Winner avatar
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