Grey Crowned Cranes (Balearica regulorum) are a symbol of wealth and longevity in Rwandan culture, and face increasing threats due to habitat reduction and illegal trade. Rwanda is a small country with an incredible variety of bio-diversity, yet it is challenged by high population density and extreme poverty. This results in resources and land being overstretched and high competition between people and wildlife.

Additionally, Grey Crowned Cranes have been kept in captivity by hotels and by wealthy families who are unaware of the environmental consequences of doing so. These captive cranes are usually stressed, malnourished, have their wings broken to prevent them flying, don’t breed and die prematurely. In addition, there has been a general lack of awareness in Rwanda about the endangered status of cranes and the law protecting them.

RWCA is using a holistic and multi-disciplinary approach to reverse the declining trend of the endangered Grey Crowned Cranes in Rwanda, with a focus on stopping the illegal trade.


319 captive Grey Crowned Cranes have been registered throughout Rwanda.

In collaboration with the Rwandan Government, we launched a media campaign and amnesty, calling people to declare any captive cranes they had. We then registered all captive cranes in Rwanda, assessing the cranes’ health status and fitting them with a unique numbered leg band for easy future identification. During the visit, detailed information was collected about each crane and the owner and the history of the trade. Owners were educated on the laws protecting cranes and appropriate crane care. Our national database helps us to monitor the illegal trade of cranes and more easily highlights any newly poached cranes.


Our goal is to have NO captive Grey Crowned Cranes in Rwanda.

So far 242 cranes have been removed from captivity, of which 166 have been reintroduced to Akagera National Park.

For those captive cranes that are healthy enough to be returned to the wild, they are confiscated from the captive environment and taken to our purpose-built quarantine facility. During the quarantine period, the cranes undergo a complete physical exam and samples are collected and analysed for different diseases. We respond and treat accordingly for any cranes that are found with a disease that could be harmful to its health once reintroduced but also could be a threat to other birds or animals in the wild. Once the cranes are clear of disease and the quarantine period is complete, they are moved to the rehabilitation site at Akagera National Park.

The rehabilitation facility gives the cranes time to relearn or remember behaviours such as foraging that they will need to survive in the wild, as well as re-grow feathers that were cut in captivity. During this time, the cranes are supplemented with food but this is slowly reduced over time to encourage them to look for their own food and become less reliant on people. We take time to monitor the cranes daily in the facility and conduct regular visual observations to assess how they are adapting to their new environment. When the cranes are ready and able to fly again, they are free to fly out of the facility as there is no roof.

An additional 51 cranes rescued from captivity, that were disabled or not healthy enough to return to the wild, are now enjoying our large, naturally restored wetland and crane sanctuary ‘Umusambi Village


The success of the reintroduction programme is evaluated through post release monitoring to assess the rate of survival over a period of time, the dispersal of cranes throughout the park and its surroundings and the cranes’ ability to reproduce. The Grey Crowned Cranes in our rehabilitation facility are monitored daily and notes taken on their progress. Tourists visiting the park are encouraged to report any crane sightings and guides and rangers have been briefed about our programme so they are aware of the threats facing cranes and the need for their conservation. Our team make regular drives around the park, boat trips around the lake shore and tours outside the park by motorbike to complement the records of sightings and observations.

We have recently strengthened our post release monitoring by fitting GPS tags to reintroduced cranes to track their movements. This is enabling us to better understand the dispersal and behaviour of our reintroduced cranes. We also want to provide park guides and rangers with smart phones that will include an app to more quickly and accurately monitor crane sightings within the park.


For such a small population of Grey Crowned Cranes in Rwanda that were facing a rapid decline, it is important to carry out regular surveys to track the changes in population numbers and determine the population trends over a number of years. In 2017, RWCA completed the first ever national census of Grey Crowned Cranes to serve as a base line and to increase the accuracy of the previous estimations. We have been able to repeat this census every year so far and hope to track the population trends over time to assess the impact of our work and better target our interventions.

In 2017 we counted 487 cranes, in 2018 we counted 459 cranes, in 2019 we counted 748 and we are delighted to say that in 2020 we counted a whopping 881! We are now starting to collaborate with our country neighbours so that we can better monitor cranes that fly between countries (Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania and DRC).

Download Our 2020 Aerial & Ground Survey (Opens in new tab)

Crane Population Graph


The national media campaigns involve advertisements aired on different radio stations reaching millions of people in Rwanda as radio is the most popular media format. This helps us to raise awareness of the threats faced by Grey Crowned Cranes, and the need for their conservation, as well as asking people to call and register any cranes they have in captivity.

Radio advertisements are accompanied by live talk shows to discuss and debate the issues raised and encourage members of the public to call in with questions. This gives a gauge of public attitude and understanding and helps us to assess any changes over time. It also highlights any misunderstandings and shows us where we need to adapt our message for subsequent talk shows. In addition, we often feature on Rwanda television and press releases are sent to all major newspapers.