Inside Kigali sanctuary where birds get new lease of life

Thursday July 13 2023
Umusambi village

The Umusambi Village shelters more than 140 species of birds, cranes and insects. Picture: Ange Iliza

By Ange Iliza

Rwanda, one of the world's most densely populated countries and the surging population is posing threat to natural habitats, which some animals call home.

Birds, among them cranes, have fallen victim to ever increasing pressure on the natural habitat. During the 2000s, hotels and residents in Kigali frequently captured cranes, and amputated their wings to domestically keep them within private gardens.

Among the crane species to be domesticated is the Grey-crowned which is widely seen in East Africa. This practice led to hundreds of them getting killed in the process while others were exposed to diseases. It is against this backdrop that Dr Olivier Nsengimana developed a passion for keeping birds.

Nsengimana is a professional veterinarian with a passion for both the bustling city of Kigali and the endangered wildlife that calls it home. Since 2014, Nsengimana has taken the challenge to save and shelter cranes and other birds. When he started, the wildlife faced an imminent danger including poaching.

As a seasoned veterinarian, Nsengimana understood that Kigali's nature desperately needed a lifeline, and he took on the challenge to strike a balance between wildlife preservation and city life.

The focal point of his mission is the breathtaking “Umusambi Village,” an eco-tourism park spanning 70 hectares and sheltering a diverse range of over 140 species of cranes, birds, insects and other species.


The Umusambi village, located on the outskirts of Kigali, emerged as the perfect haven for endangered birds to flourish. Away from the threats of poaching and diseases, this sanctuary provides the necessary environment for these majestic creatures to reproduce and thrive.

The park shelters 58 disabled cranes whose wings have been removed. The efforts have resulted in an ever-increasing number of avian species, both native to Rwanda and from distant skies, finding solace in the sanctuary he created. The park receives at least 100 visiting cranes.

The park shelters other species that otherwise would not have a home in the bustling skyscrapers and moving cars of Kigali such as bats, butterflies, vultures, and birds. In addition to his role as a veterinarian, Nsengimana is a true aficionado of birds. His passion for these winged creatures shines through every aspect of his work. “I am not just a veterinarian. I have a distinguished love for birds.

The way they fly and dance in fleets is just majestic. Taking care of them is my passion,” Nsengimana says. To raise awareness of wildlife conservation, the park is open to visitors as well as holding events and parties with strict restrictions on meddling with the species. Navigating the intricate web of wildlife conservation and urban development has not been without its challenges.

Dr Nsengimana has been actively seeking partnerships and funding to ensure the birds receive the care they deserve.