Akagera national park Rwanda is almost unrecognizable today compared to just 20 years ago when it was on the verge of being lost forever. While peace was finally restored in the 1990s after the 1994 Genocide, Akagera’s demise was just beginning.
Refugees returning to Rwanda after the genocide were still battling for their own survival and turned to the forests for timber, wildlife for protein and the wild savannas for their livestock.
Lions were hunted to local extinction, rhinos disappeared, and the park’s wildlife was displaced by tens of thousands of long-horned cattle.
Biodiversity was practically lost, and with it so was employment and tourism. The park’s value was virtually diminished, which makes its story of revival even more remarkable.
In 2010, African Parks assumed management of Akagera national park Rwanda in partnership with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), shifting the park’s trajectory from one of oblivion to prosperity and hope.
After years of preparation, through effective law enforcement and management, 2017 saw the historic return of 18 Eastern black rhinoceros after a 10-year absence, thanks to the support from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.
An additional five captive-bred black rhinos were translocated from Europe in June 2019, with the support of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), to augment the genetic diversity.
Two new male lions were also translocated to Akagera National park Rwanda in 2017 to enhance the genetic diversity of the growing pride, which has now tripled since their initial reintroduction in 2015.
With poaching essentially halted, the park’s key wildlife populations have continued to rise.
The park is generating more than US$2.5M in annual revenue, making it 90% self-financing driven by the tens of thousands of people, half of whom are nationals, coming to see its rebirth.
Akagera National park Rwanda Highlights
- Two additional males were translocated from South Africa to Akagera National park Rwanda in 2017 to increase the population’s genetic diversity.
- A 120 km solar powered predator-proof fence was constructed and significantly reduced human-wildlife conflict situations.
- More than 2,000 school children visit Akagera National park Rwanda each year for free along with teachers and local leaders as part of the environmental education programme
- Tourism revenue increased by more than 1,150% from 2010 to 2019, generating US$2.5M and making Akagera National Park Rwanda 90% self-financing. In total, the park welcomed more than 50,000 tourists in 2019, half of whom were Rwandan nationals.
About Akagera National Park Rwanda
Akagera National Park Rwanda is Central Africa’s largest protected wetland, the last remaining refuge for savannah-adapted species in Rwanda, and the country’s only Big Five Park.
Its rolling highlands, vast plains, and swamp-fringed lakes contain incredible biodiversity and rare species like the shoebill stork.
In total, Akagera’s breath-taking landscapes houses thousands of large mammals and over 480 bird species, but the park wasn’t always a wildlife haven.
After the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, Akagera National Park Rwanda shrunk in size when large portions were converted to farmland for refugees returning home.
For years, high population density and human encroachment pressured natural resources, but ongoing efforts to restore animal populations, increase law enforcement, and create park boundaries have breathed new life into Akagera.
Since implementing rigorous law enforcement in 2010, poaching has been reduced, wildlife has prospered, and the tourism industry has been transformed, which in turn creates local employment opportunities.
This life-giving revenue stream not only strengthens ties with surrounding communities but also ensures the very survival of the park— and its wildlife.
Following lion and rhino reintroductions, Akagera officially became a ‘Big Five’ park in May 2017. It now boasts lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo, as well as zebra, giraffe, and hundreds of birds species.
Wildlife populations are thriving due to effective law enforcement and successful conflict-mitigation with surrounding communities; and poaching within the park has reached an all-time low.
Predators: Before the reintroduction of lions, the park’s only large predators included leopards and spotted hyenas.
A founder population of seven lions was reintroduced in 2015 after being hunted out in the 1990s.
Two additional males were translocated to the park in 2017 to increase genetic diversity and the park’s lion population has since tripled in size. Small predators are also abundant: serval, side-striped jackal, and several mongoose and viverrid species are thriving.
Primates: Of the primate family, olive baboons and vervet monkeys are common sights in Akagera. Far rarer is the secretive blue monkey that, until a few years ago, was believed to be extinct in Akagera.
Herbivores: Elephant, rhino, giraffe, and hippopotamus are the largest mammals found in the park. They join several naturally-occurring large plains game species, including buffalo, topi, zebra, defassa waterbuck, the secretive roan antelope, and the statuesque eland. Smaller herbivores include duiker, oribi, bohor reedbuck, klipspringer, bushbuck, and impala.