Akagera National park, a short drive from Kigali the capital of Rwanda, is the only National park in Rwanda famous for game and wildlife. The park used to boast of the African Big Five game of Lions, Leopard, Buffaloes, Elephants and Rhinoceros.
However, about 2 decades ago, the park was not holding the Big Five anymore and this was due to mainly poaching and encroachment on the park by the surrounding communities for their livelihood.
Over the last decade or so The Rwanda Development board (RDB) has partnered with African Parks, a conservation non-profit that manages national parks around the continent, along with aid from the Rwanda Development Board, funding from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, and additional support from The People’s Postcode Lottery and the Dutch Government, Akagera National is under rehabilitation to reinstate the African Big Five.
In June 2015, Akagera National Park welcomed seven lions from South Africa — the first to roam the park in 15 years. The lions are now thriving, and three cubs, born earlier this year, delighted audiences worldwide in photos posted on the park’s Facebook page. The lions brought with them a surge of interest and tourism. Since the introduction of the predators, the park has seen a 40% increase in domestic tourism and a 23% increase in overall park visitors.
But for African Parks, the nonprofit that jointly manages Akagera with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), the lions are just the first stage in a series of improvements to position Akagera as a self-sustaining Big Five safari park. At a time the Park was holding 4 of the Big Five with the Rhinoceros being the missing of the game.
According to African Parks, back in the 1970s there were more than 50 black rhinos in the parks, but poaching decimated the population, with the last confirmed sighting taking place in 2007.
On the 2nd of May 2017, one would say Akagera the Big Five came to full life – on this day 10 Rhinoceros were introduced in the park with another batch of 10 Rhinos coming in a week later under the stewardship of African parks. The Black Rhinos introduced in Akagera National park were translocated from South Africa.
“Rhinos are one of the great symbols of Africa yet they are severely threatened and are on the decline in many places across the continent due to the extremely lucrative and illegal rhino horn trade,” said African Parks CEO Peter Fearnhead in a statement. “The rhinos’ return to this country however a testament to Rwanda’s extraordinary commitment to conservation is and is another milestone in the restoration of Akagera’s natural diversity.”
Akagera is a protected savannah habitat and has been managed by African Parks and the Rwanda Development Board since 2010. At that time, law enforcement within the park was overhauled to reduce poaching. Back in 2015, seven lions were introduced to the park and their population has more than doubled. To maintain the safety of the new rhinos, there will be a rhino tracking and protection team, a canine anti-poaching unit and more.
These conservation efforts are integral to supporting endangered species, but also help support Rwanda’s tourism industry, which relies heavily on people from around the world interested in the country’s incredible wildlife. The rhino project was named one of top 10 New in Travel listings of 2017 by Lonely Planet. One of the most popular activities that travelers in the country is watching the mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. The Rwanda Development Board has also increased its promotions by giving a discount of 30% to tourists who combine gorilla safaris in Rwanda and visits to the Akagera National Park.
Since African Parks partnered with RDB in 2010, the number of park visitors taking safaris to Akagera National Park has more than doubled, from 15,000 in 2010 to 32,000 last year. While many tourists make the day trip from Kigali, on-site accommodations offer another potential tourism draw. The opening of Ruzizi Tented Lodge in November 2012 provided the park’s first luxury accommodations with the already existing midrange Akagera Game Lodge and other budget camp sites. Now, the park is hoping to attract even more visitors with a five-star lodge on Akagera northern edge.
The park is now well managed with a variety of game and accommodation facilities. Tourists normally visit the park for game drives, boat cruises amongst other activities of the park with duration ranging from 2 days to week safaris within the park.