Hugging Rwanda’s eastern border with Tanzania, Akagera National Park covers about 1,120km² and is one of Africa’s oldest national parks, first gazetted in 1934.
The north of Akagera is mostly fairly low-lying grasslands and Savannah plains, similar in feel to the ‘traditional’ safari areas of East Africa. To the west are rolling hills and valleys more typical of Rwandan countryside while to the east, the Akagera River feeds into a series of lakes, marshes and papyrus swamps that constitute central and eastern Africa’s largest protected wetlands. So, for a fairly small National Park, an Akagera safari can be extremely diverse with a variety of habitats, wildlife and birds, and some lovely scenery.
Akagera National Park has had a troubled past, with refugees from Rwanda’s civil wars returning to live in the area in the late 1990s, harming the environment through cattle-grazing and poaching. Consequently, the government reduced Akagera by half, allowing the new residents to stay in one part and protecting the rest.
Today, Akagera National Park is managed in conjunction with the conservation organisation African Parks, which is bringing it back to life. New perimeter fences and anti-poaching measures have made a huge difference to its animal populations and the national park is now well on the way to being restored. While its wildlife isn’t quite on the same scale as better-known East African parks, there is still plenty to see on an Akagera safari in some very beautiful scenery.
Animals currently found in Akagera
The game on an Akagera safari includes most of the usual plains species. Impala and topi (known as tsessebe in Southern Africa) seem to be dominant, with eland, oribi, Masai giraffe, Defassa water-buck, reed-buck, bush-buck, sable and roan antelope also present. Burchall’s zebra, hippo and crocodile are commonly seen whilst game viewing; buffalo are more prevalent in the north as are elephants. One elephant in particular was well-known across Rwanda, having been semi-habituated when younger. Mutware was the grumpy old man of Akagera, he died of natural causes at the ripe old age of 48, but in his time was an infamous character to the park!