In May 2017, black rhinos were re-introduced into Rwanda’a largest national park: Akagera. This move has been in the making for several years and is the result of efforts from many nations who donated time, money and resources to ensure their return happened smoothly and safely. But, rhinos weren’t always absent from Akagera. In fact, at one point in time, it was home to over 50 black rhinos.
Akagera’s tragic past
Located in the northeastern corner of Rwanda, on the border with Tanzania, Akagara National Park is one of four national parks in Rwanda. This park has seen a great deal of calamity, which stemmed from poor management and rampant poaching. In the 1990’s, during the peak of the Rwandan Civil War, refugees took residence in the park. In 1997, the Rwandan Government reduced the size of the park by over 50% to provide farming land for the displaced people.
African Parks and Rwanda Development Board
In 2010, the Akagera Management Company was formed as a partnership between Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and African Parks. The agreement terms were for 20 years and on a renewable basis. One of the first projects they tackled was the construction of a new fence.
The fence, funded by the Rwandan government, was instrumental in their plans to reintroduce lions back in Akagera. It also served to help lessen human conflict by reducing the number of wildlife from crossing onto nearby farmland.
Lions come to Akagera
In 2015, seven lions were reintroduced in Akagera. The safari company, &Beyond, donated five female lions from the Phina Private Game Reserve in South Africa. The two males were donated from Tembe Elephant Reserve in South Africa.
The lions are also doing well and, at the time of publishing, there are presently 19 lions.
African Parks, Howard G. Buffett and others help out
After the successful reintroduction of lions to Akagera, the next step was to bring black rhinos back. The project to reintroduce rhinos was made possibe with financial assistance from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the Dutch government and the People’s Postcode Lottery.
The funds allowed the park to increase the number of staff, including security, to help in the effort. Akagera also received a helicopter, which is on call for any needed help and aerial surveillance of poachers.
Black rhino comes to Akagera
On May 2 of this year, 10 critically endangered Eastern black rhinos were air-lifted from South Africa to Rwanda. One week later, on May 9, another eight arrived. It is everyone’s hope and goal to see them do as well as the new lions are.
The new addition to the park has had a tremendous impact on tourism, with 2016 tourist revenue at $1.4 million vs. $200,000 in 2010 (1) . In an unfortunate incident, on June 7, 2017, Krisztián Gyöngyi was killed by one of the rhinos he was helping to reintroduce. He had worked over five years in Malawi on rhino projects and was considered a rhino expert. You can read more on his bio here (2) .He leaves behind a wife and a daughter.
There are less than 5000 black rhinos left in the wild, 1,000 of which are Eastern black rhinos (3) .