Rwandan conservationist wins Rwf35m Rolex Award

A young Rwandan wildlife veterinarian's project that seeks to save the endangered grey-crowned crane has scooped this year's Rolex Award about Rwf35.4 million (50,000 Swiss francs).
Nsengimana is helped by workmates to tag a grey-crowned crane in an earlier photo. (Courtesy)
Nsengimana is helped by workmates to tag a grey-crowned crane in an earlier photo. (Courtesy)

A young Rwandan wildlife veterinarian’s project that seeks to save the endangered grey-crowned crane has scooped this year’s Rolex Award about Rwf35.4 million (50,000 Swiss francs).

The conservationist, Olivier Nsengimana, 30, was selected by an international jury from among several entrants under an annual grant programme by global watch maker, Rolex, according to Rebecca Irwin, the global head of philanthropy at Rolex.

Irwin said Nsengimana would use the one-off grant to promote breeding programmes of Rwanda’s endangered grey crowned crane in a bid to promote wildlife bio-diversity.

His award was among the five Rolex Awards for Enterprise given out this year, Irwin said.

“These awards seek to foster a spirit of enterprise and advance human knowledge and well-being by funding exceptional individuals like Nsengimana carrying out innovative projects,” she explained during a press conference to announce vet’s win in Kigali on Friday.

The veterinarian is the first Rwandan to win a Rolex Award in the programme’s almost 40-year history. After working for several years in gorilla conservation, Nsengimana turned his attention to the grey-crowned crane, one of the bird-species in the country that are facing threat from poaching and habitat encroachment.

“A lot of focus has been put on saving gorillas over the past years after people realised their importance when they are alive. Grey-crowned birds equally play an important role to our society and I felt there was need to save them by designing this project,” Nsengimana said.

Grey-crowned cranes are used as pets by some hotels, households, or exported by illegal wildlife dealers. Some people kill them as they believe the birds have medicinal value, while others use them in traditional and cultural rituals.

Rwanda currently has an estimated 500 grey-crowned cranes and has lost about the same number over the past 10 years.

The birds are mainly found around wet and marshlands countrywide.

Nsengimana said his project will involve setting up a habitat for grey-crowned cranes that will be rescued from captivity or those impounded from smugglers, as well as leg-tagging of the birds to protect them from poachers.

“I also plan to create comic books to educate children and youth in Rwanda and abroad on the importance of conservation,” he said.