AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
The re-introduction of lions into Akagera after an absence of more than 15 years was a milestone conservation achievement for both the park and the country and a development celebrated with enthusiasm throughout Rwanda - and beyond. The increase in tourism revenue, which is expected to rise further in the future given the new feline residents, was another key highlight for the quarter.
The entre perimeter fence line was sprayed to remove grasses and weeds, which if left unchecked grows up into the electric wires reducing voltages. It also increases the risk of fire damage to the fence infrastructure.
Renovations continued at the former pêcherie where old block structures were repaired and revamped into dormitory accommodation ahead of preparations to train 100 new rangers for Rwanda's three national parks. Staff hired for the project were also used to build furniture for the base. The construction of four staff houses neared completion.
Wildlife and Biodiversity
Seven magnificent lions arrived in the park after their long journey from South Africa and were released into the boma that had been especially erected to accommodate them during a mandatory quarantine period. They have all settled well and are being carefully monitored by the park management team and rangers from a nearby ranger base in the park. The lions are expected to be released from the boma into the wilderness of the park at the end of July.
While the focus was on the lions, Akagera's elephants were not to be outdone, congregating around the park headquarters and the park reception area for the first time ever, much to the delight of guests.
A total of 852 long, day, and boat patrols, as well as night ambushes were carried out during which 108 snares were recovered. There was only a single poaching case involving a bushbuck.
Human-wildlife conflict continued to present challenges for the park. Twenty-cases were reported, all were losses incurred through crop- raiding and attacks on livestock, bar one in which a community member was regrettably injured by a hippo. In an effort to reduce the number of incidents, the park community team in conjunction with members of local communities removed large stones immediately outside the park fence that help baboons to scale the fence, thereby reducing crop raiding by the primates.
The candidates selected for the dog handling programme completed the animal physiology module of their course and started on the practical tracking element. A dog unit comprising eight dogs was set up in Akagera earlier this year to train the canines and their handlers in tactics to track and restrain poachers in the park.
The Akagera community team continued with its sensitisation programme in preparations for the arrival of the seven lions at the end of June. In addition, environmental education continued to be an important feature of the park's community engagement programme. Close to 700 students from 12 schools participated in interpretative conservation visits to the park during the quarter.
The park team was also successful in advancing one of their major 2015 objectives, that being to expand the implementation and value of community income generating projects. Following the success of the initial recruitment and training programme for freelance guides last year, a second was implemented in the park. Ten candidates were accepted from among the 237 applicants and completed their training. This brings to 22 the number of freelance guides at Akagera, most of whom are in their twenties. The freelancers work alongside the full-time guides creating a two-tier system and a choice for visitors to the park.
An initiative set up in 2014 also began to yield results. The beekeeping project set up in conjunction with a beekeepers cooperative to produce honey on a large scale began generating income for 43 beekeepers. More than 1,000kg of honey was harvested during the quarter, a portion of which was sold in the shop at the visitors' centre. In another initiative, the Kageyo women's sewing group completed their six month training and began generating income from the sale of their clothing and accessories, also at the Akagera visitors' centre gift shop. Keen to further develop their skills, the women also participated in a basket weaving programme in order to expand the range of their offerings.
Regular meetings with communities were ongoing. During the second quarter they focused on the application funds under RDB's revenue sharing scheme, ways to avert human wildlife conflict and the role of the dog unit in anti-poaching efforts in the park.
The total financial benefits to communities from salaries, the purchase of food and materials, and technical support, amounted to US$91,420.
Tourism revenue for the quarter ended on US$238,818 a 10 percent increase over the same quarter in 2014. A total of 7,007 tourists visited the park, of which 5,485 were paying visitors. The non-paying contingent include school groups, and tour operators. Ruzizi Tented Lodge enjoyed an average occupancy of 38 percent for the three month period.
The lion reintroduction elicited significant, positive media coverage both in Rwanda and internationally. Highlights included reporting in The New Times and The Rise and Shine programme on Rwandan TV, as well as reports in the print and online versions of The Times and The Guardian in the UK, the Newsweek and Washington Post websites and extensive social media reach. The latter included @YahooNews and @Discovery with both tweeting to more than 3.8 million followers each.