Akagera National Park

Akagera National Park, Rwanda’s only savannah type national park, located in the north east of Rwanda along the border with Tanzania, roughly about thee hour’s drive from Kigali. Akagera National Park covers about 1,120km² and is one of Africa’s oldest national parks, first gazetted in 1934.

Akagera national park is a the only Savannah park in Rwanda and is home to several mammal species including Lions, Elephants, Giraffes, Hippos, Kobs, Zebras, Bushbucks, Waterbucks and most recently Black Rhinos have been introduces from South Africa, making Akagera national park officially a big 5 park like it was many years ago. It is also home to numerous bird species in the several habitats which include woodland, swamps, lakes and Savannah.

It is named after the Akagera River that flows along its eastern boundary and feeds into a labyrinth of lakes of which the largest is Lake Ihema. The forest fringed lakes, papyrus swamps, savannah plains and rolling highlands combine to make Akagera amongst the most scenic of reserves anywhere in Africa. It has exceptional levels of biodiversity and forms the largest protected wetland in central Africa.

The north of Akagera is mostly fairly low-lying grasslands and savannah plains, similar in feel to the ‘traditional’ safari areas of East Africa. To the west are rolling hills and valleys more typical of Rwandan countryside while to the east, the Akagera River feeds into a series of lakes, marshes and papyrus swamps that constitute central and eastern Africa’s largest protected wetlands. So, for a fairly small National Park, an Akagera safari can be extremely diverse with a variety of habitats, wildlife and birds, and some lovely scenery

Although founded in 1934, much of the park was re-allocated as farms and in 1997 the park was reduced in size from more than 2,500 sq km (nearly 10% of the surface area of Rwanda) to its current extent of 1,122 sq km. Since 2010, a joint venture with African Parks has seen Akagera return to its former glories and once again is shinning and harboring all the big 5 mammals that has greatly improved the wildlife safaris and tourism in Rwanda. Akagera 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 Rwandan Civil War, Akagera’s demise was just beginning. However, strict conservation laws, better management, the reintroduction of lions in 2015 and black rhinos in 2017, the revamping of old camps and the building of new ones has meant that Akagera is getting increasingly popular.

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 savannahs 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 diminished to the point of not existing at all. Which makes where Akagera is today, with its story of revival, even more remarkable.

In 2010, African Parks assumed management of Akagera 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. Two new male lions were also translocated to Akagera in 2017 to enhance the genetic diversity of the growing pride, which has now tripled since their reintroduction in 2015. With poaching essentially halted, the park’s key wildlife populations have continued to rise. More than 37,000 tourists visited the park in 2017 alone, half of whom were Rwandan nationals, bringing in a record US$1.6 million in revenue and making the park 75% self-sustaining in just seven years.

Akagera combines well with Nyungwe National Park which is known for the nature walk, canopy walk and chimpanzee tracking and the Volcanoes National Park for its golden monkeys and gorillas to offer a great safari element as it is home to many large plains game species as well as species restricted to the papyrus swamps such as the Sitatunga and the sought-after Shoebill Stork. Notable plains game includes elephant, buffalo, topi, zebra, waterbuck, roan antelope and eland. Other antelope are duiker, oribi, bohor reedbuck, klipspringer, bushbuck and impala. Of the primates, olive baboons, velvets and the secretive blue monkey are seen during the day, with bush babies often seen on night drives.

Buffaloes slightly increase to 2567 units from 2093 units in the period under review, but in the previous census, they were below 1000 units.

 

For the Lions introduced in the park only last year have already doubled from 7 to 15 currently, despite one loss of an adult lioness.

Other animals the census covered include; giraffes, eland, roan, Waterbucks, Zebras, Topi, Moreover, the population of roan antelope, a specie that in 2002 was feared nearing its extinction is rather recovering. Impala, Warthog and Hippopotamus.

Of all these animals, the Buffalos, Waterbucks, Zebras, Topi and Warthogs have greatly increased compared to their population in the period 2010-2013

Due to its wide variety of habitats, Akagera is an important ornithological site with nearly 500 bird species. The rare and elusive shoebill shares the papyrus with other rarities such as the exquisite papyrus gonolek and countless other water birds that inhabit the wetlands in large numbers.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

Rwanda lies just degrees (2°) south of the Equator-line, however its generally high altitude implies that it experiences temperatures that are hardly ever extreme. During the day, the temperature ranges between 22°C and 27°C while at night they drop to between 16°C and 21°C. the really high areas also receive frost on some days

From July to September as well as in January the country experiences dry seasons. In the rainy months, the country receives heavy rains nearly every day. However, once the down pour is over, the remainder of the day is normally bright and sunny.

