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Returning to Akagera National Park

Returning to Akagera National Park

Is it only me or the Akagera National Park is getting greener? Its wildlife population is rebounding too.

When I visited Akagera for the first time, I bought a map and toured the park without a guide. During my subsequent expeditions, I knew the trail like the back of my hand. However, I missed out on key facts and valuable information about the park’s biodiversity because I was too stingy to hire a tour guide. We all need tour guides. Their knowledge is of paramount importance.

Akagera became a national park in 1934. Originally, the reserved area covered nearly 10% of the entire Rwandan territory. Unfortunately, human encroachment became rampant in the early 1960s. For decades, population growth and the advent of returning refugees made it hard to control constant human interference and curb illegal activities.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom. Some positive developments were recorded amid devastating losses. Between 1957 and 1958, six black rhinos were brought from South Africa. For the record, there are black and white rhinos out there.

Although my tour guide avoided using the term race while referring to animals, human beings are dividing innocent creatures along racial lines. However, it’s not the color of their skin that distinguishes them. The most notable difference between white and black rhinos are their upper lips. The black rhino’s upper lip is hooked while the white rhino’s one is square.

The addition of black rhinos was followed by decades of poor law enforcement or lack thereof. The relentless persecution of rhinos continued. By 2007, they had been wiped out of Rwanda’s only Savannah park. It was until the late 2010s when they were reintroduced.

In 1986, Masai giraffes were added to the mix. They were gifts from the Kenyan government. Also known as the Kilimanjaro giraffes, the natives of East Africa have distinctive, jagged star-like blotches that extend to the hooves. The bulls usually spot median forehead lumps.

About twenty years ago, Akagera was on the verge of being lost forever but the new partnership between African Parks, the government and the local community has successfully turned the situation around. Through deliberate revival efforts, the park has regained its status as the home of the Big Five. Its wetland area is home to over 500 species of birds. It encompasses ten lakes and several large swamps. This is the biggest protected wetland in Central Africa. The area is an important source of drinking water for animals and a remarkable waterbird sanctuary.

The author is currently visiting all 30 districts of Rwanda. His tour of Kayonza is sponsored by Ikaze Rwanda Tours & Travel, Imigongo Art Center, Jambo Beach, Ihema View Campsite, Silent Inn Hotel and Akagera Rhino Lodge.

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