ICF Colleague Receives Rolex Award for Grey Crowned Crane Conservation in Rwanda

A single individual can make a difference, and the International Crane Foundation (ICF) and our major partner in Africa, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), congratulate wildlife conservationist and veterinarian, Olivier Nsengimana, for receiving the 2014 Rolex Award for Enterprise for his work to protect Grey Crowned Cranes in Rwanda. The recognition of Olivier’s work reminds us of the impact that each of us can make, while highlighting the threats of habitat loss and wildlife trafficking to the endangered Grey Crowned Crane, the world’s fastest declining crane species.

“Olivier is making a real difference through his work with the Rwandan Government to address illegal crane trade, essentially the only country in Africa taking such a solid stance on this issue,” said Kerryn Morrison, Manager of ICF’s Africa Crane Conservation Program. “For over a decade, the ICF/EWT Partnership for African Cranes has been working to reduce illegal Grey Crowned Crane trade, and we are thrilled by the recognition that Olivier’s work is receiving.”

In 2012, the ICF/EWT Partnership identified a growing crane trafficking problem in Rwanda through research at Rugezi Marsh, a critical site for Grey Crowned Cranes in northern Rwanda. Through the support of the MacArthur Foundation, and in partnership with the Albertine Rift Conservation Society and Kitabi College of Conservation and Environmental Management, our surveys concluded that none of the breeding Grey Crowned Cranes in Rugezi Marsh raised chicks. After speaking with local communities, we learned that all of the chicks were caught for people living in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, and other cities, for display at hotels and for other private owners in the country. Awareness of the issue across the country grew as a result of this research, touching many people, including Olivier.

Born in Rwanda, Olivier grew up hearing the calls of wild Grey Crowned Cranes, but today there are less than 500 in the wild in his country and many people have never seen a wild crowned crane. Today, Olivier’s goal is to develop an understanding of where Grey Crowned Cranes are in captivity and return these birds to the wild when possible. Cranes that private owners can no longer care for are moved to a new quarantine facility in Kigali and are later sent to Akagera National Park in northeast Rwanda, where they are released into the wild or kept in semi-captivity if they cannot be released. The hope is that the released birds will begin to slowly re-populate the park and its surroundings and ultimately begin breeding.

The ICF/EWT Partnership has recently received a second MacArthur Foundation grant to continue our work at Rugezi Marsh focusing on community conservation initiatives, while also beginning work at other key Grey Crowned Crane sites in Rwanda. Together with Olivier, we hope to increase national awareness of Grey Crowned Cranes and work with private owners to properly care for, and where relevant, release their captive cranes. In 2015, we will be collaborating to develop a comic book about the illegal capture and trade of cranes that we plan to use to raise awareness across East Africa. We wonder who Olivier, in turn, will inspire?