The best favorable time to visit Akagera National park is during the dry season, its best recommend you to avoid the wet months of March, April and December as most of the routes in the park are impassable, which needs a 4×4 wheel drive, however this does not stop you from visiting the country of a thousand hill during those season, as to rain does not rain daily.

Rwanda’s Weather and Climate

Rwanda lies on a high altitude with nice tropical-highland climate and receives plenty of rainfall. Generally the temperatures across the country differ greatly from one area to another basing on their altitude. The temperatures within the capital city –Kigali on average are 21°C.

Long rains: Rwanda receives long rains that between March up to May, during these months it rains persistently and the rain falls in heavy volumes.

Long Dry Season: June up to mid – September. In fact this is regarded as the best time to visit Rwanda for Safari because it is easy to identify the animals since they are concentrated along water source and the grass land are short making it easy to spot the wildlife.

Short Rains: October – November, and followed by a short dry-season starting in December – February.

Please note that due to the climatic changes, we receive showers even in the drier months. It is always advisable for the clients to be prepared for any kind of weather anytime of the year.  Therefore before you travel it is always advisable to speak with your travel agent. If you do not have one, we recommend you contact info@rwandaecocompany.com

Akagera River

The Kagera River, , is one of the East African river, forming part of the upper headwaters of the Nile and carrying water from its most distant source, that has great impact on the Rwanda Safaris as it is one of the major source of water and habitat for wildlife at Akagera National Park.

Originating from Burundi, flowing out from Lake Rweru. From the lake, Akagera River flows east along the Rwanda-Burundi and Rwanda-Tanzania borders to a confluence with the Ruvubu River. The waters of the Akagera River are thus provided by two major tributaries, the Nyabarongo of Rwanda, which feeds Lake Rweru, and the Ruvubu of Burundi. It is unknown which of these two Feeder Rivers is the longer and hence the ultimate source of the Nile. From the confluence, the Akagera flows north along the Rwanda-Tanzania border, over Rusumo Falls and through Akagera National Park. It then takes a turn to the east, following the Tanzania-Uganda border and emptying into Lake Victoria in Uganda one of the most popular East African Safari sites.

The Akagera National Park which derives its name from this river has been marked as so beautiful and blessed with abundant flora and fauna marked by beautiful water bodies including Rwanyakizinga, Shakani, Ihema, nd Gishunju –  which has made the Rwandan Safaris so memorable.

Akagera River, features a very remarkable history that makes it stands out in Rwanda.  In 1894, German Gustav Adolf von Götzen crossed the Kagera at Rusumo Falls, beginning the Rwandan colonial era; and in 1916, during World War I, the Belgians defeated the Germans, entering Rwanda by the same route, as their gate way to Rwanda.

However, the Akagera River became so famous when it gained international notoriety in 1994 for carrying bodies from the Rwandan Genocide into Lake Victoria, causing a state of emergency to be declared in areas of Uganda, where these bodies eventually washed up. During the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, the Kagera was used to dispose of corpses as thousands of Tutsis and Hutu political moderates were murdered on the river banks. With this rich historical background, River Akagera has contributed in much boost in the tourism number on the safari visit to the Akagera National Park for a remarkable Rwanda Safaris.

How to get to Akagera National Park

Hugging Rwanda’s eastern border with Tanzania, Akagera National Park covers about 1,120km² and is one of Africa’s oldest national parks, first gazetted in 1934.

The main entry point into Rwanda is Kigali international airport, 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, a comfortable 2-3 hour drive from Kigali and can be visited on a long day trip if you’re short of time.

The only entry to Akagera National Park is via Kiyonza Gate in the south, close to the Park Headquarters and Akagera’s best lodge. (Nyungwe Gate in the north is currently only available to exit the Park).

Most favored and used means of transport to the park is by a 4×4 safari car. For the most part the road is relatively quite good. There might be a few bumpy spots along the way, that spices the journey and gives you a total taste of the African massage, but that shouldn’t stop you from making the trip. The last 28km of the 110km from Kigali are mostly marram roads, and so are all the roads inside the park. 4X4 safari vehicles are recommended especially if you are traveling during the rainy season.

In case you need a safari company to run your tour or a car hire with an experienced safari guide, Rwan da Eco Company and Safaris can make all the necessary arrangement for your wonderful memorable safari in this beautiful land of a thousand hills including securing for you, your gorilla permits at Volcano National Park.

