) Apparently stable wintering population (E Scambler unpublished data) (4) Apparently restricted selection of breeding habitat (5) Land use changes affecting stability of winter roost sites, discussed on Ozcranes here and here».

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Threats

Collisions with infrastructure – especially powerlines – are the only known source of uncommon, but regular, injury and mortality for Sarus Cranes in the Atherton Tablelands KBA. This Key Biodiversiy Area recognises the agricultural habitats and wetlands of the Atherton Tablelands as important habitat for a significant part of the Australian Sarus Crane population, in the non-breeding season. References on Ozcranes: a plan to deail with collisions in the KBA»; Crane-friendly Fencing» pages; Crane Hazards 2», collisions.

An extensive bibliography on collisions is in Sundar, KS Gopi, and BC Choudhury. ‘Mortality of Sarus Cranes (Grus antigone) due to electricity wires in Uttar Pradesh, India.’ Environmental Conservation 32, no. 3 (2005): 260-269. Abstract only in Ozcranes Research»

WeedsSarus Crane habitats in the Gulf and on Cape York are threatened by multiple weed issues. Some encroach on waterways including key Sarus breeding habitat, and due to changed fire regimes woody shrubs encroach on grassy habitats (see Sidebar images). The threat to Sarus Cranes specifically has not been assessed. The Gulf breeding area is more compact and suitable for survey, but on Cape York breeding sites are unknown, and non-breeding Sarus are recorded as pairs or small groups on grassy plains or at scattered waterholes.

All three Natural Resource Management Groups in the region have active weed education and management programs, and Northern Gulf NRM have a project specifically targetting the Gilbert River system where Sarus Cranes breed:

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AgricultureSarus Cranes integrate well, and may benefit, from pastoral regimes and post-harvest cropping sites. But cranes feeding on new-planted seeds cause losses to farmers, which may risk persecution (see Ozcranes Crane Hazards 2» and Cranes on Farms 1»). Large scale impoundments for crop irrigation could reduce flow to Sarus breeding floodplains. The $2 billion IFED scheme has stalled but the Etheridge Shire is proposing further initiatives with potentially, funding from the National Water Infrastructure Fund.

Climate changeModelling suggests that Australian Sarus Cranes are likely to be resilient on a number of factors, but questions remain over potential impacts on the critical breeding area in the Gulf. Some references:

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