Akagera News

Akagera National Park News Updates

The most significant news this quarter is the translocation of eighteen Eastern black rhinoceroses to Akagera, and Rwanda, over the first week in May, ten years after the last individual was documented in the country. This was a historic move for the nation and the species but tragically, a month after their arrival, rhino monitoring trainer, Krisztián Gyöngyi, was killed by a rhino while tracking in the field. Krisz had been in Akagera for six weeks. He was due to be here for a three month period to assist with the reintroduction of black rhino to Akagera. He was a rhino specialist with more than five years of experience monitoring and conserving rhinos in both Majete Wildlife Reserve and Liwonde National Park in Malawi. His Master’s degree was on habitat capacity on the black rhinoceros in Majete, and he had been carrying out his PhD research on the conservation ecology of the black rhinoceros in Liwonde since 2012. He had an extraordinary passion for rhinos and ambition to be in Africa, dedicated to working for their conservation. He and the team had been tracking and getting visuals on the rhinos on a daily basis since they were released from the boma a month ago. He leaves behind his wife and young daughter. Krisz’s time in Akagera was invaluable and his legacy will live on.

Offloading one of 18 black rhinos translocated to Akagera in May 2017

With the second arrival of rhinos also came two additional male lions to increase the genetic diversity among the existing population in Akagera. The two males, from Dinokeng Game Reserve in Gauteng, South Africa, are brothers and just over three years old.
On arrival the brothers, named by Akagera Park rangers ‘Nziza’ meaning ‘good’ and ‘Ngabo’ meaning ‘man’ in the local language, Kinyarwanda, were released into the lion boma, initially built to accommodate the founder population of seven lions brought from South Africa in 2015. The original seven have now increased to 17 individuals, and the arrival of two new males brings the population to 19. The males have been monitored in the boma over the last month and fed a carcass every 4 – 5 days. According to Stephan Prins, Section Ranger at Dinokeng Game Reserve, the brothers are a strong coalition, very inquisitive and good hunters. While in the boma resident males, Ntwari and Ngangare have visited the brothers on two occasions, asserting their dominance over their range. The much younger newcomers have been fairly wary and reserved while in the boma, and in new territory. They will shortly be released from the boma.

Two new male lions for Akagera. Photo by Gael Vande weghe

Sadly, last year, we lost two of the K9 unit dogs to canine trypanosome. While all efforts are made to protect the dogs from tsetses, including dips, prophylaxis every three months, rubs, collars, flags around the kennels and twice daily health checks, the Belgian Malinois are still very susceptible to the disease. We have been trialing the training two young mixed-breed dogs from the boundary of the park in the hope that they will have some natural resistance to the disease. ‘Mist’ and ‘Nyumbani’, or Nyumba, were sourced by the Canine Unit manager, Boaz, and are now being trained. Boaz says the dogs are responding very well and he is optimistic they will make great additions to the canine unit. We will keep you posted on their progress!

Mist, one of two new dogs who have joined the canine unit

Karenge Bush Camp has re-opened for the June – August 2017 season
. It remains in the north of the park and as the only accommodation option in the north, with just six tents, it provides a remote and intimate experience. Early morning game drives around Kilala Plain offer up some of the lesser-seen species; hyena sightings have been particularly common in the early hours. At Ruzizi we’ve been giving the place a face lift with some new furniture, new soft furnishings, a new retail area selling some of the best locally made products, including Presioza jewelry, Waka Waka torches and Umutima’s elephants and we’re waiting for some new art for the walls from ruzizi or phone +250 (0) 786 182 871.

Karenge Bush Camp in north of Akagera National Park. Photo by Scott Ramsay of Love Wild Africa

We’ve also been making some changes to our reception area entrance way
; were working on improving the café and we’ve got some new suppliers in the shop – among them are Bee Light who make beeswax candles, supplied by some of the bee-keeping cooperatives we support, and Imagine We who have published their book ‘ABCs of Rwanda’ (where A stands for Akagera). We recently partnered with Question Coffee to help us with the installation of an espresso machine in our cafe and staff training and we’ll be selling a special ‘Big Five’ coffee blend! Question Coffee support women coffee growers in Kayonza District, in the Eastern Province, so we think it’s a great fit to promote their coffee in Akagera.

Cafe staff in training with Question Coffee at Akagera National Park reception

We’ve had visits from several journalists and news agencies recently
, many covering the story of the rhino re-introduction. Here is one by Sue Watt who visited us in early May, her article is in The Times UK Rwanda’s renaissance: great apes, volcanoes and luxury. CNN have been here to film a short documentary on the reintroduction on rhinos. France 2 filmed a news clip in June and freelance journalist Daniel Allen is currently working on some pieces for Selamta Inflight Magazine, CAAC inflight magazine and others. John and Cate Gunn, the brother and sister team behind the book ‘Beyond a Thousand Hills’ visited to capture some images from Akagera to include in their photographic book currently being published. The project was successfully crowd-funded on Kickstarter, visit their website for more information. Canal Afrique visited in April with well-known TV personality Sonia Rolland. They are producing a documentary on Rwanda, so look out for this!
Environmental Education programme started this month, with the aim of bringing 1,500 school children and local leaders to the park from schools on along the park boundary. This is the fourth year of our environmental education programme and we receive great feedback from the kids, their teachers and parents. In addition to the informative booklets given to each child with images and text in English and Kinyarwanda, we have also printed exercise booklets for schools with the cover pages, and inside cover, in full colour, with images and text describing some of the conservation initiatives in Akagera.

We’ve been promoting honey production on the park boundary since 2014, starting with just one cooperative in the south of the park and have now increased to working with six different cooperatives along the boundary of the park from south to north. In total over 300 modern bee hives have been distributed to these cooperatives as well as training and equipment to improve their yield and quality. The honey is available to purchase in our gift shop, and the cooperatives are also wholesaling it to retailers further afield.

We’ve received some funding from Partners in Conservation to contribute to our budget for developing the community plot outside the park. Already a borehole has been dug, and we’ve installed a solar pump and tank. Designs are being created to develop a community centre and turn the plot into an example space for the local community, employing techniques such as biogas, kitchen gardens and egg production. The community centre will provide a space for trainings and meetings to be held and a shop will provide a space for the sale of local produce. A second phase of the project will see a dormitory room for students coming from further field to enable them to visit the park. We’ll keep you posted on the progress!

So half way through the year already a lot is happening and lots more to come. Keep in touch with us through our social media channels; Facebook Friends of Akagera National Park and @AkageraPark on Twitter and Instagram.