NOTE: Driving in Rwanda is on the right hand side in case you are on the self drive

Reaching Akagera using public transport is to some extent challenging.  The minibus taxis go to and fro Kibungo and Kayonza will take you up to the junction. From there the only available option is to use a motorbike-taxi in case you are lucky to find one.  With the exception of those staying at the Game lodge, guests are not allowed to walk even if you have a guide inside the park, and actually you will not find any safari vehicles available to take you for game drives.

Directions

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.

In case you are from Uganda through Katuna boarder, drive up to Kigali town, 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.

In case you have booked with us as your tour company to handle your safari, you do not need to worry, sit back on your sit, and relax s you enjoy our cool ride and take a look of the beautiful country side of a thousand hills as we descend valley to valley. You only need to put a smile on your face as you get out your camera and take a few shots of amazing attractions you meet on your way to Akagera.

Return of Lions to Akagera National Park

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. And Beyond 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. The original lions disappeared in the years following the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Rwandans who had fled the aggression, before returning and settling in the park, killed the lions to protect their livestock, as lions were turning their livestock into pretty. The risk of poaching greatly reduced the number of wildlife not only lions to an extinct.

Two additional males were translocated from South Africa to Akagera in 2017 to increase the population’s genetic diversity

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.

Return of the Eastern Black Rhinos to Akagera National Park

The iconic Eastern black rhino is returning to Rwanda. The last rhino was seen in Rwanda in Akagera National Park in 2007 after decades of extreme poaching and wars. In an historic move, approximately 20 Eastern black rhinos were to be reintroduced from South Africa over the month of May bringing this endangered species back to the country of a thousand hills for the first time in over a decade. This translocation is being undertaken by African Parks in collaboration with the Akagera Management Company (AMC), the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and with the generous support from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. The People’s Postcode Lottery and the Dutch Government are also providing additional support to this conservation move.

Why?

Rhinos in Akagera

Akagera Nationa Park was historically home to a diversity of large African mammals, many of which were sadly hunted to local extinction over recent decades due to poaching and wars. Since 2010, African Parks has partnered with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) to form the Akagera Management Company (AMC), which manages Akagera with a vision of restocking the park with species that have become locally extinct and securing their long-term protection I order to boost conservation, biodiversity an tourism in the country.

 

The reintroduction of the Eastern black rhino forms part of this vision. Their return will be the final step towards restoring Akagera to its previous natural glory for the country and its people. The homecoming is also anticipated to elevate the park’s international profile as the country’s only Big Five tourism destination, boosting the local economy, directly benefiting communities, establishing the park as a valued national asset, and helping to solidify Rwanda as a leader in African conservation.

 

Rhinos in Perspective

The brutal onslaught of poaching on rhino populations across Africa has resulted in fewer than 5,000 black rhino remaining in the wild, 1,000 of which are the Eastern black rhino subspecies. This translocation represents an urgent and valuable opportunity to expand the range and protection of this iconic species to the only protected area in Rwanda that is suitable for their reintroduction and conservation.

 

 

Planning and Protection

To ensure the best possible outcome for rhinos in the region, staff have undertaken years of research, planning and preparation, including training by Akagera Park staff in rhino tracking and monitoring. Consultation with experts and specialist groups also occurred to secure a genetically appropriate and available source of Eastern black rhino for reintroduction.

 

Security measures have been implemented specifically to ensure the safety and well-being of the rhinos once in the park. A canine anti-poaching unit (also generously provided by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation) and a team of highly trained, motivated and well-equipped law enforcement staff have been established and a helicopter has been deployed in addition to other security measures implemented specifically for the reintroduction of rhino. Since 2010 when African Parks first assumed responsibility for managing Akagera, poaching levels have been at an all-time low and numerous species have rebounded in the park.

The Translocation

Over the course of February and March in 2017, a founder population of Eastern black rhinos were carefully selected and captured in South Africa’s Thaba Tholo Game Ranch. These individuals were transported by truck, and plane to their new home in Akagera, Rwanda. Following their arrival at the heavily secured park, they were released for a very short time into a boma (a relatively small enclosure used to familiarise the animals with their new home) to give them a chance to settle after their long journey before they are released into the wider park.

 

Donated to the Rwandan government by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, these rhinos will be looked after by African Parks as part of its overall responsibility for the total management of Akagera and managed in accordance with a verified rhino management programme.

