Saving Endangered Grey Crowned Cranes in Rwanda

Olivier Nsengimana – Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association, Kigali, Rwanda


WAZA Conservation Project 16004


Despite being a small country, Rwanda has an incredible variety of biodiversity; however, it also has a high human population density and extreme poverty. This results in resources and land being overstretched and high competition between people and wildlife.


The grey crowned crane (Balearica regulorum) is the only species of crane in Rwanda and is symbolic of wealth and longevity; yet it faces increasing threats to its habitat and a growing illegal trade. In Rwanda, there are only an estimated 300 to 500 grey crowned cranes left in the wild. The overall population has declined by up to 79% over the past 45 years and the species is currently listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. If nothing is done, Rwanda will lose one of its most iconic species.


Grey crowned cranes are threatened by human factors, including habitat loss and poaching of adults, chicks and eggs. This is often driven by conditions of poverty, disadvantage and lack of conservation awareness as well as people and animals competing for the same habitat. Despite it being illegal, grey crowned cranes are often kept in captivity by hotels and wealthy families who are unaware of the environmental consequences of doing so. These animals are usually stressed, malnourished, have their wings broken to prevent them from flying, do not breed and die prematurely.


This project provides holistic and socially aware conservation approaches to combat the illegal trade in grey crowned cranes and to reverse the loss of their habitat. By using a multidisciplinary approach to target the problem from all angles, the project ensures that the impact is long term and sustainable. Activities include those that protect grey crowned cranes and their habitat and reduce illegal trade, engage and educate communities and improve livelihoods, raise awareness of conservation issues, build capacity of young conservationists and disseminate high-quality research. Designed and run by Rwandans, who come from and understand local communities and their challenges, this project has the key support from the Rwandan government and international organisations.