The recent reintroduction of black rhino to Rwanda’s Akagera National Park highlights the revival of wildlife tourism in the country and suggests the fight against poaching is being won, reports Jean Afadhali
ollowing the return of rhino to Akagera National Park in Rwanda after a decade of absence, conservation authorities have stepped up efforts to protect one of the world’s most endangered species.
The recent translocation of eastern black rhino from South Africa has excited wildlife lovers, conservationists and tourism players, but park managers have a huge task ahead of them to safeguard the new residents. “Unfortunately, rhino are high-commodity animals and sought after for their horns,” said Jes Gruner, Akagera’s park manager. “Obviously, to bring them back safely, we needed to address what the issue was and why [the numbers] went down – why they were depleted in the first place.”
In the 1970s more than 50 black rhinos thrived at Akagera, but the number of big mammals has declined under the pressure of wide-scale poaching. The last confirmed sighting of rhino here was in 2007.
Now, as the 20 relocated residents adjust to their new home, various steps have been taken to protect them: expertly trained tracking and protection teams are on site, a canine anti-poaching unit is present and helicopters for critical air surveillance around the park have been deployed.
In recent years, Akagera has experienced intense poaching issues. According to the park authorities, in 2013, 2000 snares were removed and more than 300 poachers were arrested. However, illegal activities have declined considerably, and last year just seven people were detained. In 2015, lion were reintroduced in the same park, and their population has doubled to 15, so there is hope.
The challenging rhino translocation project has cost Rwanda and its partners US$2 million but it has given the reserve Big Five status.
Belise Kariza, the country’s Chief Tourism Officer, called this an incredible milestone for conservation, Akagera’s diversity and Rwandan tourism. “With the reintroduction of rhino, we expect a great boost within our tourism sector and improvement of tourists’ experience in the country,” she said.
Image: one of the eastern black rhino in its boma at Akagera prior to being released, courtesy of African Parks Network.
To learn more about Akagera, visit https://www.african-parks.org/the-parks/akagera