Rwanda’s big five wildlife safari destination-Akagera National Park
Founded in 1934 for the purposes of wildlife conservation, Akagera National Park is the spectacular big five Rwanda wildlife safari destination. Named after the Akagera River which flows along its eastern boundary, the park covers an area of 1,122 km² situated in eastern Rwanda close to the border with Tanzania. The Akagera river feeds in to Lake Ihema which is Rwanda’s largest lake and the complex system of lakes and linking papyrus swamps make up over a third of the park, making it the largest protected wetland in Eastern-Central Africa.
Characterized by woodland, swamps, low mountains and savannah, it was founded in 1934 by the Belgian government with 2,500 km2 (970 sq. mi) at the time. In 1997, it was reduced in size by close to 50% when land was re allocated to refugees who were returning to Rwanda after the civil strife of the 1994 genocide a thing that harmed the area by poaching and cultivation. In 2009, Rwanda Development Board and Africa Parks signed a joint renewable 20-year management agreement in which the Akagera management company was established in 2010 to help both bodies manage the park. The management ensured security measures like construction of a western boundary fence which measures 120.0 kilometers, deploying an air surveillance helicopter, training of an expert rhino tracking and protection team and a canine anti-poaching unit. These tremendous efforts are greatly the reason for the increasing Rwanda safaris to the park.
What to do and see in Akagera National Park
Wildlife in Akagera National Park
The beautiful varied landscape shelters several wildlife species including the big five animals which are Buffaloes, Rhinos, Elephants, Lions and leopards. Other wildlife species include zebras, giraffes, elands, topis, Maasai giraffes, monkeys, civets, hyenas and serval cats. Some of these species had been extinct but later re-introduced to the park for a great Rwanda wildlife tour experience.
In 1986, Masai giraffes were introduced from Kenya and their population has grown to over 80 individuals in recent years.
In July 2015, seven lions from South Africa were introduced and released in the park, making them the first lions in Rwanda in 15 years. And Beyond donated five lionesses from Phinda Private Game Reserve and Tembe Elephant Park in KwaZulu-Natal donated two male lions. This effort was described by African Parks as “a ground-breaking conservation effort for both the park and the country” as part of a project aimed at reversing the local extinction of the species in Akagera National Park. Since 2015, the population has grown to over 20 animals and it keeps growing.
In May 2017, Rwanda reintroduced around 20 Eastern black Rhinoceroses from South Africa, which had been absent for 10 years.
The re-introduction process left the park as a big five wildlife safari destination and a sought-after destination for Rwanda tours with about 13, 500 mammal species.
In the southern part of Akagera National Park, the vast Lake Ihema is home to hippos and crocodiles.
The best way of exploring the park is by undertaking a game drive within the park as you traverse the beauty within the park in an open 4×4 safari vehicle alongside a knowledgeable safari driver guide. You can choose to go for a morning, full day or night game drive.
Birds in Akagera National Park
This well hydrated park isn’t only home to wildlife but also one of the best Rwanda birding safari destinations. The park is host to hundreds of bird species including savannah birds and the rare shoebill stork. It has about 520 bird species ranging from water to forest and savannah species as well as migratory bird species.
With the water bodies in the Park you can go for a fishing experience in which you catch your fish and get to keep it and in case you feel like cooking it, you might start a fire and get it ready to be roasted in time for lunch.
A side from game drives, boat safaris or cruises on the popular Lake Ihema is one of the main highlights of any visit to the park. Lake Ihema has got one of the largest concentrations of hippos in East Africa and it’s also a sight to behold and there are also many crocodiles that you will find along the shores of the lake. There are also many water birds that can be seen on a boat cruise on Lake Ihema. Here you can also sight several wildlife species quenching their thirst.
Where else to go for safari in Africa?
On an African safari, you may wonder where else to go for safari. Within Rwanda Nyungwe Forest national Park is a perfect destination or even take a gorilla trekking safari in Rwanda to Volcanoes National Park. Outside Rwanda you can also continue for a Congo gorilla safari in the proximate Virunga National Park or opt for a gorilla trekking safari in Uganda to either Bwindi Impenetrable National Park or Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.