Lonely Planet Writer

New in Travel: rhinos are returning to Rwanda's Akagera National Park in 2017


Akagera National Park in Rwanda will be making headlines in 2017 because it is planning to reintroduce black rhinos to its wilderness. Black rhinos were almost eradicated in Rwanda in the early 1980’s due to wide-scale poaching, and they haven’t been seen in Akagera since 2007.

Akagera's freshwater lakes will see black rhinos return.
Akagera’s freshwater lakes will see black rhinos return. Image by Horst Klemm

The scenic Akagera is the oldest of Rwanda’s three National Parks and is 1120 km² in size. It is currently home to 8000 large mammals, including a herd of 90 elephants. It also has almost 500 species of birds. The park successfully reintroduced seven lions in 2015, so if the planned conservation deal around the black rhino materialises, it will become home to the Big Five – lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino.

A Big Five status will help to increase tourism and generate further employment opportunities for local communities. The project also includes restoring, developing and managing the park as a functioning savannah ecosystem, through biodiversity rehabilitation, sound conservation practices and tourism development.

Lions were reintroduced to the park in 2015, 20 years after they were named extinct in Rwanda.
Lions were reintroduced to the park in 2015, 20 years after they were named extinct in Rwanda. Image by Vyskah R Nambiar

NGO African Parks, which manages ten parks in seven African countries, is driving this scheme. It is hoping to introduce ten rhinos to Akagera to allow the population to grow and flourish. If successful, the park will hopefully be in a position to stock other secure parks in East Africa in the future. Akagera is perfect for the rhino as it is the only protected savannah region in Rwanda. It has rolling hills of acacia, woodlands and a labyrinth of lakes and papyrus swamps.

It is estimated that the initiative will cost more than £1 million. The Dutch government will support the project by contributing financially, and it also received a boost when it received £100,000 from the People’s Postcode Lottery in the United Kingdom. The Rwanda Development Board is also working on the plan, which, it is hoped, will have the same positive effect on visitor numbers that occurred after the lions were introduced.