3 minutes reading time (597 words)

Learning to Survive Together

For our newest partner, Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association (RWCA), educating the community about conservation goes hand in hand with protecting wildlife. Two of their main areas of focus are the endangered grey crowned crane and bat research and conservation. When news of a spreading coronavirus hit Rwanda in late February, RWCA immediately hosted public programs to alleviate fears about bats. While it is thought that COVID-19 originated from bats in China, it's still not clear how it jumped from bats to humans. Staff and volunteers at RWCA answered questions and explained that there was no evidence that bats in Rwanda were carrying the COVID-19 virus. It was a great opportunity to educate the public on how the virus is spread and how to take measures to keep themselves safe. 

Since then, Rwanda has moved to restrict movement throughout the country, closing businesses and food markets. RWCA has been impacted, but remains operational. They continue their important work in the field monitoring the grey crowned crane while keeping a safe social distance. Without rangers present, endangered and threatened animals could potentially become additional casualties during this pandemic.

Throughout Africa conservationist work is largely funded through tourism dollars which has now ceased. In some of the bigger game reserves located in South Africa, Botswana, and Kenya, for example, rangers are struggling to continue their work. Not only are they worried about how they are going to pay their employees, but their expenses are increasing due to increased poaching occurring in these remote regions. Tourism actually helped ebb poachers because of the increased crowds in the parks. Without safari tours, poachers have increased accessibility in these deserted areas. Therefore, rangers have had to increase their rotations to monitor and protect the wildlife in their own previously safe havens.

For RWCA, they are largely funded through corporate donations, but during this global pandemic they are learning some of those promised dollars will never reach the program. For now they still have paid staff in the field and they are relying on their Community Conservation Champions, who are volunteers, to continue monitoring the grey crowned cranes, both in the wild and those found in captivity.

This chick was found last week, by Conservation Champion Jacques in his local community. He immediately called RWCA to report the poached chick in his village but due to COVID-19 restrictions they were unable to respond. Jacques was trained by RWCA and had actively been monitoring cranes in this area. He remembered seeing a nesting couple nearby and located the family and reunited the chick with its parents. 

This is exactly what RWCA teaches. The idea is to empower the community to take the lead in protecting wildlife and habitats. It takes an entire village to change attitudes and customs to help protect and save a species.

Executive Director and Founder of RWCA Dr. Olivier Nsengimana wants to bring back the grey crowned crane and remove all those currently in captivity around Rwanda. RWCA is committed to promoting respect of wildlife and their habitat needed to survive. It is important to protect those cranes now recuperating at the sanctuary and to continue to discourage illegal poaching activities in these financially stressed times. 

Even during times when staying home keeps us apart, we need to work together to protect each other and our planet.

As a group they fly together, look for food together, and dance together. They are an example of working together, and seeing them reminds me that if I want to go far or achieve a lot, I need to work with others.

Dr. Olivier Nsengimana founder Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association
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