In Rwanda, as in most African countries where the species is found, conservation of Grey Crowned Cranes has not been high on the environmental agenda of rural communities. Over the years, the species’ habitats have been degraded and cases of direct persecution escalated across the country. Through an ongoing project funded by the MacArthur Foundation, the Grey Crowned Crane is gradually being put on the local communities’ environmental conservation agenda. This is being achieved through community engagement processes, ultimately aimed at building a network of local custodians of the species, drawn from local wetland user communities. This work is being conducted by a team of three site-based Field Assistants working at wetlands that support crane breeding pairs and flocks (Akanyaru Wetland, Nyabarongo Wetland and Rugezi Marsh). The team is led by Dr. Olivier Nsengimana, the Rwanda Crane and Wetland Conservation Coordinator.
The Field Assistants have made several breakthroughs since the project was launched in October 2015. Prior to the launch, most community members were not aware that Grey Crowned Cranes were declining drastically and that the species was protected under the Rwandan wildlife policy. Through the dissemination of relevant information, the Field Assistants are gradually building new environmental values and a sense of attachment to cranes in the areas they operate. They are using platforms such as school events, community development meetings and community service days (Umuganda) to spread the message of crane conservation effectively. These platforms also provide opportunities for them to explain the linkages between wetland conservation and community livelihoods. They have succeeded in mapping breeding, foraging and roosting sites and have also documented the economic and cultural values attached to wetlands (cranes’ breeding habitats) and trees (used by cranes as roost sites). The information they collect will be useful in determining the costs and benefits of conservation (economic and social). With the Field Assistants playing the role of crane conservation ambassadors effectively, Rwanda is making great strides towards our long-term vision of human-crane coexistence in rural landscapes.
The Rwanda Crane and Wetland Conservation Project is a joint initiative between the International Crane Foundation /Endangered Wildlife Trust Partnership and Kitabi College of Conservation and Environmental Management.