Crowned cranes were once widespread through eastern and southern Africa, but poaching and habitat changes have drastically reduced their populations. The grey crowned crane is now endangered. For example, in Rwanda its numbers have gone from 1,000 about a decade ago to 500 now.
One person working to change that is Olivier Nsengimana, a Rwandan wildlife veterinarian who spent many childhood afternoons at the local marsh watching the cranes dancing. He recently received a Rolex Award for Enterprise grant to persuade people who keep the birds as pets – which is illegal – to take advantage of an amnesty program and relinquish them to a rehabilitation center, with the ultimate goal of releasing them back into the wild. “People are already coming forward to surrender their cranes,” he says.
He is also working on a national media campaign to educate people about how they can protect endangered species. And he wants to develop a comic book to give to children who live around the marshlands where cranes breed, so that they understand the great value of these birds and other local species and grow up to play an important role in the conservation of their land.
- Rwandan conservationist wins Rwf35m Rolex Award – The New Times
- Preserving Rwanda’s biodiversity – RolexAwards.com
- A conservation comic book: Involving Rwandan children in saving endangered Grey Crowned Cranes – Experiment.com
Bill Starr has jumped out of airplanes. Every year, he goes fishing in Alaska among wild bears. But he says no experience compares to a balloon ride over the Serengeti: “There were animals as far as the eye could see – wildebeest, zebra, ostrich, hyenas. Nothing tops that. I could tell you about that balloon ride until the cows come home, but you really have to see it to believe it.”
Starr, who lives in Billings, Montana, went on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania with his wife and six friends in February. It was his first trip to Africa, and he’d spent much of the previous year reading about Tanzania and its wildlife to get ready. “But nothing can prepare you for it,” he says. “The trip was beyond my expectations. It’s one thing to look at pictures of animals. It’s another thing to be standing there with them right next to you.”
In Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a male lion walked right up to his group’s slowly moving vehicle to inspect it. At Tarangire National Park, they came upon a pack of 27 African wild dogs – a sight so unusual that even their guide was over the moon at the encounter.
While staying at Kikoti Safari Camp, located on a scenic hill outside of Tarangire National Park, the group took a morning hike in the camp’s wilderness reserve. They saw baboons, impala and even a Cape buffalo. A guide carried a spear in case any of the wildlife became hostile, but all of their encounters were peaceful thanks to the guides’ experience in wilderness treks and reading the body language of animals.
Starr’s group also took a night game drive, allowing them to see many animals rarely seen during the day. These included bush babies, tiny nocturnal primates with huge eyes and a baby-like cry; and springhares, rodents that look like a cross between a kangaroo and a rabbit but are not directly related to either.
Staying at a mobile tented camp called Zebra Camp was an integral part of what made the safari so memorable, says Starr. The camp moves with the wildebeest migration, and Starr’s group spent three nights there while visiting the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Serengeti. “The Zebra Camp was outstanding. There is nothing that can top living next to the Serengeti in a tent, and the service was excellent.”
Even though the camp moves frequently, it was incredibly comfortable – with real beds, showers with hot water, chemical toilets that were cleaned out daily, and electricity from a generator. Even though it was in the middle of the wilderness, the service and incredible food were on par with with a luxury hotel’s. “We had a fantastic chef,” he says, recalling the sculptures that the kitchen staff would carve out of the melons they served at breakfast.
Starr says he would recommend Ujuzi “to anyone planning a safari to Tanzania. It was the finest trip of my life. We saw every animal that we desired up close and personal. And our guides, Modi and Amini, were excellent. We felt like they were family by the end of the safari. ”
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Thank you to Bill’s friend John Traeger for allowing us to share some of his photos from the trip!