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History of Akagera

History of Akagera National Park

Created in 1934 to protect the lands surrounding the Kagera River, Akagera is one of the  oldest National parks in Africa.

From 1990 to 1994, Akagera was a battleground between the Army of Rwanda and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a rebel group mostly composed of Tutsi exiles. For cilivians, much of the area was a no-go-zone.

On the age of the Park in Gabiro was located the main army base, and rebel soldiers staged some of the fiercest battles in the area.

In the immediate aftermath of the war, little was done to protect the Rwanda wildlife within the park. Many of the Rwandan staff, researchers, or conservationist working in parks had either left the country or been killed.

Led by the victorious Rwandan Patriotic Front, the new government prioritized the resettlement of ethnic Tutsi who had previously lived in exile.

Rwanda was and remains a densely populated country, and with little arable land available, the government allowed returnees and their estimated 700,000 cattle to settle in Akagera, as well as in an adjacent area formerly known as the Mutara Game Reserve. The returnees converged on the area, putting great strain on the  delicate ecosystem of the park.

So as to minimize human-wildlife conflicts, returnees were allowed to stay in the park, but in 1997, the Akagera National Park size was decreased by two-thirds from 12,800 km2 to 1,120 km2. This was one of the largest reductions in the size of a conservation area in the modern history of Africa.

But the problems of Akagera National Park did not end there. Local residents and park officials who worked in Akagera during that time say elephants spent less time inside the new park than outside, where they roamed their historic feeding grounds and feasted on new crops.

Setting up conflict, a single elephant can destroy up to a year’s worth of a farmer’s income in one night. Ungulates such as impalas, topis, zebras, buffalos, and warthogs continued to graze in the same areas as livestock, competing for food.

Buffalo and lions posed a severe threat to cattle and humans. Loss of a single cow could mean severe economic pain in the nearby communities, and many people reacted by hunting or poisoning the National park’s wildlife until some species were utterly wiped out.

Lions, which numbered over 300 prior to 1990s, were completely eradicated by 2002. Poachers continued to penetrate the boundaries of the park every night to pull thousands fish out of the several lakes in the area. Akagera National Park’s last black rhino was seen there in 2007.

Faced with a make-or-break moment and a nature reserve that was increasingly becoming a park on paper only, in 2009, the government of Rwanda changed directions.

They signed a 20-year contract with African Parks, a Johannesburg-based non-profit organisation that operates by taking over complete responsibility for the rehabilitation and management of conservation zones.

African Parks, together with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), a Rwandan government agency, founded the Akagera Management Company, a joint for-profit business to oversee rehabilitation of the Akagera Park.

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