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Rwanda welcomes the return of the black rhino after a 10-year absence

As part of conservation efforts black rhinos have officially been reintroduced in Rwanda’s Akagera Park, making the country a “big five” destination again.

After 10 years the Eastern black rhino is back in Akagera National Park, a magnificent 112,000 hectare reserve in eastern Rwanda. After the reinsertion of lions in 2015, the reintroduction of 18 rhinos in May was significant as it makes the park, and more generally Rwanda, a “big five” destination once again – home to large African species: rhinos, lions, elephants, leopards and buffalos. This contributes in elevating Rwanda’s status in the areas of tourism as well as conservation.

Read more: Safaris support Rwandan communities under the king of the savannah’s watch

The reintroduction of black rhinos to Akagera © Gael Vande Weghe
The reintroduction of black rhinos in Akagera © Gael Vande Weghe

Benefits for the local community

“We obviously hope that this will increase tourism to the country and park, and increased tourism means an increase in tourism dollars and the benefits that come with that for the people living around the park – comments Sarah Hall, Akagera’s tourism and marketing manager –, directly through the revenue sharing scheme and an increase in employment, and less directly through increased spending on local purchases, increased spending power for local employees and initiatives such as the community freelance guides cooperative, and more”.

rhinos akagera
Black rhinos are back in Rwanda’s Akagera National Park © Sarah Hall

Saving the Eastern black rhino

Most importantly, she adds, they have a responsibility to do what they can for the Eastern black rhino, a subspecies that used to exist in the park. Today, there are fewer than 1,000 left in the wild. “By bringing them back to Akagera we’ve increased their range and secured a viable new population which we hope will thrive in the park, as they once did. Akagera has the perfect habitat for these animals, plenty of food and water,” says Hall.

The reintroduction is the result of years of hard work to ensure that the park can properly provide a safe and secure environment for the species. “We’ve significantly boosted law enforcement with a digital radio system, extensive training, new technology such as the smart park system we’re trialling, and a helicopter for rapid deployment. We have a dedicated team who track the rhinos on a daily basis,” Hall adds.

The rhino tracking team at work © Courtesy of Akagera Management Company
The rhino tracking team at work. Courtesy of Akagera Management Company

A tragic event

However, a tragic event has occurred since their reintroduction; a month after the black rhinos arrived in Akagera, Krisztián Gyöngyi, a Hungarian specialist with many years of experience monitoring and conserving rhinos in different parks, was killed by one of the rhinos he had helped reintroduce whilst he was training the dedicated monitoring team. “Bringing back rhinos is a big responsibility and Krisz’s tragic death emphasises that the stakes are high. There has been a poaching epidemic in South Africa where the country has lost over 6,000 rhinos since 2008. It’s a crisis situation,” confides Hall.

A black rhino post-reintroduction © Akagera Management Company
A black rhino after having been reintroduced © Akagera Management Company

 

But overall it is safe to say that Akagera is going from strength to strength, both in terms of the number of animals as well as the influx of tourism, which have more than doubled in the last seven years, as well as in terms of park-earned revenue which has increased seven-fold. All this has been successfully invested back into the park’s management. Hall shares its beautiful and noble vision: “We’re aiming to make Akagera a secure and flourishing park, and to be financially self-sustainable for the benefit of the park and the local community”.

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