A large gray crowned crane with an injured leg crosses a bird sanctuary in the Rwandan capital Kigali.
The village of Umusambi has rescued more than 200 cranes from captivity over the years, helping to increase the endangered bird population to 881, down from 487 just four years ago.
Before the intervention, local communities hunted or captured the birds for sale, said veterinarian Olivier Nsengimana, whose conservation organization manages the village of Umusambi with the government. The name means gray-crowned bird in Kinyarwanda.
These cranes, which sport a crown of yellow feathers topped with a black and red throat pouch, have often been seen as a symbol of status and wealth in Rwanda. They are often found in private homes or hotels, where they are kept as pets.
“There was a huge demand for the pet trade,” Nsengimana said.
His passion for cranes dates back to his childhood, growing up in a village populated by gray crowned cranes that served as alarm clocks and entertainment.
“People really enjoyed their dance, their calling, it’s just a species that matters a lot in society, in culture,” he said.
Some of the birds rescued in the village of Umusambi are found there after being injured by poachers. Others were kept in houses after their legs were broken or their wings were cut off by their captors to prevent them from flying away.
Once the birds are healthy enough to survive in their natural habitat, Mr. Nsengimana takes them to a protected forest.
The Independent Gt