 

About African Parks

African Parks, in partnership with the Akagera Management Company (AMC), the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and with the generous support from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the Dutch Government and the People’s Postcode Lottery, is moving a founder population of approximately 20 Eastern black rhinos to Akagera National Park in Rwanda to repopulate the park and mark the historic return of this threatened species. Akagera National Park, at 1,112 km2, is the largest protected wetland in Central Africa and the only protected savannah environment in Rwanda. A population of over 50 Eastern black rhinos once thrived in this park in the late 1970’s, but their numbers declined due to years of wide-scale poaching. The last confirmed sighting of an Eastern black rhino in Akagera was documented in 2007. As the park falls within the historical geographic range of the Eastern black rhino a founder population of this subspecies has been selected for reintroduction to Akagera National Park.

The first wild rhino calf to be born in Rwanda

The first wild rhino calf to be born in Rwanda in over a decade has been confirmed by Akagera National Park, four months after 18 Eastern black rhinoceroses were successfully reintroduced into the park from South Africa’s Thaba Tholo Game Ranch in 2017 by African Parks in collaboration with the Akagera Management Company (AMC), the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and with the generous support from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. The People’s Postcode Lottery and the Dutch Government are also providing additional support to this conservation move.

Akagera National Park has confirmed the birth of a healthy rhino calf, the first to be born in the country in over a decade. This exciting announcement falls on World Rhino Day, September 22nd, and comes only four months after 18 Eastern black rhinoceroses were successfully translocated from South Africa into the park. The historic translocation was led by African Parks, a conservation non-profit that manages national parks and protected areas on behalf of governments across the continent, in collaboration with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and with funding provided by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. The People’s Postcode Lottery and the Dutch Government provided additional support to the project.

While this is the first photographic evidence of the calf, the park’s dedicated rhino monitoring team initially sighted the young calf in August and it has been sighted regularly since. Based on this timing, its mother who has been named Ineza, would have been well in to her 15 to 16-month gestation period when she arrived safely in Akagera in May this year. Ineza was brought over from South Africa with her older male calf, which now at two and a half years of age has left his mother and found his own territory and independence in Akagera.

“The first rhino calf to be born in over a decade is a profound moment for Rwanda and its people, a country that is leading in its commitment to the conservation of endangered species” said Jes Gruner, Akagera National Park Manager.  “The collaboration with the RDB in the restoration of the park over the past six years has made bringing back the Eastern black rhino, one the rarest subspecies on the planet, possible in Rwanda. Through our management and protection and collaboration with local communities, we’re working to safeguard the growth of an important population of rhinoceroses for the region”.

After six years of securing the park and essentially eliminating poaching, in the first two weeks of May this year 18 Eastern black rhinos made a 4,000-kilometre journey by cargo plane from South Africa to Kigali in Rwanda, from where they were transferred and successfully released in to Akagera National Park, which is a protected savannah containing excellent black rhino habitat. Tracked daily by dedicated monitoring teams, the translocated animals are prospering while this new calf brings their population total up to 19. In the 1970s the park was home to more than 50 black rhinos, but under the pressure of poaching their numbers were reduced until the last confirmed sighting of the species in 2007. This historic move has been a valuable restorative opportunity, expanding the range of a subspecies with fewer than 1,000 remaining animals across its range on the continent.

Since assuming management of Akagera National Park in partnership with RDB in 2010, African Parks has overhauled law enforcement, reducing poaching to an all-time low with not a single animal poached this year. Wildlife is now flourishing in the park, where the lion population has more than doubled since African Parks reintroduced seven lions in 2015, and the return of rhinos have made the park a ‘Big Five’ destination. Tourism revenue has increased by 550% since African Parks assumed management in 2010, and the park is now 70% self-financing due to tourism, which has seen a jump since security has been restored and since lions and rhinos were reintroduced. Preparations were made specifically to ensure the long-term safety and well-being of the rhino population, including expertly-trained rhino tracking and protection team, a canine anti-poaching unit, and the deployment of a helicopter for critical air surveillance to enhance protection of the park, which have been made possible with funding provided by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.

While a scourge of poaching for rhino horn continues to decimate their numbers across Africa, with fewer than 5,000 black rhinos and 1,000 of the Eastern black rhino subspecies remaining, the birth of Rwanda’s first new calf in this secured sanctuary is a celebration of hope for the species. As we commemorate World Rhino Day, an international day to raise awareness for the conservation of all five species of this iconic land mammal, we are encouraged by the optimism of a promising future for this important founding population.

To explore the Akagera National Park for a wildlife safari and visit to see the Rhinos and the big five, Rwanda Eco Company & Safaris, one of the Rwanda lading tour operators, will help you do a memorial safari within Rwanda National Parks including the gorilla trekking at Volcano National park.