Akagera National Park in Rwanda has achieved great success in reducing poaching and restoring wildlife since 2010 when African Parks assumed management in partnership with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB). Wildlife populations have risen by 48% and not a single black rhino, elephant or lion has been poached – a testament to the commitment of the Government of Rwanda and a combination of innovative law enforcement and community engagement and enterprise initiatives. Helping to ensure their security, a critical force multiplier has been the park’s K9 unit, which is used for rapid deployment in conjunction with law enforcement patrols on the ground. These ongoing law enforcement efforts are essential to combatting poaching and human-wildlife conflict, which continue to represent a threat to Akagera’s people and wildlife, including the critically endangered Eastern black rhino, the vulnerable lion and leopard and the endangered Masai giraffe.
Despite the loss in tourism income for this year, Akagera’s K9 unit must sustain its operations to ensure the ongoing protection of the park’s key species, including its Eastern black rhino population which were reintroduced to the park in 2017. Thanks to the park’s extensive efforts to protect them, rhino numbers are growing with the birth of six new calves this year. However, with Eastern black rhinos numbering only around 1,000 in the wild today and with the constant threat of poaching, it is more vital than ever that the K9 unit continues to maintain its training and operations during this challenging period.
Thanks to generous funding support, including by the IUCN Save Our Species and co-funded by the European Union, all members of the K9 unit have continued to attend regular weekly training and refresher sessions. The team has recruited an additional member to its now 11-person team to help maintain the kennels and ensure the welfare of all 15 dogs. The dogs are excelling in their training in off-leash tracking and accompanying their handlers on patrols around the park, and five younger puppies are showing extremely promising progress as they navigate obstacle courses and obedience training.
Akagera’s K9 unit is ideally suited for the park’s savannah environment, where they are capable of rapid deployment and add capacity to the patrol teams, particularly in otherwise inaccessible high-density rhino areas. Combined with their tracking skills, they help law enforcement to deter and locate illegal activity more quickly and effectively.
In addition to being core to security, the K9 unit also contributes to the park’s ability to benefit local communities. By safeguarding biodiversity, they help to enhance the value of Akagera as a unique conservation destination in Africa, contributing to employment and generating revenue through tourism to support socio-economic development for local people and for the benefit of the nation as a whole.
Despite the reduction in revenue from tourism due to covid-19, the support from the IUCN Save Our Species and co-funded by the European Union will help to ensure that the K9 unit remains an integral part of the law enforcement team during this critical and challenging period. With the support of partners, Akagera aims to maintain its zero-poaching record of high-value species, helping to attract future visitors to support the long-term ecological and economic sustainability of this extraordinary refuge for savannah species in Rwanda.
This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union through IUCN Save Our Species. Its contents are the sole responsibility of African Parks and do not necessarily reflect the views of IUCN or the European Union