Akagera National Park
Akagera national park found in eastern Rwanda is a 2500 sq km of mainly Savannah land. The park is named after Kagera River that flows along Rwanda’s eastern boundary. The river feeds into Lake Ihema and other smaller lakes in and around the park.
The park protects an African Savannah landscape of acacia and bush, with patches of open grassland and a dozen swampy lakes. It has exceptional levels of biodiversity and forms a large protected wetland. Akagera national park is the only Savannah national park in Rwanda and the only place to sight most of the large mammals while on safari. Whereas there are forest elephants in the other parks, it is very difficult to sight them. Explore the park in the comfort of your safari vehicle while on a game drive.
Akagera National Park is a protected area in eastern Rwanda covering 1,122 km2 (433 sq mi) along the international border with Tanzania. It was founded in 1934 and includes savannah, montane and swamp habitats. The park is named for the Kagera River which flows along its eastern boundary feeding into Lake Ihema and several smaller lakes. The complex system of lakes and linking papyrus swamps makes up over a third of the park, which is the largest protected wetland in Eastern-Central Africa.
History of Akagera National Park
Akagera National Park was founded in 1934 by the Belgian government, which at the time occupied Rwanda. The park was 2,500 km2 (970 sq mi) large and was known for its biodiversity.
Akagera used to have a large population of African wild dogs. At one point, it was known as the 'Parc aux Lycaons' and wild dogs were so abundant, that the Belgian government considered it a pest. However, a disease epidemic diminished the population and the last wild dogs were seen in 1984.
In 1957, black rhinos were introduced from Tanzania. In the 1970s, more than 50 black rhinos lived in the savannah-habitat of the park. Due to widespread poaching, the population declined over the following decades, and the last confirmed sighting was in 2007. In 1986, Masai giraffes were introduced from Kenya. Their population has grown to over 80 individuals in recent years. Around 1990, Akagera was known to have a population of 250 to 300 lions. In the years following the Rwandan Civil War, the entire population was killed by farmers who returned to Rwanda after the War and settled in the park.
In 2009 the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and the African Parks Network entered into a 20-year renewable agreement for the joint management of Akagera. The Akagera Management Company was formed in 2010 as the joint management body for Akagera National Park. Over the next 5 years a $10 million expenditure was carried out in the national park area, with financial help from the Howard Buffett Foundation. The aim was to increase the security of the national park and to reintroduce locally extinct species. Security measures that were taken include: the construction of a western boundary fence which measures 120.0 kilometres (74.6 miles), deploying an air surveillance helicopter, training of an expert rhino tracking and protection team and a canine anti-poaching unit.
In July 2015, seven lions from South Africa were introduced and released in the park, making them the first lions in Rwanda for 15 years. AndBeyond donated five lionesses from Phinda Private Game Reserve. and Tembe Elephant Park in KwaZulu-Natal donated two male lions. This effort was described by African Parks as "a ground-breaking conservation effort for both the park and the country" as part of a project aimed at reversing the local extinction of the species in Akagera National Park. Since 2015, the population has grown to over 20 animals and it keeps growing.
In May 2017, a joint operation between the Rwanda Development Board and African Parks saw the reintroduction of around 20 Eastern black rhinoceroses from South Africa, which had been absent for 10 years. With the reintroduction of black rhinos and lions, the national park is now home to all of Africa's "big five": lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros, and buffalo.
During June 2019, Akagera received a further 5 Eastern black rhinoceros from 3 different zoos in 3 different countries located across Europe. The zoos includes Dvur Kralove zoo from the Czech Republic, Flamingo Land from the UK and Ree Park Safari from Denmark. This relocation is the first of its kind, as something like this between Europe and Africa never happened before. The 2 males and 3 females were safely delivered to the park after a 30 hour journey. These mammals are direct descendants from rhinos taken from Africa during the colonial days.
The large mammal population has increased since 2010, from 4000 animals in 2010 to over 13.500 in 2018.
How to Get to Akagera National Park
The main entry point into Rwanda is Kigali international airport. The airport is open to various international; flights such as SN Brussels, Ethiopian airlines, Kenya Airways,Air Burundi and of course the RwandAir express. The airport is about 10 km out Kigali and it is where your journey to Kagera starts.
