By Ben Gasore
Illegal human activities are threatening the bird watching sub-sector, the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) has warned.
Telesphore Ngoga, the head of the conservation division at the Rwanda Development Board, said encroachment on birds' habitats and illegal domestication and sale of some endemic birds have increased in the past few years putting the tourism industry at risk.
"As a result some bird species, especially the Grey crowned crane, face extinction. If illegal removal of these birds from their sanctuaries and poaching is not stopped, the species could get extinct in the next few years," Ngoga cautioned on Friday.
He said these illegal human activities have greatly led to decline in the population of the Grey crowned crane as they affect its breeding cycle. The bird's main habitat is wetlands and marshlands.
According to Ngoga, Rwanda currently has about 500 Grey crowned cranes, and has lost about the same number over the past 10 years.
"This is a big blow to the bird watching sub-sector and the tourism industry in general. We are appealing to the public to protect these and other birds so that the bird watching industry stays vibrant and attract more tourists."
Ngoga said the Grey crowned crane is hunted for meat and alleged medicinal value, while some people use the birds as pets in their households and hotels. He said they are also sold to global illegal wildlife dealers.
He added that RDB was recently forced to start an awareness campaign to discourage people from hunting the birds.
"We appeal to the public to report anyone found hunting, selling or keeping the Grey crowned cranes as pets.
"Whoever keeps the birds illegally or collects them or their eggs from the wild will be penalised according to the law," RDB said in a statement released last week. It ordered those domesticating the birds to take them back to their natural habitat immediately.
Ministerial Order number 007/2008 of 15/08/2008 bars anyone from domesticating, selling or collecting the grey crowned cranes' eggs.
Seven sites, covering 274,535 hectares (10 per cent of the size of the country), are currently characterised and protected as Important Bird Areas (IBAs).
Ngoga said other birds that are being threatened by human activities include the Red-collared Babbler, Albertine Owlet (both are only [found\ endemic in Rwanda), Ladgen's Bushshrike, Neumann's Warbler, Grauer's Swamp Warbler, Kungwe Apalis and the Purple-breasted Sunbird.
These are found in Volcanoes, Akagera and Nyungwe national parks, Gishwati Forest, and in Rugezi, Akanyaru and Nyabarongo swamps.
The habitats are home to over 650 bird species. About 15 per cent of the world's bird species are found in the East Africa.
Rwanda's bird watching industry is one of the products the country markets to tourists and is seen as a high potential tourist attraction.