Akagera National Park News – Fresh from African Parks

Akagera News July – September 2020
© MATHIEU COURDESSES
We are now well over the hump of 2020 and hope you are all continuing to keep safe and healthy as we adjust to a new kind of normal. Fortunately work in the park continues, relatively uninterrupted by COVID19. Tourism, which is slowly beginning to pick up, has been heavily impacted but it has been wonderful to see such great support from some regular visitors, as well as first-timers, taking the chance to enjoy extended visits Akagera while it’s not so easy to travel elsewhere! Agricultural-based community engagement activities continue with fisheries, honey harvesting, vegetable growing and chicken rearing projects at the community centre. Radio broadcasts on wildlife and conservation have continued to engage the local community with some pre-recorded sessions on wildlife and other live sessions offering the opportunity for people to call-in with questions. Activities such as the park environmental education programme bringing students to the park and sports events like the Rhino Velo Race and Lions Cups Football Tournament have had to be postponed for now but construction on the dormitory at the community centre is nearing completion for when schools are able to re-open.
Akagera Community Centre dormitories will accommodate up to 64 students in four large dorm rooms
On 3rd October 1,000 African Parks rangers will run an accumulative 21,000kms in the #WildlifeRangerChallenge to help raise funding for fellow rangers within the 11 countries in which African Parks operates. African Parks, through the support of major donors, have been able to continue funding the critical work of rangers in the field during this difficult time, however, this is not the case for many other organisations or governments. Therefore AP rangers will be running in solidarity for their colleagues and all funds raised for the challenge will be put towards outfitting fellow rangers with basic but essential gear such as boots, shirt, pants, water filter and first aid kits.

The Akagera team of 30 rangers, and an additional 40 members of staff, have been hard at work training for the past few weeks and are excited to run in the challenge, or walk a 5 – 10km in solidarity! Akagera’s team captain is the ranger instructor for Akagera, Jackson; “We are happy, excited and motivated and this is creating comradery among our team”. For more information, and to learn how you can help, visit Wildlife Ranger Challenge 2020 and meet Jackson, here!

An early morning training session #forwildliferangers run on 3rd October
A few of the parks regular visitors and wildlife enthusiasts were invited to participate in our first ever foot-survey within the park to count some of the key species in Akagera. The park conducts biennial aerial surveys on odd years, but the 2019 survey was conducted under poor spotting conditions and subsequently had low counts for some of the hard-to-spot species, including rarer antelopes like roan and eland. A foot-survey enables access to areas of the park that cannot be reached by vehicles to count as many individuals as possible and develop a better idea of where in the park they occupy. The survey consisted of hiking transects of between 6 – 16kms by 20 teams over two days. The 20 teams were made up of two rangers in each team, park management and other staff as well as some invited participants as a way of increasing participation in conservation and research. It’s still early to determine how successful the survey was and we will share the results as we get them, but the walk and views were spectacular!
Hiking transects of the park with rangers
Tourism is beginning to recover in Rwanda and the airport opened on 1st August with flights beginning to resume. There are no restrictions based on nationality or point of departure and there are strict preventative measures in place to keep everyone safe. Rwanda has been praised for its early reaction and strict policies to contain COVID19, including mandatory masks, physical distancing, and smart responses including pool-testing batches of samples to test large numbers with limited resources. Requirements for visitors involve a COVID test before traveling and a second test on arrival while quarantining for up to 24 hours in a hotel in Kigali. International visitors are then encouraged to explore the country, beginning with any primate activities. For more information about travelling to Rwanda, take a look at the Visit Rwanda website and this tempting clip!
We have been taking advantage of these quieter times to focus on some internal training. All tourism staff conducted a hospitality training day over three sessions, conservation and research manager, Drew Bantlin, gave two presentations on monitoring of key species in Akagera and the trophic cascade hypothesis and how this might relate to the lion reintroduction. Management staff have begun an information sharing morning where each department presents for one hour on a topic of their choice to the rest of the management team. Any available staff members are welcome to join in. Sessions have included a canine unit field demonstration of on and off-lead tracking, a presentation from conservation technology officer on the LoRa network, the tourism team presented on visitor statistics and projections for tourism numbers and the operations team explained how the stock management system, InFlow, is used in the stores to show material usage and expenses for specific projects.
An informal, informative, information sharing session – respecting social distancing policies!
If you haven’t had a chance to take up the extra-special EAC resident offers for Ruzizi Tented Lodge and Karenge Bush Camp, you are in luck! We have decided to extend the special with rates as low as USD $85 per person per night, full board, until 15th December 2020. It may be hard to believe but there are just ten weekends left until then, so book now to avoid missing out! And if you need any extra reasons to visit; there have been some exciting spots in Akagera recently with lots of lion sightings on Kilala and two shoebills seen on the periphery of the park during the annual aerial crowned crane census conducted by Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association (RWCA). We also celebrated #WorldRhinoDay and #WorldElephantDay recently – check out our video posts on social media and celebrate these iconic creatures by supporting their conservation and #VisitRwanda. #TemberaURwanda – we look forward to seeing you!
Ruzizi Tented Lodge, Tree Top Tent – Photo by Scott Ramsay
Park manager, Jes Gruner, held a live twitter session in August answering questions on park management or operations using #AskAkagera. The participation was amazing and questions included;

“Do you have other alternative means of supporting conservation efforts as the Covid-19 pandemic reduced the number of visitors that contributed in moving your duties forward?”

“What goals does the CEO have for the park and as conservationists, what can we do in our role to help achieve this goal?”

“Which months do you recommend for maximum animal activity and maximum bird life”

The event was a great success and #AskAkagera was trending on twitter in Rwanda. Let us know if you would like to see more of this, we’d love to hear from you!

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