Akagera national park was gazetted in 1934 the Belgian government, which was ruling Rwanda at the time. The park is named after River Akagera which passes along its eastern boundary with some tributaries pouring its water into Lake Ihema and other smaller lakes. It is located east of the country along the border with Tanzania and covers an area of 1,122 square kilometers. The park is mostly made up of savannah, montane and swampy vegetation.
The Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and the African Parks Network came to a 20 year renewable agreement for the joint management and development of Akagera national park. 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.
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 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.
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.In June 2019, Akagera received a further 5 Eastern black rhinoceros from 3 different zoos in 3 different countries located across Europe. 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 Park is a home to a variety of wildlife. Some of the animals that live in the park include; elephants, buffalos, giraffe, zebras, leopards, hyenas, lions. It is home to several antelopes like bushbucks, Topis, Oribis, water-buck, roan antelope and duiker, reedbuck, klipspringer, impala and world largest antelope, eland. You can watch schools of hippos and crocodiles in Lake Ihema. Some of the primates in Akagera national park are; olive baboons, Vervet monkeys, blue monkeys and bush babies who are often seen on night drives.
The park is a home to about 500 bird species, some of birds include; shoebill, papyrus Gonolek, African Wattled Plover, Giant Kingfisher, Senegal Lapwings, Squacco Herons, African Open bill stock, Grey Crowned Crane, African Darter, Long-toed and Water Thick-knee.
Some of the water bird species are; fish eagles, Cattle Egret, Hamerkop, Sacred and Hadada Ibis, Augur Buzzard, Long-crested Eagle, and Pied Crow. Black-headed and Viellot’s Black Weavers, Grey-backed Fiscals, Fan-tailed Widowbird and Caruther’s Cisticola.
Things to do in Akagera national Park
Game drive is the commonly done activity around the park and can be done in the morning and evening. There are various trails with in the park that tourists follow as the look for the animals. The activity takes between 2-6 hours and you will expect to spot animals like buffalos, antelopes including; the elands, topis, waterbucks, giraffes, monkeys, civets, leopards, hyenas, serval cats and various savannah birds living in the park. The game drive in usually in the company of a park guide who will help in locating and providing a lot of information about the park’s different fauna and flora species. For the longer game drives, you are advised to take a snack or lunch and a lot of drinking water.
The night game drive in a thrilling experience and you will expect to spot nocturnal animals of Akagera national park. Some of them include; hippos, bush babies, serval cats, civets, hyenas, leopard among many others. The night game drive takes about 2 hours.
Boat cruise is another exciting activity done in the park. The activity is done on Lake Ihema (the largest around the park) and takes around 2 hours. Lake Ihema has got one of the largest concentrations of hippos in East Africa and it’s also a sight to behold and there are also many crocodiles that you will find along the shores of the lake. The landscape around the lake is low, composed of wide plains dominated grass, cactus-like Euphorbia candelabra shrub and both thick and thin forests. Various bird species like in these forests.
There are also many water birds that can be seen on a boating safari on Lake Ihema and you might also spot a shoe bill stork. The other many animals like the elephants can find their way to the water to bathe and you will get the opportunity of getting closer to them than you would be in the vehicle on any game drive. Commonly spotted birds around the lake include; African fish eagle, pied kingfishers, African jacana, hadada ibis, among others.
Being a home to over 500 bird species, Akagera national park is surely one of Rwanda’s birding destinations. There are forest birds that live in the montane vegetation, swamp birds that live in the swampy areas of the park and water birds that are usually around the lakes with in and around the park. There are also the localized red faced barbets, and the swamp fly catcher as well as the elusive shoebill stork all found in Akagera National park. some of the birds birders will expect to see include; Cattle Egret, Hamerkop, Sacred and Hadada Ibis, Augur Buzzard, Long-crested Eagle, African fish eagle, African jacana, marabou stork among others.
There are various lakes with in and around the park where fishing can be done. Fishing is an extra activity while on your visit to the park. The activity is usually done along the shores of Lake Shakani and you will hear snorts of hippos and sound of the birds around the lake as you carry out the activity.
The interesting part about fishing in the national park is that you get to keep your catch and you can start a fire at your catch and cook or roast it or ask your hotel chef to make a meal for you.