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Crested crane conservationist Olivier Nsengimana dedicates award to country

Nsengimana protects the crowned crane birds in Rwanda by fighting illegal trade, facilitating reintroduction programmes and engaging the local population to understand their importance.

Olivier Nsengimana, who was on Tuesday announced among three winners of a prestigious award and close to Rwf50 million (Euros 50,000), each, for their efforts in conservation of nature has told The New Times that the award is for the country, not him as a person.

He emphasized that there are “so many stakeholders” including the conservation department at Rwanda Development Board (RDB), Akagera National Park, and numerous other local and international entities “supporting us and made this happen.”


Nsengimana, founder of Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association (RWCA) won the Future For Nature (FFN) 2019 Award which celebrates tangible achievements in protecting wild animal and plant species.


“The award is not a personal award but for the country, really. It means a lot to me and our crowned crane conservation effort but more so to our country. The speed of success in Rwanda’s conservation effort is commendable; it comes from a collective effort,” Nsengimana said.


“I am happy. All the work done is a collective effort as there is facilitation from government, local communities and many other stakeholders. This award is also proof that the commitment from our government is bearing fruit.”

The FFN winners of 2019 – Nsengimana, 34, Fernanda Abra, 32, (Brazil), Divya Karnad, 34, (India) – were selected out of eight shortlisted conservationists.

Abra successfully reduced traffic accidents between animals and vehicles in Brazil through preventive protection measures, data collection and analysis and special training for drivers and traffic officials.

Karnad successfully reduces the unwanted bycatch of endangered sharks along the Coromandel Coast of India.

About Nsengimana’s work

Nsengimana protects the crowned crane birds in Rwanda by fighting illegal trade, facilitating reintroduction programmes and engaging the local population to understand the importance of crowned cranes.

Last year, he was presented with the Whitley Award along with a prize then worth £40,000 (Rwf34 million) in project funding over one year, in London.

In 2014, he won the 2014 Rolex Awards for Enterprise for his conservation approach to protect grey-crowned cranes.

After graduating top of his class at the former Higher Institute of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry (ISAE-Busogo), now College of Agriculture, Animal Science and Veterinary Medicine (CAVM), under the University of Rwanda (UR), Nsengimana worked as a field veterinarian with gorilla doctors.

In 2014, he designed a project idea to save the endangered bird and combat its illegal trade.

A year later, he founded RWCA, allowing him to continue his work on grey crowned cranes and expand to research and conservation projects connected to other endangered or threatened species.

“We thank every Rwandan for their support to save the cranes. We also want to remind everyone that it is illegal to poach, sell or keep cranes and other wildlife in captivity. In collaboration with RDB, we will soon remove all captive cranes and we would like to remind anyone who has not registered their cranes to do so,” Nsengimana said.

Grey crowned cranes are endangered because of the poaching of cranes and their chicks for the pet trade, and poaching eggs for food.

The birds’ population has reportedly reduced by 80 percent over the last five decades and it is feared that if threats – including destruction of their habitat – are not reduced quickly, Rwanda will soon lose the species.

“I love everything about Olivier and his project, along with his impressive track record as a gorilla vet,” said Saba Douglas-Hamilton, International Selection Committee.

“He’s clearly a very charismatic emerging conservation leader, whose success in unraveling the complex cultural sentiments surrounding crowned cranes has evolved into an excellent home grown rescue effort.”

In the Netherlands, the FFN supports young, talented and ambitious conservationists committed to protecting species of wild animals, plants and ecosystems.

The three conservationists will receive the Award, and Euros 50,000 per winner, on May 3, during the Future For Nature Awards event at Royal Burgers’ Zoo, in Arnhem, Netherlands.

Impact of award

For Nsengimana, the FFN Academy announced that the financial support will, among others, make it possible to build capacity of the marsh rangers at Rugezi marsh, in Burera District, and the country-wide network of conservation champions through ongoing training and mentorship.

A community youth environmental club near Akanyaru wetland will also be set up.

Through this club, it is noted, the youth will learn about the environment, take action to protect and care about their local area and be involved in tree planting events.

Nsengimana said: “The award money will help us expand and enhance our community work and conservation efforts. We have a team; 25 marsh rangers and 30 conservation champions all over the country.”

The post release monitoring of the 150 reintroduced cranes within Akagera National Park will be improved by introducing technologies such as GPS tags, providing valuable data on crane behavior and habitat use.

He explained that in the past they were unable to efficiently track and monitor the birds taken back to the park but once they buy and employ expensive technology, thanks to the award cash, this will be achievable.

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