Akagera national park is located in the north Eastern region of Rwanda about 110 kn from Kigali the capital of Rwanda, which is about a 2 ½ hour drive. It is beautiful park with lush green scenery and lots of wildlife and birds to see.
Most favored and used means of transport to the park is by car. For the most part the road is quite good. There might be a few bumpy spots along the way, but that shouldn’t stop you from making the trip. The last 28km of the 110km from Kigali are mostly dirt roads, and so are all the roads inside the park. 4X4 safari vehicles are recommended especially if you are traveling during the rainy season.
After getting to Kigali either by air or bus road, you can start of your Akagera safari from the city center. From Kigali drive out of town towards the airport. Just before you reach the airport, about 100m out, take a left turn. You will then be heading east towards Rwamagana. Drive through Rwamagana and on to Kayonza. When you get to Kayonza, take the right turn at the roundabout and drive on till you get to a Discentre station on the left side of the road as you get into the town of Kabarondo. There is a dirt immediately after the petrol station. Take a left turn onto that road and drive on for about 15km till you come to a junction at Rwinkwavu. You will see a signpost that reads Akagera national Park on the left. The park gates are about 13km ahead after the signpost.
4×4 vehicles can be arranged by your safari operator of choice. Most tour companies will provide a driver and a guide, or if you are very adventurous you can opt for drive yourself, and depend on maps and directions to get you. It will all be fun and exciting. Several safari companies in operating in Rwanda have outlets and connections with major hotels in Kigali, so it should be easy to get in touch with one and arrange for a 3 days Akagera safari trip to the park.
Things to Do in Akagera National Park
Akagera National Park is nature’s blend of swamps, lakes, savannah plains and a rugged terrain encircled by neatly terraced hills. The Park boasts of diverse vegetation zones and abounds in mammal and bird species some of which can only be viewed in Akagera national Park. There are several sights and sounds to experience while at the Park but we bring you a list of the top 5 things to do at Akagera National Park.
On a game drive during the day, you get to be driven along the tracks, through the green savannah plains, past wide-leaved woodlands and into the habitat of bountiful mammal species in the Akagera National Park. Your tour guide knows the areas where most animals usually spend their day and will endeavor to drive by. Some of the animals to look out for while on a day game drive include; The Defassa Waterbuck, Topis, Bohor Reedbucks, Oribis, Semi-Aquatic Sitatunga, Eland, Giraffes, Buffaloes, Elephants, Lions and the recently reintroduced Rhinos are some of the mammals found in the park.
The night game drive is an experience in which you step into the wild to view the nocturnal animals especially the wide-eyed bush babies, serval cats, civets, leopards. You will be guided by your flashlight and an experienced ranger. experience if you are setting out to see the wild.
Akagera national park management offers nature walks in some areas of the park with a ranger guide. This is a good way to explore the park outside of a vehicle which you use while on a game drive. Also it allows more time and engagement concerning butterflies, insects and plants that you could easily miss while on a safari.
You have an opportunity of fishing while in Akagera national park. You can do this on both Lake Ihema and Shakani which is a thrilling experience. At the serene waters you can fish to the background music of chirping birds and hippos that grunt as if to cheer you on. You are free to keep your catch to roast, fry or grill it and enjoy the taste of fresh fish from Rwanda.
Akagera national park is home to over 480 species of birds with many only found in this park in Rwanda. The diverse habitats for birds at Akagera National Park gives you an opportunity to view different kinds of bird species. There will be birds in the savannah plains, in the hills, forests, by the lakes and at the river. The Red Faced Barbets, the Great Snipe, the Lesser Kesterel, the Armot Chat, Swamp Fly Catchers, the Papyrus Gonolex and the Shoebill are some of the most rewarding sights while birding.
A boat safari is a relaxing yet rewarding way to view wildlife. It is an even more rewarding experience when on the lake. Lake Ihema is the second largest lake in Rwanda known for its abundant hippo population and crocodile dotted shores. The boat safari on Lake Ihema offers the opportunity to take up-close photos of these animals. As other animals come to the lake for a drink or bath, you can take a look at those that you may have missed while out on a game drive in the wild.