Akagera National Park received more than 40,000 visitors and generated $2 million in park revenue last year, a 20 per cent increase compared to 2017.
The park’s management said that the revenues made last year account for about 75 per cent of their annual budget.
The number of visitors to the park that’s close to the border with Tanzania, has continued to swell since African Parks, a non-profit conservation organisation managing 10 national parks and protected areas in seven African countries, took over its management in 2010.
Sarah Hall, the Tourism and Marketing Manager at Akagera National Park, told The New Times on Wednesday that it took “a combination of things,” including hard work.
Akagera Game Lodge plays a key role in increasing the number of visitors.
“The park has been on an upward trajectory since the signing of the public private partnership between RDB and African Parks. It has taken a lot of hard work, a dedicated team and a good relationship with the Government. Obviously things like the reintroduction of lions and rhinos gained a lot of attention,” Hall said.
Last year, nine rhinos had new GPS transmitters installed and a dedicated team continues to monitor them on a daily basis.
“Rwanda was also widely promoted as a ‘place to visit in 2018’ and initiatives by the RDB such as the discounted gorilla permits during low season for those visiting other parks in Rwanda has most likely made some contribution,” said Hall.
Speaking about the 2019 outlook – and plans and projections – Hall noted that the opening of the five-star tented lodge operated by Wilderness Safaris and the launching of the new-look Akagera Game Lodge, now run by Mantis, will be big milestones for the country’s tourism.
The five-star tented lodge is expected to open in May 2019. It is largely funded by the Howard G Buffet Foundation, through African Parks.
As reported late last year, she added, they are hoping to receive additional five rhinos from European zoos in 20119.
Among highlights from the park over the past 12 months is the construction of the new five-star lodge on Magashi peninsular.
“We will be conducting an aerial survey, which is done every two years, to monitor wildlife populations. There are some developments in the community engagement department too, our community centre outside the park is really beginning to take shape as an exciting multi-use space and advancing with some of the existing projects such as supporting commercial fisheries outside the park and scaling up with honey production in 2019.”
The lion population has reached more than 20 individuals with eight collared or re-collared in 2018, including some of the first generation of cubs born in Rwanda.
The reintroduction of rhinos and lions played a significant role in promoting Rwanda as a tourism destination.
Over the past 12 months, 1,680 local students, and 300 local leaders, visited Akagera for a day trip as part of the parks’ annual environmental education programme. In addition, over 1,600 students from 29 Rwandan schools or institutions were given free or discounted access.
It is also reported that 3,851 kilos of honey was harvested by eight cooperatives on the boundary of the park. A fisheries project at Nyankora, Rwinkwavu Sector saw the first harvest of fish in 2018, with more than 500 kilos harvested.
New snake species identified
Furthermore, a snake species new to science was identified. “Letheobia akagerae” is endemic to Akagera since it has only been identified within the park.
Hall said: “So far, it has only been recorded within the park, so it has to be considered endemic not only to Rwanda but even to the Akagera National Park”.
She explained that the specimen was collected “quite a while ago” but the process of getting it identified and described takes some time and involves a few people.
“What is exciting is that it indicates the diversity of Akagera is not fully understood or explored, it is exciting that in this day and age where we are losing species and biodiversity at such a rapid rate that we are still able to discover species that are new to science.”