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2021 Continuation Funding
2018 Whitley Award
Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association
Olivier Nsengimana Rwanda Wetland
Conserving Rwanda’s emblematic Grey Crowned Crane


A symbol of wealth and longevity, the Grey Crowned Crane is emblematic in a country rebuilding after the devastating genocide of 1994. Globally endangered, these birds have suffered a drastic decline over the last 45 years and currently, less than 500 remain in Rwanda. These majestic cranes are threatened by capture for domestic and international trade as pets for the rich and by destruction of the wetlands they inhabit.


Rwanda, one of Africa’s smallest countries, is also one of the most densely populated with high poverty rates, where over 70% of the population are engaged in farming. But with rapid economic development, Rwanda now has the fastest growing economy in central Africa. As human populations increase, wetlands are frequently being converted for agriculture and poverty continues to drive illegal poaching.


Olivier is determined to save these birds. Trained as a vet, he eschewed the role of livestock veterinarian to establish his own NGO, the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association, in 2014. 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 rehabilitate these birds to the wild. Olivier’s team are raising awareness of the crane’s plight to tackle trade and restore populations.

olivier’s project will:

  • Scale up outreach to reduce demand for illegal trade by raising awareness of the conservation status of cranes and the laws protecting them, reaching 4,000 people.
  • Train a network of volunteers to help combat poaching and monitor crane populations across the country.
  • Restore roost sites, with communities planting over 500 native trees – as this is one of only two crane species adapted to tree-roosting.

Why it matters:

  • Rwanda forms a watershed between Africa’s two major rivers, the Nile and the Congo.
  • Both men and women are key to conservation in Rwanda. Women fill 64% of parliamentary seats.
  • The project will increase protection of four wetlands.

“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 as I can.”

Film footage: Tusk Trust, Spectrecom Films, The Rolex Awards for Enterprise

2021 Continuation Funding

£70,000 over two years
Cross-boundary Collaboration to Conserve Grey Crowned Cranes

Grey Crowned Cranes are every bit as majestic as their name suggests, with a striking spray of golden feathers festooning their heads. Unfortunately, these stylish crowns also put them at risk from the illegal wildlife trade, while their wetland habitat is having the plug pulled at pace. In Rwanda, which forms a watershed between Africa’s two major rivers, the Nile and the Congo, extreme poverty is forcing people and wildlife to compete for the same limited resources; Grey Crowned Cranes have suffered a drastic decline.

Since winning a 2018 Whitley Award, Olivier Nsengimana and his NGO, RWCA, have released all known cranes from captivity into the wild. Through wetlands restoration, more ranger patrols and a 500% increase in green jobs for local people, they have succeeded in almost doubling the Grey Crowned Crane population from 459 to 881 between 2018 and 2020.


With Continuation Funding, Olivier will follow the birds’ migratory route and expand his work across national borders. He will collect data on Grey Crowned Cranes from neighboring Uganda and Tanzania, partnering with fellow Whitley Award alumni Jimmy Muheebwa and Kerryn Morrison. By training 100 Community Conservationists across countries, Olivier’s holistic approach promises a better future for both birds and people, ensuring improved livelihoods and freshwater security.