The reintroduction of rhinos and lions has played a significant role in promoting Rwanda as a tourism destination to local and international tourists, according to Tour operators.
Wilson Habimana, a tour operator and founder of Wilson Tours says the presence of the Big 5 in Akagera has increased the number of trips his company makes to the park 12 fold.
“I amvery interested in domestic tourism and I must acknowledge that the numbers of local people visiting local destinations increased specifically in Nyungwe and Akagera parks,” Habimana said.
On Akagera, Habimana said that the most of their clients have been naturally persuaded by the reintroduction of lions and rhinos.
“Despite the fact that Akagera has the big five now, we don’t pin our marketing efforts on that factor alone,” Sarah Hall, Marketing Manager of Akagera National Park said emphasizing that it was too early to weigh the benefits of a now “complete” savannah park.
“The populations of both species (lions and rhinos) was still relatively small and chances of seeing them are fairly slim,”Hall added.
“However Akagera has a lot more to offer with huge diversity of wildlife, birdlife and environments as well as spectacular views and a positive conservation story. Having the chance to see the big five as well is a bonus.
The lions add another dimension to the park, it’s an animal that a lot of people really want to see and plays an important role in the ecosystem. The reintroduction of rhinos is a significant step for rhino conservation on the continent and comes with a big responsibility to ensure their protection”.
Asked how the reintroduction of lions and rhinos into Akagera Park has affected the trends in terms of tourists and tourism revenues, said that,
“Tourism and revenues from tourism continue to increase year on year.”
Available statistics from Akagera management indicate that there was a 15% increase in visitor numbers from 2014 (before lions) to 2015, the year they arrived. And the increase was “almost exclusively” in the second half of the year, after the lions came.
Hall was also hesitant to attribute this positive trend in the number of tourists and tourism revenues to the Big 5 in the facility but rather, “largely due to a spike in domestic tourism. There has been an increase in visitors from 2016 – 2017, but not as significant.” she says.
The lions have definitely settled in and are breeding well, according to the management of the park. The population is now at over 20 animals.
Recently, two more males were added in Akagera from South Africa and according to Sarah, they are exploring all corners of the park and are settling in their territories.
The lions will obviously prey on herbivores, she says, and they have researchers who are looking into the prey behaviour pre- and post-lion reintroduction.
“The lion population in the park is not great enough to have a negative impact on herbivore populations because birth rates are still higher, however along with other predators in the park; hyenas and leopards, they will be slowing down the growth rate of herbivore populations,” she added.
The management of the park is currently “doing a lot” of community engagement such as, showing conservation-related documentaries, supporting several income generating activities and projects including bee-keeping cooperatives, fisheries projects, women’s cooperatives and the cooperative of community freelance guides to create awareness and opportunities to talk about conservation.
“There will be a focus on scaling up our community projects this year with impactful and measurable results” Hall noted, adding that they are also looking forward to the “positive developments” that Mantis Collections’ agreement for the management of the Akagera Game Lodge will bring to Akagera.
RDB’s Head of Communications and Marketing, Sunny Ntayombya said that they project 10 per cent increase in overall tourism revenues in 2018 from 2017 numbers.