Rwandan honoured for effort to conserve grey crowned crane

Rwandan Olivier Nsengimana won the Whitley Award for conserving Rwanda’s emblematic grey crowned crane. Courtesy.

A Rwandan conservation leader working to save the endangered and symbolic grey crowned crane was on Wednesday presented with the prestigious Whitley Award by HRH The Princess Royal in London.

Olivier Nsengimana, the founder of Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association (RWCA), received his award at the Royal Geographical Society, London at a ceremony attended by over 500 guests, according to a statement.

Nsengimana is among the six Whitley Award recipients recognised for their work with local communities to protect threatened wildlife and their habitat around the globe.

Each award winner received a prize worth £40,000 (Rwf34 million) in project funding over one year, according to a statement from the Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN).

“The Whitley Award funding will enable Olivier to train a network of volunteers to combat poaching and monitor crane populations across the country. He will scale up outreach to reduce demand by raising awareness of the precarious conservation status of cranes and the laws protecting them. The project will help to conserve four wetlands and restore roost sites, with communities planting over 500 native trees,” the statement reads in part.

Trained as a vet, Nsengimana shunned practicing and instead established his own NGO in 2014 after discovering that Rwanda’s grey crowned cranes were in dramatic decline. With less than 500 remaining, these birds were in trouble.

The Whitley Awards are prestigious international prizes presented to individuals in recognition of their achievements in nature conservation.

Last September, 30 grey crested cranes were rescued from homes around Kigali and reintroduced to a marshland in Akagera National Park.

This brought the number to about 130 grey crowned cranes that have been rescued from homes and reintroduced into their natural habitat, mainly to Akagera Park, since 2015.

Conservationists have expressed concern that as Rwanda continues to experience significant economic growth and development, with a demand to transform wetlands into agricultural land, the grey crowned crane, are increasingly becoming endangered due to marshland degradation and rare domestication.

These birds are a regarded as a symbol of wealth and longevity, and emblematic.

“While it is illegal to capture or eat grey crowned cranes, these majestic birds are threatened by poaching for domestic and international trade as pets for the rich, and people driven by poverty capture cranes to sell in order to support their families,” Whitley Fund for Nature further stated.

Edward Whitley, Founder of the Whitley Fund for Nature, said in the statement that, “Olivier’s work has had an undeniable impact on the conservation of grey crowned cranes in Rwanda. We’re thrilled to be able to support Olivier, especially during our milestone year as we celebrate our 25th anniversary. His efforts and approach to conservation will help to sustain this species for future generations.” 

The other winners who will each receive £40,000 in funding to support their work to conserve some of the planet’s most endangered species and spectacular places, include; Dominique Bikaba, from Democratic Republic of Congo, for ensuring the survival of DRC’s eastern lowland gorillas; Kerstin Forsberg, from Peru, who has been instrumental in creating safe passage for manta rays in Peru; and Shahriar Caesar Rahman, from Bangladesh, for establishing community conservation of Asia’s largest tortoise.

Others include Munir Virani, from Kenya, who initiated a strategy to save Kenya’s threatened vultures; and Anjali Chandraraj Watson, from Sri Lanka, for ensuring Leopards as a flagship for wildlife corridors.

Read More here: Grey Crowned Cranes rescued from city homes

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