Sanctuary now home to the hunted grey crowned crane

Monday September 18 2023

The entrance at the Umusambi Eco park in Rwanda. PHOTO | POOL


Cranes – birds symbolising power and royalty – they are lovely, what with their long necks and colourful feathers. They are also considered spiritual, representing longevity, happiness, hope and peace. It is difficult to imagine that someone would dare harm such valuable and fascinating creatures.

All these thoughts ran through my mind as I went birdwatching at Umusambi Village, a 21-hectare restored wetland in Kigali, Rwanda.

Umusambi Village is one of the eco-tourism attractions in Rwanda, where lovers of nature and birdlife visit to watch the grey crowned cranes. Most of the birds have been rescued from illegal trade or poaching.

For years, Rwanda has been known for its gorilla-trekking and touring of the Kigali Genocide Memorial, but now it is wooing birdwatchers and nature lovers.

Read (from the Archives): Bird watching around Rwanda

“Just five years ago, a large number of grey-crowned cranes were in captivity in different places in Rwanda. With only 400 of them remaining, the species was on its way to extinction. That's why we are raising awareness and stopping illegal trade. We want to ensure that many of the captive cranes return to the wild,” says Providence Uwanyirigira, our guide, who passionately explains the behaviour of cranes.


Most of the cranes are brought to the centre disabled, a consequence of the captivity, which is often associated with their capture and transportation. Sometimes, people cut their feathers off to prevent them from flying away.

Apart from the grey crowned cranes, there are other species of birds at the centre, such as the bare-faced-go-away-bird, Purple-crested turaco, village weaver, African firefinch, and cardinal woodpecker.

A butterfly centre and various nature walk spots at the centre also draw tourists in droves.

When the wetland was restored, more than 138 bird species made Umusambi Village their home.

They charge between Rwf3,000 and Rwf15,000 as entrance fees, depending on whether a tourist is a local, an East African Community member or a tourist from non-member countries.

On the other side of town, about a 20-minute drive from Umusambi village is Nyandungu Eco Park, another place where one can enjoy nature.

Read: A look at Ghana's Aburi Botanical Gardens

After a security check, tourists are ushered in to enjoy the various activities in the park. A restored wetland, it is now being transformed into a lush jungle of bushes, grassland woodland and forests interspaced with small ponds, swamps and water streams. If you visit in the evening, as I did, you’ll meet several tourists either cycling, scooting, or jogging, while others take nature walks. Its neatly paved walking and cycling trails access all habitats and nature in the parks.

One can walk in the pond and enjoy the aquatic and water birds or escape to the interior parts of the forests to be lost in the soothing sounds of birds and the rustling of trees. On the weekends, it has become a great family outing space where children can engage in painting competitions, learn about birds and conservation and enjoy a picnic. There is also a restaurant where one can be served their favourite beverage or food as you soak in the views of the park.