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Whitley Award donated by The Savitri Waney Charitable Trust

Rwandese conservationist recognised with Whitley Award to tackle poaching of the country’s grey crowned crane

A Rwandese conservation leader working to save the symbolic grey crowned crane was yesterday (Wednesday 25 April) presented with a prestigious Whitley Award by HRH The Princess Royal.

Olivier Nsengimana, Founder of the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association (RWCA), received his award at the Royal Geographical Society, London at a Ceremony in front of 500 guests. Olivier is one of six Whitley Award winners recognised for their work with local communities to protect threatened wildlife and their habitat around the globe.

Trained as a vet, Olivier eschewed the role to establish his own NGO in 2014 after discovering Rwanda’s grey crowned cranes were in dramatic decline. With less than 500 remaining, these birds were in trouble.

A symbol of wealth and longevity, the grey crowned crane is emblematic in a country rebuilding after the devastating genocide of 1994. Today Rwanda is experiencing significant economic growth and development, with a demand to transform wetlands into agricultural land.

While it is illegal to capture or eat grey crowned cranes, these majestic birds are threatened by poaching for domestic and international trade as pets for the rich, and people driven by poverty capture cranes to sell in order to support their families.

Olivier is determined to save these birds. His team have already registered all captive cranes in the country to ensure that no more are brought into captivity, and his veterinary skills are proving vital to re-habilitate these birds to the wild.

His Whitley Award funding will enable Olivier to train a network of volunteers to combat poaching and monitor crane populations across the country. He will scale up outreach to reduce demand by raising awareness of the precarious conservation status of cranes and the laws protecting them. The project will help to conserve four wetlands and restore roost sites, with communities planting over 500 native trees.

Edward Whitley, Founder of the Whitley Fund for Nature, said: “Olivier’s work has had an undeniable impact on the conservation of grey crowned cranes in Rwanda. We’re thrilled to be able to support Olivier, especially during our milestone year as we celebrate our 25th anniversary. His efforts and approach to conservation will help to sustain this species for future generations.”

Olivier said: “Rwandese are working together to rebuild our country. As a conservationist, this is what I have to contribute to my country and I am passionate to do it as best I can.”

An annual event, often referred to by others as the ‘Green Oscars’, the 2018 Whitley Awards, are part of Whitley Fund for Nature’s 25th Anniversary celebrations.

The winners will each receive £40,000 in funding to support their work to conserve some of the planet’s most endangered species and spectacular places.

This year’s Whitley Gold Award honours Pablo (Popi) Borboroglu, who is spearheading a campaign to protect endangered penguins across the globe. Pablo has already achieved dramatic conservation success, helping to protect more than 3.1 million hectares of marine and coastal habitats. The Gold Award, worth £60,000, will enable Pablo to justify ocean protection and underpin management for different species of penguins across Argentina, Chile and New Zealand.

The 2018 Whitley Award winners are:

Dominique Bikaba – DRC

Ensuring the survival of DRC’s eastern lowland gorillas

Receiving the Whitley Award donated by Arcus Foundation

Kerstin Forsberg – Peru

Majestic giants: safe passage for manta rays in Peru

Receiving the Whitley Award donated by The Corcoran Foundation

Olivier Nsengimana – Rwanda

Conserving Rwanda’s emblematic grey crowned crane

Receiving the Whitley Award donated The Savitri Waney Charitable Trust

Shahriar Caesar Rahman – Bangladesh

Tortoises in trouble: Community conservation of Asia’s largest tortoise

Receiving the Whitley Award donated by The William Brake Charitable Trust in memory of William Brake

Munir Virani – Kenya

Game of poisons: a strategy to save Kenya’s threatened vultures

Receiving the Whitley Award donated by WWF-UK

Anjali Chandraraj Watson – Sri Lanka

Leopards as a flagship for wildlife corridors

Receiving the Whitley Award donated by Garfield Weston Foundation


Press materials available:

  • Copyright-cleared photographs of this project are available here:
  • Video footage of the Awards Ceremony and individual films featuring the award winner narrated by WFN trustee, Sir David Attenborough, will be available upon arrangement with Liquid: contact Madeline Arnold, t:+44 (0) 121 285 3760, e: [email protected] or Chloe Baker, t:+44 (0) 121 285 3760, e: [email protected]

Notes to Editors:

  • The Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) is a UK registered charity that champions outstanding grassroots leaders in nature conservation across the Global South. This year the charity is marking its 25th
  • The Whitley Awards are prestigious international prizes presented to individuals in recognition of their achievements in nature conservation. Each Award winner receives a prize worth £40,000 in project funding over one year. The charity’s patron, HRH The Princess Royal, presents the Awards annually at a special ceremony in London.
  • The Whitley Gold Award is worth £60,000 and recognises an outstanding past recipient of a Whitley Award who has gone on to make a significant contribution to conservation. Joining the Judging Panel to assist in selection, the Gold winner also acts as a mentor to Whitley Award winners receiving their Awards in the same year.
  • Since its beginnings 25 years ago, the Whitley Fund for Nature has given nearly £15 million to conservation and recognised more than 190 conservation leaders in over 80 countries.
  • WFN operates a rigorous application process involving expert panel representation from international NGOs including WWF-UK, Fauna and Flora International (FFI) and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). This year, WFN received 136 applications which passed through four stages of assessment, reviewed at every step by expert screeners and panellists who kindly offer their expertise voluntarily.
  • The Whitley Awards are open to individuals working on wildlife conservation issues in biodiversity-rich, resource poor countries. Further eligibility criteria are available from Liquid.
  • During their trip to London for the Awards week finalists have the opportunity to meet the judges, WFN’s trustees including Sir David Attenborough, and patron HRH The Princess Royal. In addition they participate in professional media and speech training, attend networking receptions with leading conservation organisations, meet WFN donors and are interviewed by the media. The associated publicity of winning a Whitley Award puts a spotlight on their important work, boosting profile both in the UK and winner’s home countries.
  • Whitley Award winners join an international network of Whitley alumni eligible to apply for Continuation Funding grants. These follow-on grants are awarded competitively to winners seeking to scale up their effective conservation results on the ground over multiple years.

WFN is generously supported by: Arcus Foundation; The Balcombe Trust; The William Brake Charitable Trust; The Byford Trust; The Corcoran Foundation; Earlymarket; The G D Charitable Trust; The LJC Fund; Britta & Jeremy Lloyd Family Charitable Trust; Lund Trust, a charitable fund of Peter Baldwin and Lisbet Rausing; The Foundation for the Promotion of Wellbeing; The Rufford Foundation; The Schroder Foundation; Fondation Segré; The Shears Foundation; The Constance Travis Charitable Trust; Savitri Waney Charitable Trust; Garfield Weston Foundation; Whitley Animal Protection Trust; WWF-UK; the Friends and Scottish Friends of Whitley Fund for Nature; all our partners and supporters and those donors who have chosen to give anonymously.
Whitley Fund for Nature and the Whitley Awards are not associated with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
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