The visions we offer our children shape the future.
The Declaration of the Rights of the Child, by the UN General Assembly, was announced on November 20, 1959 which is why Children’s Day in celebrated annually on this day. It is to honour the children of the world – our hope for the future and leaders of tomorrow.
This Children’s Day we’d like to salute all children but particularly the conservation warriors who are helping us build a better future, by taking care of nature and wildlife today. Most specifically the children of Rwanda who are an important part of a project that we support, alongside Tusk Trust and the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association (RWCA), that is having a positive impact on protecting the endangered Grey Crowned Cranes.
The Grey Crowned Crane is every bit as majestic as its name suggests. These long-legged birds with their grey bodies, white wings with brown and gold feathers, white cheeks and bright red sacs beneath their chins are one of 15 species of crane. But, most striking is the spray of stiff golden feathers which forms a crown around their heads.
Unfortunately, their distinctive looks have put them at risk as they are considered status symbols among the wealthy and are being poached, captured and illegally sold. They are under continuous threat – their eggs and feathers are used for medicinal remedies, breeding grounds are being contaminated by pesticides, fields are being eroded, there’s climate change and also collisions with power lines. This onslaught against the species means the Grey Crowned Crane is listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
CCFA is proud to be involved with Tusk and RWCA on this project, using a holistic approach, to combat the threats faced by the cranes. Activities include:
- Raising awareness of the legal and conservation status of cranes
- Identifying and registering captive cranes, rehabilitating and reintroducing captive cranes
Working with local communities around key areas to reduce poaching
Funding from CCFA and other charities has enabled Tusk and RWCA to educate, engage and improve the livelihoods of local communities around the Rugezi Marsh and Akagera National Park in Rwanda.
In Rugezi, RWCA has worked with an existing cooperative of ex-poachers, establishing a pig farm as an alternative income source and training them as marsh rangers to assist with law enforcement and crane monitoring.
In Akagera they have enlisted the help of community children. RWCA strongly believes in engaging and involving local communities, to ensure they take ownership of their wildlife and natural places. Part of that work is to inspire children and young people to be the new generation of conservationists.
Schools nearby key crane areas were visited and a conservation comic book distributed to educate around the need to protect Grey Crowned Cranes and their habitats. Over 20 000 school children pledged to protect the cranes and now understand that it’s not okay to take crane eggs or chicks.
Nine environmental youth clubs have been set up in areas nearby Rugezi Marsh and Akagera involving over 600 children. Led by a mentor and with the use of some great resources from the Tusk, children meet every weekend to learn about conservation, Grey Crowned Cranes and take action to protect their local environment.
These children have used their initiative to implement activities in their area:
- Planting thousands of indigenous trees around the buffer zone of the Marsh, as well as on their family land, which will hopefully become ideal roost trees for Grey Crowned Cranes
- Learnt about and taken action against erosion
- Are making biodegradable seedling pots to avoid the use of plastic
- Cleaned up plastic discarded in their area.
Recently there was word that a Grey Crowned Crane had been poached. The reason it was ‘public knowledge’ was thanks to local children. They sought out the Community Conservation Champion, in the area, to report having seen a crane chick wandering around after it had escaped from a poacher’s house. Thanks to the children’s concern and quick action, the Champion was able to capture the crane chick and reunite it with its parents. The education and involvement of the community has led to an increase in reporting illegal activities.
It is news like this that gives us all – CCFA, Tusk Trust and the RWCA – hope that with children carrying the environmental and conservation torch we can protect our planet and really make a long-term difference ….other successes include:
- The capture of newly hatched Crowned Crane chicks, on camera, by the team at Umusambi Village, a sanctuary for disabled cranes
- Implementing a third national crane census which involved teams of staff and volunteers scouring the country to sight cranes as well as an aerial survey over Akagera National Park and Rugezi Marsh. A total of 748 cranes were sighted – up from 487 and 459 in previous years.
The Grey Crowned Crane is still on the endangered list but, with the help of the children of Rwanda and their growing enthusiasm to protect these distinctive birds and their habitat, there is renewed hope that this magnificent and environmentally critical bird will continue to be protected and sightings will grow. And, perhaps like Kenya, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe where they are protected – by law – Rwanda will follow.
Children aren’t just our future. They’re our present. [Ricky Martin]