The Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association (RWCA) is a non-governmental organisation registered in Rwanda and founded and run by local Rwandans. One of its goals is to protect the endangered Grey Crowned Cranes in Rwanda and to prevent their trade. The main goal is to create sustainable solutions on the ground. By protecting natural habitats, providing veterinary care for confiscated and injured cranes, and engaging and educating local communities while improving their livelihoods, this is achieved. In the process, people are sensitised to conservation issues, capacities of young Rwandan conservationists are built and high quality research and evaluation is used.
Rwanda is a geographically small country with incredible biodiversity. However, due to the high population density and existing poverty, there is a high pressure on the natural landscape. This pressure leads to overuse of resources and strong competition between people and wildlife. In Rwanda, there are currently only about 500 Grey Crowned Cranes left in the wild. Their population has declined by 80% in the last 45 years and the Grey Crowned Crane is currently listed as "Critically Endangered" on the IUCN Red List. The species is severely threatened by habitat destruction and poaching, among other factors. Mostly out of obscurity, Grey Crowned Cranes in Rwanda have often been kept in captivity by hotels and wealthy families in the past. These improperly kept cranes are usually stressed and malnourished. Because of clipped or even injured wings, they are prevented from flying. These animals do not reproduce and they usually die prematurely. Very few people in Rwanda know that there is a law to protect them and that they are also an endangered species.
In 2017, the Landau Zoo, the Zoo School and its circle of friends, in cooperation with the Federal Working Group on Africa of the German Society for Nature Conservation, among others, provided funds for the purchase of a plot of land in the Burera district, Rwerere sector. The land thus acquired by the RWCA is now used for meetings of youth environmental clubs as well as by the cooperative of RWCA-trained rangers for beekeeping and for vegetable and rabbit breeding.
Despite the Covid 19 pandemic and travel restrictions, the champions and rangers were able to respond quickly to cases of poaching and other illegal activities. Community teams conducted supervision and training of RWCA staff, including field visits, regular communication and check-ins, which provide motivation and support.
There is a team of community rangers in the Rugezi Swamp area whose role is to patrol the swamp, monitor and protect the Crowned Crane population and educate community members on the need for species conservation. Illegal activities are reported to local officials for follow-up.
In the period from September to December 2020, the Rangers team completed 470 patrols in the marsh (an average of 118 per month). During this time they recorded 1,030 illegal activities, 66% of which were reported to local officers for tracking. 387 crowned cranes, including 32 breeding pairs and 67 chicks, were sighted and recorded using the CyberTracker app.
The rangers' work was particularly important during this period, as an increase in illegal activities was noted, such as cutting grass from the protected marsh to make mats and for livestock feed. A slight increase in fishing and some hunting activities were also observed. Close work is being done with communities to understand the changes, such as the economic impacts of Covid-19 and the increase in poverty and hunger, and to try to respond appropriately.