The Rwanda Development Board is calling for government protection of the Grey Crowned Crane (known as Imisambi in Kinyarwanda) as a shocking decline of the bird's numbers has been reported in Rwanda.
Human activities are the main factors leading to the decline of the population of grey crowned cranes as they restrict the breeding success. Additionally, habitat has been lost or degraded due to the rapid increase in the human population.
Most importantly, the grey crowned cranes are threatened by their removal from the wild. The practice of illegal capture and domestication of the Cranes is rampant throughout Rwanda and if it is not stopped, it might lead to the species' disappearance in the wild.
The birds are found as pets at some hotels, households, exported by illegal wildlife traders, and have a role in traditional medicine and local cultural beliefs.
Therefore, an awareness campaign to discourage the capture of grey crowned cranes is ongoing. Officials at RDB warn that existing legislation stipulated in the organic law N° 04/2005 of 08/04/2005, penal code and ministerial orders No.007/2008 of 15/08/2008 will be applied to whoever keeps grey crowned cranes in captivity illegally, captures them or collects their eggs from the wild.
Apart from preventing a species from going extinct, protection of the birds also has benefits for Rwanda. During a conference on the protection of grey crowned cranes in September last year, Coletha Ruhamya, the deputy director general of Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), indicated that these birds contribute to the promotion of tourism. "Like other birds, grey crowned cranes attract tourists and this contributes to the country's economy."
She also noted that grey crowned crane is well known and is considered an iconic species by local people. "This species was culturally respected and it was a totem for clans. As such, the bird benefited from protection because, culturally, it was not allowed for a clan to kill its animal totem."
In addition, cranes also play role of pest control by eating insects that endanger crops.
It is estimated that there are currently not more than 500 grey crowned cranes left in Rwanda. They are found in Akagera Park, Rugezi marshland, Bugesera, and some other marshlands.