Sundown in Akagera National Park

Akagera National Park is located in the north east sector of Rwanda, along the Tanzanian border.  The park, which is 1200 square kilometers in size, was founded in 1934, to protect the wildlife and vegetation in the three eco-regions of savanna, mountain and swamp. Because of its proximity to Kigali, the capital, it is possible to actually visit the park on a day-trip; although there is much to see in the park and it is not recommended.   The national park is named after the  famous Rwanda Kagera River which flows along the park’s eastern boundary and hence feeding several lakes including the largest in Rwanda, Lake Ihema.  One third of the park is a complex system consisting of lakes and papyrus swamps which is in the largest protected wetland in central Africa.

The park is home to several bird and animal species which live in the papyrus swamps, such as the Sitatunga and the elusive Shoe bill Stork.  The plains area is the habitat for elephant, buffalo, topi, zebra, waterbuck, roan antelope, eland, duiker, oribi, bohor reedbuck, klipspringer, bushbuck and impala i the above order.   the parks has also got primate species which include baboons,vervet monkeys,blue monkeys, as well as bush-babies seen in the night.  There are large predators in the park including leopard, hyena, side-striped jackal and lion; which has recently been introduced into the park.  The lions came from South Africa; the first in the park in 15 years..  The black rhino is also being re-introduced to the park; which will give the park their Big 5 status.

The wide variety of habitats has made Akagera National Park an important ornithological site, with almost 500 bird species.  There is a 2-tiered system of guides in the park; there are the park rangers which are employed by the park authority, plus there are local guides from the community.  Both of these options are equal in terms of their information; the advantage of hiring the local guides is that the money gets poured back into the community and also strengthens the relationship between the park and the communities around it.

The park has a little bit of a troubled past, in that there were many refugees from Rwanda’s civil wars that returned to the area in the 1990’s, disturbing the environment through cattle-grazing and poaching of the wildlife.  As a result, the government reduced the size of Akagera by half to its present size, giving the new residents a place to live in one sector and the wildlife in the other.  The park for many years was called a ‘vegetarian safari’ park, because of the few animals; but with Rwanda’s renewed commitment to tourism, the wildlife numbers have increased and although the numbers are not anything like those in Kenya and Tanzania, the Rwandans are working on it.  The one most positive side effect of Akagera’s recent history is that there are few tourist vehicles in the park, which can be a most annoying issue in the other East African safari countries.