The grey crowned crane is easily recognisable by its spiky crane and golden buff. While its numbers might be stable or increasing in some countries, this is not the case in all parts of Africa. In Rwanda, there are fewer than 500 individuals left in the wild as the population has declined by 79% over the last 45 years.
But now a unique organisation started by people from Rwandan communities is helping to protect the grey crowned crane. The Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association (RWCA) is founded and run by Rwandans who come from, and understand the challenges in, local communities.
The focus of the RWCA is on stopping illegal trade by removing animals from captivity. More than 150 of these Endangered birds have already been reintroduced to their new home in Akagera National
Park, Central Africa’s largest protected wetland.
To help stop poaching, the RWCA’s latest focus is on local communities living in key crane areas. By educating and engaging with communities, the RWCA hopes to change the perceptions of communities. It aims to create ownership of the resources and wildlife in the region, create a desire to protect it, and teach the communities about the opportunities that come with the resources around them. For now, all work is focused on the Rugezi Marsh in northern Rwanda, and Akagera, but the Akanyaru and the Nyabarongo river wetlands will be included.
There have already been six comic-book events at primary schools to create awareness and educate the youngsters. Two took place near the Rugezi Marsh, a key crane area. The initiative reached 5 784 children, teaching them not to remove crane eggs or chicks from the wild.
The RWCA also organised two workshops with local leaders and security officers around the Rugezi Marsh and Akagera. This was basically a refresher course about grey crowned cranes and the importance of protecting the marshland/natural areas.
Also implemented by the RWCA was the third national crane census in Rwanda, which found crane numbers to be higher than the previous count. This could be due to cross-border fluctuations, but also due to conservation efforts. In total, 748 cranes were seen, up from 487 and 459 in previous years.
Lastly, the RWCA also established the Umusambi Village, a new 21ha facility within a protected wetland for disabled crown cranes rescued from captivity. Just recently, 51 cranes were moved to the facility. This small nature reserve acts as recreational space for families, tourists and school groups. Plans are to add an educational facility to help raise awareness of crane conservation.
The Community Conservation Fund Africa (CCFA), in collaboration with the TUSK Trust, is supporting the RWCA in this endeavour to create awareness and protect a species. “This project is exactly what CCFA stands for, as the RWCA is working with the people to educate and empower them to understand the importance of saving this Endangered species,” says Di Luden from CCFA.
The CCFA aims to support projects that educate and empower local African communities to take ownership of wildlife and conservation areas in which they live. The CCFA will fund projects that support the transition of land, and avoid biodiversity loss, as using land sustainably ensures greater benefits for the people and for the greater natural environment.
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