Akagera National Park – the 2020 Highlights

Akagera Highlights 2020
© DREW BANTLIN
With the arrival of 2020, Akagera had expectations to build on the success of the previous year. In 2019 Akagera was 90% self-financing, and the park was on the last stretch to self-sustainability. Unfortunately, soon after, the pandemic began to impact the park, like everywhere else, resulting in the temporal closure of Akagera National Park. The government of Rwanda was quick to react and worked hard to contain the pandemic and after a three-month lockdown, tourism activities in Rwanda resumed. Akagera reopened in mid-June with the aim to recover from the knock of the pandemic.
While much of the world was under total lockdown, and several workers losing their jobs, we are proud to say that our essential conservation work continued and our rangers did not miss a single patrol. It is thanks to the ongoing support of African Parks’ major donors that we have had the resilience to ensure we remained operational with all staff fully employed. We are thankful that 100% of the 271 contracted members of staff in Akagera were retained on full pay despite closure and loss of revenues from tourism.
Our conservation work continued.
Akagera received over 15,844 total visitors in 2020; a 68% decrease in 2019. While these were not the figures we were anticipating at the beginning of the year, the year did show some positive trends including longer stays and a higher spend per person.
A very tempting resident special saw the three months post-lockdown achieve 35% occupancy at Ruzizi tented Lodge and 37% at Karenge Bush Camp. In addition, due to the glowing reviews of our guests on TripAdvisor, Ruzizi Tented Lodge has been recognised as a 2020 Travelers choice award winner. This award placed Ruzizi in the top hotels in Rwanda and in the top 10% of hospitality businesses globally.
Ruzizi Tented Lodge has been recognised by as a 2020 Travelers Choice award winner. Photo: Scott Ramsey
On 3rd October 2020, 1,000 African Parks rangers ran an accumulative 21,000kms in the #WildlifeRangerChallenge to help raise funding for fellow rangers within the 11 countries in which African Parks operates. 30 Rangers and additional 40 Akagera staff joined the occasion and were joined by 30 rangers from Nyungwe, 25 from Gishwati-Mukura and 15 from Volcanoes National Parks. African Parks target was to outfit 1000 rangers and So far 900 rangers were outfitted. One kit costs just $250 and every dollar raised of any amount will go towards creating ranger kit. Will you help to outfit another 100? Click here to donate
30 Akagera Rangers along with other 40 park staff run 21Km in the #WildlifeRangerChallenge
2020 saw the first ever foot-survey to count some 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. Over two days participants, including park staff and invited guests, were distributed into 20 teams with two rangers in each and hiked transects of between 6 and16km. A total of 3,716 animals were counted importantly, 63 elands and 19 roan. Despite the strenuous hiking sections and difficult terrain, the foot survey provided a new and rewarding experience for Park staff and visitors including unseen spectacular and unique views.
Despite the difficult terrain, the hiking offered spectacular and unique views
Despite having to postpone several activities, community engagement work continued around the park
51 radio broadcasts were held, some pre-recorded and other live sessions, at two local radio stations. Topics included wildlife ecology, tourism, security, human-wildlife conflicts, and co-existing with wildlife. Live sessions encouraged engagement offering the opportunity for people to call in with questions.

As part of our annual environmental education programme 28 teachers from 11 local schools had 3-day training aiming to encourage environmental enquiry through wildlife clubs at their respective schools. The teachers camped in the park for 2 nights and during the training, participants evaluated the school visits, which sees 2,000 students coming to the park each year, and ways of integrating the conservation message into the national curriculum.

28 teachers from 11 schools had 3-days training aiming to enforce wildlife clubs at their respective schools.
Over USD $730,000 contributed directly to the community surrounding the park from various activities including community freelance guide income, casual labourers for activities inside the park, purchase of local materials, or hiring of equipment.
In 2020 our tree nursery produced over 25,000 trees mostly indigenous and fruit species. 17,000 of them were planted at 10 sites (mainly schools) and their survival rate is over 90%. To increase the survival rate we conducted woodlot training for two people from each of the 10 sites. The trainees learned about tree care management, watering and mulching, and tree nursery preparation
construction of student dormitories was completed in 2020 and 25,000 trees were produced from the tree nursery at Akagera community center.
6 tonnes of honey from 375 beekeepers working with Akagera Management Company grouped in one union based at Akagera community center; a center for honey collection, filtering, and packaging.

The fishery cooperatives harvested over 150 tonnes of fish and earned a revenue of over FRW 42 million for 120 cooperative members.

Fisheries and beekeeping. Photos: Scott Ramsey
In 2020, African Parks started an initiative to develop a distinct and professional quality of guide unique to African Parks and its conservation ethos. Akagera guide, Mr. Isaac Mbarushimana completed the 28-day foundation course and will continue with further stages over the next two years.
Isaac Mbarushimana spent 28 days on guides training in Zambia.
The quiet time in 2020 allowed us to organise various internal training including refresher training on service excellence for hospitality staff, Medic and first aid refresher for rangers and park drivers, as well as post-by-post internal refresher training, and refresher training on using CyberTracker and GPS devices. In addition, staff completed a management course at the Gordon Institute of Business Science. 163 staff were enrolled in a yearlong EF English language training programme and ten senior managers completed the manager’s tool kit online short course designed for African Parks.
2020 saw Five elephants fitted with GPS collars, along with 5 lions and VHF transmitters put in the horns of 9 rhinos. Two of the rhinos also received GPS transmitters in their second horns. The new GPS transmitters use satellites to determine the location and the parks network of LoRa towers to transmit the information to the control room. The VHF transmitters are for tracking with telemetry in the field. Collaring these animals helps to track teams to locate the individuals, prides, or herds, to better monitor their condition, understand their movements within the park, and ensure their safety. The transmitters provide the park management with valuable data that can give insight into territories or home ranges particular animals occupy seasonal movements over a period of time and social interactions that may indicate the paternity of young, all of which help to inform management decisions.
Key species (elephants, lions, and rhinos) have been secured and monitoring was made easy for the teams on the field.
Photos: Mathieu Courdesses and Drew Bantlin
In August, during the annual Grey Crowned Crane census, Rwanda Wildlife Association spotted two Shoebills in the wetland around Akagera National Park. We also had unusual sightings of Flamingo on Mohana plain and Pelicans on Kilala plain.
Other news…
In 2020 Akagera has collaborated with Direct Pay Online to facilitate our visitors to pay online in a bid also to encourage cashless payments. By contacting the Akagera tourism office, we can send you a payment link with the payment options including payment with MOMO, credit card, and bank transfer.

Towards the end of 2020, Akagera has opened a new picnic area with a toilet block at Mihindi Lake just 2km from the old picnic area. Bathrooms with flushing toilets and showers with hot water are available.

We thank You for your support in 2020
Aviation, Travel and Conservation News - DAILY from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean islands
Look me up via LinkedIn, Facebook and follow me on Twitter or check out my YouTube account where you find out much more about me and what I do.
%d bloggers like this: