When the global pandemic stopped human life in its tracks last year, wildlife kept moving on. And this group of conservation rangers in Rwanda quickly adapted to meet life where it led them and hurdle roadblocks left in the way. They had several critical tools at their disposal: first, they were established with a solid community model which made them localized and second, newly donated bikes would keep them mobilized.
Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association (RWCA) is the latest Bikes for the World global partner. In fact we shipped our first container of bikes to RWCA to close out 2019. The idea was to arm rangers with bikes to help with their mission to protect the Grey Crowned Crane in Rwanda. With the aid of bicycles, rangers would be able to cover more ground to track cranes, check on their habitat and inform neighboring farmers of best ecological practices when it comes to conserving nature.
But a microscopic menace had other ideas for 2020. That first container of bikes was set to arrive a year ago today, February 17, 2020. Excitement was growing over the possibilities of this new venture to turn pedals to protect wildlife. But fears around the world that we had a global pandemic on our hands were also growing as the new coronavirus disease jumped continents. Within a month major cities, ports, entire countries, would be shut down and quarantined. We all wondered what do we do next, how do we stay safe, how can we continue the vital work that cannot wait?
Our bikes arrived on site with RWCA before everything shut down. Fortunately they also purchased the container the bikes arrived in since this was their first shipment and would need a place to store the bikes before distributing them to their rangers and champions. They had no idea that would take six months.
By August RWCA successfully pivoted, or maybe more accurately, simply expanded their community model which would prove to be ideal in the shadows of the coronavirus pandemic. RWCA even began ramping up work and offered socially distant training sessions to pull in more community teams of rangers and champions to continue their important work. This localized work in the communities allowed them to respond quickly and easily despite the increased covid/travel restrictions rolling across Rwanda. And once they were finally able to distribute our bikes from the February shipment, each Champion/Ranger was able to cover a bigger area during their fieldwork. They even started discovering new sites of Grey Crowned Cranes.
It is no surprise that bikes conserve energy, time, and money when it comes to lengthy commutes or work that requires covering a lot of ground. But RWCA had no idea how bikes would come to change their teams' lives so quickly at a time when so many others were struggling. One ranger saved so much money from no longer taking public transportation, that he began to reinvest. He bought pigs and goats which he bred and sold. He then turned around and bought a plot of land.
Over the past year, RWCA focused on their continued work tracking and protecting the Grey Crowned Crane. They continued to work with students to teach them about conservation. They also worked to protect and rebuild the wetlands and natural habitat for the wildlife in Rwanda.
In November of 2020 they planted 6,000 indigenous trees to restore an island within Rugezi Marsh, a Ramsar protected site and Important Bird and Biodiversity Area. Since 2018 the number of Grey Crowned Cranes in the wild nearly doubled. They are on track to continue to grow, thanks to the tireless (now two tired!) work of the RWCA rangers and community champions.