Wild fires recently broke out in the Akagera National Park, destroying a large part of it and resulting in the deaths of three game rangers. The fires also left another warden, Jean Bosco Karemera, in critical condition after being severely burned. He is still admitted at King Faisal Hospital (KFH) in Kigali.
Karemera was the first to escape the raging inferno which believed to have been set off by poachers.
“The four rangers were trapped in the fire while trying to contain it on August 21 at Magashi, north-east of the park”, said Annet Tamara, the public relations officer of the Office of National Parks and Tourism ( ORTPN).
She went on to say that it was not yet clear whether the poachers were Tanzanians or Rwandans though she pointed out that the affected area is close to Tanzania.
About 140 hectares were destroyed in the recent fires.
The four rangers succumbed to fire in their frantic attempts to put out the fire, were immediately rushed to Nyagatare hospital in Eastern Province before being transferred to Kigali.
The chief Game Warden, Robert Komire said that shortly before the fires broke out, the animals- as though sensing the looming danger- became nervous and fled to safety.
Komire, who is based in the Akagera Park, said that due to the continuous destruction caused by the fires, they were seeking stronger measures to curb the problem.
“Fires in Akagera have been there for years. We have now lost people, without mentioning the large area of land destroyed.
New measures will be put in place to fight it” he said. “We have not yet fully established the cause of the problem, but we are patrolling around the park and will soon meet with stakeholders to plan the way forward”, he added.
He went on to say that with strong measures in place, the fires would be a thing of the past stressing that poachers were the main suspects.
Komire pointed out that park rangers on patrol usually come across tracks left by poachers and the traps they leave behind. “We normally arrest poachers and take them to the police. In the last two months we have arrested more than eight of them,” he revealed.
Among the options being considered is increasing the number of patrols in the park to curb intruders.
They hope to increase the number of game rangers, from the current 47 to a yet undisclosed number.
“We still lack a lot of equipment despite having helicopters and a few fire extinguishers,” he explained, adding that due to sound environmental protection, the Akagera National Park has fully-grown vegetation which helps in spreading the fires to a wide area.
The warden pointed out that having regular meetings as well as revenue-sharing with the local communities might change the situation and would contribute to community conservation.
“We have been doing this, but hope to increase the efforts,” he explained.
No life insurance
Meanwhile, all rangers in the low-land savannah park have no life insurance despite the extremely risky conditions they work in.
“There is a proposal to insure them as well as tourists”, said Fidel Ruzigandekwe, the director for wild life at ORTPN.
He revealed that they have signed a contract with a local insurance company, SONARWA, to carry out a study on the type of insurance policy suitable for the game rangers.
With the SONARWA deal still on the drawing table, families of the deceased park rangers will be compensated through the Social Security Fund of Rwanda (CSR).
Ruzingandekwe added that they were soon sending two people to Kenya for fire management training.
ORTPN officials stated that it was the third time in recent time that fires have broken out in the park. There was no reported loss of lives in the previous incidents.
Akagera, with its relatively low altitude bordering Tanzania, comes as an exciting surprise after the steep cultivated hills and breezy climate that characterise the rest of the country.
This beautiful game reserve protects an archetypal African savannah landscape of tangled acacia and brachystegia bush, interspersed with patches of open grassland and a dozen swamp-fringed lakes that follow the meandering course of the Akagera River.