Olivier Nsengimana: Safeguarding the future of Rwanda’s gray crowned cranes

National Geographic Explorer Olivier Nsengimana is on a mission to protect the gray crowned crane, its habitat, and build a community where animals and humans can thrive together. 

Just five years ago, it was easier to see a gray crowned crane in captivity than in the wild in Rwanda. Olivier Nsengimana, a local veterinarian who has dedicated himself to the species, remembers it well.

Nsengimana says they were “everywhere--in hotels and in the gardens of private houses, captured and sold openly around the country." 

Now, thanks in large part to Nsengimana’s efforts, the illegal crane trade has diminished, and the most recent census revealed a nearly 150 percent increase in the gray crowned crane population in the wild over the past five years.

Nsengimana traces his passion for wildlife to his youth. "As a young boy, "I enjoyed playing outside, watching different wild animals running in forests,” he recalls. “I always remember these moments." 

Gray crowned cranes were abundant in his childhood neighborhood, and Nsengimana says that falling in love with them was "unavoidable." Over the course of his life, though, he thinks he has witnessed a disconnection from nature in Rwanda's communities. 

Growing up, Nsengimana remembers the stories that marked his youth were about animals, “and they were never about hating animals,” he explains, “they were always about respecting them.” 

But now, he says animals are often seen as enemies.

With a grand vision and an optimistic outlook, Nsengimana explains he wants "to bring back a sense of ownership and pride for wild animals in our communities. I want to inspire everyone, especially children, to take action to protect our animals and the habitat they rely on to survive.”

 “I want to create a society where animals and people thrive together."

Given his organization's success with the gray crowned crane, it may also be realistic. He sees a lesson for humans in the cranes’ behavior. 

"As a group they fly together, look for food together, and dance together,” he observes. “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."

This Explorer's work is funded by the National Geographic Society
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