Akagera National Park is a protected area in eastern Rwanda covering 1,122 km2 (433 sq mi) along the international border with Tanzania. It was founded in 1934 and includes savannah, montane and swamp habitats. The park is named for the Kagera River which flows along its eastern boundary feeding into Lake Ihema and several smaller lakes. The complex system of lakes and linking papyrus swamps makes up over a third of the park, which is the largest protected wetland in Eastern-Central Africa.
Akagera National Park was founded in 1934 by the Belgian government, which at the time occupied Rwanda. The park was 2,500 km2 (970 sq mi) large and was known for its biodiversity.
Akagera used to have a large population of African wild dogs, At one point, it was known as the ‘Parc aux Lycaons’ and wild dogs were so abundant, that the Belgian government considered it a pest. However, a disease epidemic diminished the population and the last wild dogs were seen in 1984.
In 1957, black rhinos were introduced from Tanzania. In the 1970s, more than 50 black rhinos lived in the savannah-habitat of the park. Due to widespread poaching, the population declined over the following decades, and the last confirmed sighting was in 2007. In 1986, Masai giraffes were introduced from Kenya. Their population has grown to over 80 individuals in recent years. Around 1990, Akagera was known to have a population of 250 to 300 lions. In the years following the Rwandan Civil War, the entire population was killed by farmers who returned to Rwanda after the War and settled in the park.
In 2009 the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and the African Parks Network entered into a 20-year renewable agreement for the joint management of Akagera. The Akagera Management Company was formed in 2010 as the joint management body for Akagera National Park. Over the next 5 years a $ 10 million expenditure was carried out in the national park area, with financial help from the Howard Buffett Foundation. The aim was to increase the security of the national park and to reintroduce locally extinct species. Security measures that were taken include: the construction of a western boundary fence which measures 120.0 kilometres (74.6 miles), deploying an air surveillance helicopter, training of an expert rhino tracking and protection team and a canine anti-poaching unit.
In July 2015, seven lions from South Africa were introduced and released in the park, making them the first lions in Rwanda for 15 years. AndBeyond donated five lionesses from Phinda Private Game Reserve. and Tembe Elephant Park in KwaZulu-Natal donated two male lions. This effort was described by African Parks as “a ground-breaking conservation effort for both the park and the country” as part of a project aimed at reversing the local extinction of the species in Akagera National Park. Since 2015, the population has grown to over 20 animals and it keeps growing.
In May 2017, Rwanda reintroduced around 20 Eastern black rhinoceroses from South Africa, which had been absent for 10 years. With the reintroduction of black rhinos and lions, the national park is now home to all of Africa’s “big five”: lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros, and buffalo.
The large mammal population has increased since 2010, from 4000 animals in 2010 to over 13.500 in 2018.
Since African Parks took control of the park in 2010, tourism has increased. In 2010, 8000 people visited the park. This number rose to 44.000 by 2018.