Welcome to the Akagera newsletter for the first quarter 2017. It was a rough end to 2016 in many ways; we lost Max, one of the canine unit dogs, to tsetse-transmitted trypanosomiasis and one the seven lions brought to the park in 2015, Garuka, was found dead by the law enforcement team tracking her. The rains were unusually late and people and wildlife struggled with the long dry season. We said farewell to our friend and colleague, Eugene Mutangana, who was appointed as Head of Conservation at the Rwanda Development Board. However, on the bright side, just days after discovering Garuka’s body the rangers tracking Amahoro discovered she had cubs, her first litter, now bringing the total number of lions in Akagera to 17. The rains have eventually arrived so the park is lush and green and Eugene remains involved in Akagera in his new capacity, park-earned revenue and visitor numbers continued to increase on the previous year and 2017 has started with some exciting and unusual events, read on for a roundup of our latest news…
Amahoro and her four cubs. Sarah Hall/Akagera Management Company
We were excited to have the opportunity to hold a Red Carpet Kigali Premiereof the Nat Geo WILD documentary ‘Return of the Lion’. The documentary followed the lions after their arrival in Akagera in 2015 and tells the tale of their first months in the park; learning to hunt as a pride, establishing relationships and ultimately producing a new generation of lions, the first to be born in Rwanda in almost two decades. The Premiere was a success with over 100 invited guests, including The Right Honorable Anastase Murekezi, Prime Minister of Rwanda and his family. A special thanks to the Rwanda Development Board for their assistance in organising the event, Metanoia Concepts for getting permission to premiere the documentary and to Food&Stuff for sponsoring the catering for the cocktail reception. Following the Premiere in Kigali we held a public screening in the community just outside Akagera National Park. Metanoia Concepts crowd-funded to get the documentary translated into Kinyarwanda and the park organised for a big screen, projector and generator to show the documentary. Almost 1,000 people turned up to the open-air cinema we created at a football pitch to watch the movie. Before the movie began there was an opportunity to interact with the audience and discuss conservation activities within the park. The documentary has been airing internationally on Nat Geo WILD during March, and may be repeated so check your TV guides for further information.
The Right Honorable Anastase Murekezi, Prime Minister of Rwanda and his family with AMC board member, Robert Bayigamba (far left) and Park manager, Jes Gruner (far right). Photo by Gael Vande weghe
Communication with guests, helping park visitors to understand, care about, and ultimately care for, the park and the work we are doing to conserve Akagera has been the aim of recent training by Heartfelt Associates. Tim and Lisa were last in Akagera in early 2014 for interpretive training with our guides and tourism staff, we were happy to be able to have them back again to conduct the same training with the park and freelance guides, park receptionists, Ruzizi and Karenge staff. Two five-day courses were held and included staff from tour operators Primate Safaris and Eagle Ride. The course taught participants about peoples’ motivations for visiting the park and how this might affect the way they are guided, it discussed learning styles and how different people take on information in different ways. As a guide you can use that knowledge to enable you to gain their interest, gaining their interest is the first step towards getting them to support the parks conservation efforts. Tim and Lisa enjoyed a boat trip on their last morning "..we had the pleasure of seeing Theogen do the boat ride interpretation… What a treat! He did what we would call an absolutely stellar approach to interpretation and his audience (full boat) really responded well to it. It felt like a very tangible validation of our work there to see him engage the folks in the boat and deliver a very strong theme. It was the perfect cap for our visit there." All participants felt the training was very value and we look forward to hearing more visitor feedback as the guides implement their newly gained skills and interpretive approach. Photo by Sarah Hall/Akagera Management Company
The law enforcement team have received tracking training certifications and three rangers are back in Malawi to do an advanced level tracking training course over the next three weeks. The deputy head of law enforcement attended a training in Kenya on advanced analytical information gathering. In the park the digital radio network is up and running and towers have been erected in high points throughout the park to implement the Local Area Network (LORA). Small solar-operated devices which can be fixed to park vehicles, motorbikes, boats, etc., will communicate with the towers and allow the control room to monitor their activities. The Domain Awareness System (DAS) has been installed in the control room which will bring all the information together in one place in real-time for the operations room staff to get a full picture of what is happening in the park in order to quickly coordinate a response when needed. For more information about DAS, watch this video clip. Vulcan installing and training on DAS in Akagera Ops room
The park has received an AS350 B3 helicopter, donated to the government of Rwanda by HGB Foundation, to be used in Akagera for future rhino monitoring, rapid deployment of rangers, and aerial monitoring. In preparation to keep the helicopter in the park a hangar has been constructed and the construction of a pilot’s house is currently underway.
Saving Grey Crowned Cranes are continuing their work to rehabilitate captive crowned cranes in Rwanda. So far 240 captive cranes have been registered in the country, with 116 brought to Akagera’s rehabilitation sites so far, including 14 in the last month. On the theme of birds, a lone secretary bird is still being sighted on Kilala Plain on a regular basis. Prior to its arrival, the secretary bird had only been recorded in Akagera a handful of times. Some recent sightings include a leopard with three cubs by the park entrance, an otter off the deck of Ruzizi Tented Lodge – only the second known sighting of an otter, and both within the last six months – and more sightings of white-headed barbets which, according to the Birds of East Africa, doesn’t occur in Rwanda! The Birds in Rwanda book cites just one sighting in 2009 but they were seen in March by Maximilian Dehling, and regular park visitors and keen birders reported seeing them in September last year also. Secretary bird photo by Maximilian Dehling