The second phase of our crane and wetland conservation project in Rwanda started during the last week of October. During the first phase (2012 – 2014), our focus was solely on Rugezi Marsh, a key site for Grey Crowned Cranes located in the northern region of the country. Under the second phase of the project, to be implemented over the next two years, our geographical focus will be broader. We will cover Akanyaru and Nyabarongo, two wetland systems known to support crane populations. As part of the launch of the second phase, reconnaissance visits to all the three wetland sites were undertaken.
Visits to Akanyaru and Nyabarongo enabled us to get an overview of current land use, biophysical attributes, threats and overall extent of the wetlands. We spent time at Rugezi Marsh brainstorming on ways to ensure that our expanded community livelihood interventions are linked to a tangible wetland conservation impacts. A trip to Akagera National Park was also organised to view a site where rehabilitated cranes are released into the wild. Three crane breeding pairs were observed at Akanyaru and Rugezi. Given that cranes have generally declined in Rwanda since the 1980s, the presence of pairs and flocks at sites located within Akagera National Park and rural landscapes adjacent the park was encouraging.
These reconnaissance visits helped us identify challenges that may hinder conservation success as well as opportunities for enhancing our conservation impacts at each site. Notable among the challenges is high community dependence on wetland-based livelihoods. We noted that despite the high utilisation pressure on the target wetlands, there are opportunities to use innovative methods (legislative and community-based) to secure unconverted wetland sections, facilitate recovery of degraded patches and curb further encroachment. A more detailed assessment of the wetlands (Akanyaru and Nyabarongo) and comprehensive survey of cranes will be undertaken over the next three months.
Our project is funded by the MacArthur Foundation and is being implemented in partnership with the Kitabi College of Conservation and Environmental Management (KCCEM).