Up until the mid-18th Century, the red-crowned crane probably bred in wetlands throughout Hokkaido.
At least a part of the population is likely to have spent winter months
in eastern parts of Honshu (the largest island in Japan). It is possible
that the cranes also bred in Honshu.
Protected as noble birds
The cranes were protected in Honshu in the days of the Tokugawa shogunate
(regime). However, the cranes were hunted in Hokkaido. Salted crane meat
and live cranes were brought to Honshu from Hokkaido. These marvels served
as gifts among people in the ruling class.
Loss of protection and industrialization in Japan
When the Tokugawa shogunate ended in the 1860s, the cranes lost protection
in Honshu. Due to the increased hunting pressure across the entire distribution
range of the species, the red-crowned crane was thought to have disappeared
from Japan by the early 20th century.
Moreover, the newly founded Meiji government promoted the reclamation of
wetlands in Hokkaido. As a result, habitats for cranes were converted into
rice paddies in the central part of Hokkaido. Only small fragments of the
wetland remain in the central part of Hokkaido today.
Fortunately in 1924, about 10 cranes were re-discovered in the Kushiro
wetland in eastern Hokkaido.
Conservation actions by local residents
In 1950, a local farmer attempted feeding corn to the cranes in winter.
In early 1952, the cranes finally started to come to the corn.
Protection by national legislation
The first census was carried out in November 1952, and 33 cranes were found.
In the same year, the red-crowned crane and its habitat (2749 ha) were
designated as a special natural monument by the Japanese government.
Over time, more and more cranes gathered at feeding stations. Cranes were
able to access guaranteed supply of food regardless of the weather. Consequently,
the population began to increase.
Efforts to reduce accidents
Between the 1960s and mid-1970s, the rate of population increase slowed
down because up to 10% of cranes died each year due to collision with power
lines. The marker was attached to power lines to increase visibility. These
markers were effective, and the population size has been increasing steadily
Government-funded conservation measures
The national governmet has been financially supporting the three major
feeding stations. The local government has also been providing financial
support to several other feeding stations. Independently, some concerned
local residents have also been feeding the cranes.
Protection of habitats
In 1980, the Kushiro wetland became the first Ramsar site in Japan.
The Kushiro wetland was designated as a national park in 1987.