The Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association (RWCA) uses a holistic approach to address key conservation issues affecting Rwanda’s wildlife. Their particular focus is the grey-crowned crane, an endangered bird species poached most commonly for the illegal pet trade. RWCA have implemented outreach programmes throughout the country, including media campaigns and environmental youth clubs, to raise awareness of the importance of conservation and protecting the crane in particular. Each year, RWCA carry out a crane census, with numbers of individuals increasing per year.
RWCA is active throughout Rwanda, although they work particularly in the biodiversity hotspots of Rugezi marshland and Akagera National Park.
The poaching and wildlife trade problem
Species affected Grey Crowned Crane Balearica regulorumProducts in trade
Grey crowned cranes are trafficked for the illegal pet trade.
Overview of the problem
The grey crowned crane is seen as a symbol of wealth and longevity in Rwanda, so are kept as pets in hotels and by wealthy families. Throughout Rwanda there is a general lack of awareness of the crane’s endangered status and the laws protecting the species. Crane eggs and chicks are usually poached by local people in order to make money for their families.
The anti-IWT initiative
RWCA take a holistic approach to tackling key conservation issues. Their main focus is to protect the endangered grey crowned crane, a species threated by poaching and habitat loss. To do this, RWCA uses community outreach programmes alongside crane rehabilitation to raise awareness of threats to the species, stabilise their population, and improve local livelihoods.
RWCA primarily work with local communities around important crane habitats – Rugezi marshland and Akagera National Park. These communities have high levels of poverty and it’s RWCA’s aim to tackle the dual problems of illegal trade and habitat loss at its source through activities such as education, law enforcement and supporting alternative sources of income.
Community campaigns are carried out in strategic locations, such as market places, in order to target the most amount of people. The campaigns hope to increase awareness of grey crown cranes and to change traditional beliefs surrounding their use and status. Key conservation messages are promoted alongside quizzes and competitions, with each event reaching up to 1000 people.
RWCA have also created a comic in collaboration with the International Crane Foundation to educate and inspire school children on the need to care for the environment. A key message in the comic is not to take crane eggs or chicks and the comics have reached over 20,000 young children who have pledged to protect the grey crowned cranes.
In addition, an Educational Arts Programme has been set up for children living near Rugezi marsh to promote the protection of the grey crowned crane. A total of seven Youth Environmental Clubs have been started in communities near Rugezi marsh and Akagera National Park. These clubs meet each week to learn about the environment, with a particular focus on the grey crowned crane and their habitat.
Community conservation agreements
These agreements require community members to commit to conservation actions in return for benefits. Conservation actions include protecting crane breeding sites or providing information on illegal activities.
Community Conservation Champions
These champions are recruited from communities at biodiversity hotspots throughout Rwanda. There is now a network of 30 champions, who volunteer to conduct field visits, record crane sightings and work with other local stakeholders to protect the species and deliver key conservation messages. Over 100 community events, reaching more than 11,000 people, were held in 2019.
RWCA have recruited over 30 men and women Marsh Rangers from within communities around Rugezi marshland. The rangers patrol the marshland, monitoring the crane population and reporting on illegal activities, as well as educating community members on key conservation messages. The latter is particularly important given most people aren’t aware that their actions are illegal. The rangers also work with local leaders to increase law enforcement efforts and raise awareness of existing laws related to conservation. Annual workshops with the rangers, local leaders and conservation champions also provide a space to discuss any challenges to do with conservation that have arisen within the community.
RWCA has worked with the Rwandan Government to register all captive cranes in the country, with many individuals released back into the wild in Akagera National Park. RWCA has also set up a sanctuary for the birds that weren’t healthy enough to be released, called Umusambi Village.
Inclusion of gender, age and ethnic groups
Outreach campaigns aim to target as many people as possible.
Strengthening disincentives for illegal behaviour
RWCA recruits and trains rangers from communities surrounding Rugezi marsh.
Education campaigns hope to increase local reporting on illegal activities.
Increasing incentives for wildlife stewardship
Umusambi Village collaborates with communities surrounding the area, ensuring that they benefit from eco-tourism opportunities.
Increasing livelihoods that are not related to wildlife
Umusambi Village aims to source all labour, plants and merchandise from local businesses and artisans.
Build/and or support sense of community ownership or stewardshipFurther detail
Outreach activities aim to change community attitudes to the environment. Marsh rangers are recruited from local communities to enhance a sense of ownership and management over the environment.
Improving education and awarenessFurther detail
RWCA undertakes national media campaigns to educate the general population on the threats faced by the cranes.
RWCA targets school children to change their attitudes toward the environment and to teach them the importance of conserving the cranes.
Has the initiative made a difference?
Post-release monitoring of the birds through an annual census shows that in 2020 there are 881 grey crowned cranes across Rwanda, up from 394 in 2014.
An evaluation of RWCA’s education activities for school children shows a positive impact on their attitudes to the environment, including taking crane eggs from the wild. The activities also resulted in more children understanding the threats faced by the cranes and an increase in those saying they would take action if they saw someone else trying to take crane eggs.
What works and why
Recruiting rangers from within local communities has strengthened RWCA’s community model of protection of Rugezi marshland. Both this and extensive outreach campaigns have contributed to attitude and behaviour changes within local communities.
Organisers, donors and partners
RWCA receive support from a number of different donors.
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