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Akagera’s Quarterly Newsletter January to March 2018
Welcome to the first quarterly newsletter of 2018, from a very wet Akagera! The rains began on the 1st March and haven’t really stopped since so the roads are a little muddy but the park is looking lush and green! Despite the rain the year has started with a bang; we’ve seen an average of 45% increase in visitors over January and February on the same period last year. Here is a rundown of our recent activities…
Our Community Centre just outside the park is looking great, we hope you agree! This project is being developed in stages and will be a multi-use space incorporating several activities. It will be a space for the community to use as a well as a point of contact between tourists visiting Akagera and the local community around the park. There is a designated education centre space where a programme will be developed for environmental education and, in future, a dormitory accommodation will be developed to allow students to travel from other parts of the country and experience Akagera. The centre will be used to show education films about the environment and conservation to community members. There is also a space which can be used by the local community as a training centre, and an office and retail space for selling community products. The surrounding land will provide examples to the local community of kitchen-garden ideas, eggs production, rabbit and guinea pig rearing, bee-keeping and potentially other ideas people can employ such as biogas and aquaponics. We’ve received funding from both Partners in Conservation (PIC) and National Geographic to help develop the centre. We look forward to keeping you posted on the progress!
2017 ended sadly with the death of Bruno on 31st December, one of our highly trained canine unit dogs. The cause of death couldn’t be established. Vets carried out emergency surgery but sadly he didn’t make it. Less than a week later another favourite member of the canine unit, Reza, also died following a short illness. The death of these two dogs, both eight years old, was devastating for the canine unit, especially Boaz, the unit manager, who had been working with both these dogs even before they arrived in Akagera in early 2015. The dogs from the local community who joined the canine unit are proving to be very good additions to the team. Nyumba, the only female, is now considered one of the best trackers. While Mist shows great promise as a restraint dog. These dogs were recruited in the hope they have some natural resistance to the tsetse transmitted disease, trypanasomiasis, which is a constant struggle for the Belgian Malinois who are on a rigorous vaccination programme and have health checks twice daily. RIP Bruno and Reza.
We are also sad to report the death of Shema, the 14 year old lioness who played the starring role in the Nat Geo documentary following the return of lions to Akagera National Park as one of the original lions translocated to Akagera in 2015. She came to the park with one of her offspring, 18-month old Amahoro, although they separated soon after they were released from the boma. Shema was the first to give birth to a new generation of lions in Akagera; the first lions born in the park in two decades. Her three cubs, two males and one female, are now two-year old adults. The cause of death appears to be a severe head injury, presumably she was kicked while attempting a kill. Not long before her death we received news from the monitoring team that sisters Kazi and Umwari had been seen with a second litter of four cubs and the lion population in the park continues to increase. The two young males introduced in 2017 have been spending most of their time in the south of the park, seen outside Ruzizi Tented Lodge and Giraffe Area; right at the park entrance. The older males have visited the south several times too.
New pricing for 2019 has been announced and circulated to tour operators and stakeholders. You can view the new pricing on our Friends of Akagera National Park Facebook page here or contact us for full details. As you may be aware, 100% of the profits from gate entry fees and activities in the park stay in the park helping to fund law enforcement activities, conservation initiatives, our community engagement work and more. In 2017 the park was able to fund 75% of its operations from tourism income. The remaining 25% was funded by donor partners, African Parks and the Rwanda Development Board.
We were excited to have a team of trainers from Southern Hospitality Services LLC at Ruzizi Tented Lodge for a week-long hospitality training on service and operations in March. All department were included in the training to help organize and streamline our activities. The training involved time in each department, understanding how they work and how it might be improved through implementing better procedures or checklists. Reviewing kitchen safety, cleaning and food preparation and storage techniques, communication among staff and with guests, was covered, and more! The team at Ruzizi always receive great feedback from guest on the service provided so we hope this training will help to keep this up. Thank you Tracy, Taylor and Russ from Southern Hospitality Services LLC for a great week of learning!
Injyana Ensembles put on a spectacular concert in March, titled “The Big Five Concert” in Kigali. It was a celebration of the music and arts scene in Rwanda, as well as Akagera National Park becoming a Big Five park again. The Injyana Jazz band played well-known songs such as The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” and Jive at Five. The Injyana Orchestra played some major orchestral works by major composers including Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5, and the large scale 5th Symphony by Russia’s Shostakovich and much more. All songs related to theme of wildlife in Africa, and the number 5. The turn-out was wonderful and Akagera sponsored a raffle prize for two nights for two people at Karenge Bush Camp.
If you’ve been following Akagera’ story you will know that two iconic species have returned to the park in recent years. The arrival of lions, a apex predator, and the highly endangered eastern black rhino. Their arrival not only restores Akagera’s status as a Big Five park but symbolizes something greater; the renewal of this spectacular landscape and the knock-on effects of a flourishing park for the surrounding communities. Videographer, Laurie Hedges, recently spent three weeks filming in Akagera to capture this new chapter in Akagera’s story. Click here for a taste of what’s to come… We can’t wait to see the final film and hope to have news about sharing this with you in the next newsletter.
In other news: Camera traps have been set up strategically in the park to help monitor rhino. They’ve captured some great images of a wide variety of wildlife, including the rhinos, honey badgers, leopards and more!
Two new quad bikes are now in operation along two sections of the fence line enabling these sections to be patrolled twice a day. The remaining sections are still patrolled daily on foot by a team of fence attendants.
We are excited about the Mantis Collection taking on management of the Akagera Game Lodge and plans for renovations are due to start soon, so keep posted for more information on that!