IUCN Save Our Species

Akagera's K9 Unit continues to safeguard people and wildlife

Update: 13 April 2021

Following years of political and civil unrest resulting from the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda, intense human pressure on Akagera National Park had led to widespread habitat degradation, wildlife population declines, and extirpation of both lions and black rhinos in the park. However, these trends were reversed when the Government of Rwanda invited African Parks to help professionalize park management in partnership with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) in 2010. Improved, innovative law enforcement and community development programmes have dramatically reduced poaching within the park and attracted significant support for conservation from adjacent communities. The development of infrastructure and tourism has boosted revenue generation, contributing to socio-economic development and the park’s overall resurrection as a leading conservation destination.   

Wildlife populations have risen by almost 50% since 2010, including reestablishing both lions and black rhinos. To further enhance the security of threatened species, A K9 unit was established as a key force multiplier to be used for rapid deployment in conjunction with other law enforcement activities. These efforts are essential for combatting poaching and reducing human-wildlife conflict, helping to maintain Akagera’s track record of not documenting the loss of a single black rhino (listed by the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered), elephant (listed as Endangered), or lion (listed as Vulnerable) to poaching since 2010, or since their respective reintroductions. These efforts ensure the security of all species in the park, including the Endangered Masai giraffe and Vulnerable leopard.

The K9 unit offers a unique tool for combatting poaching. Dogs are able to access and support rangers in parts of the park that are otherwise inaccessible to conventional support mechanisms such as vehicles. They also add capacity to patrol teams on the ground with the ability to track both on- and off-lead, and contribute greatly to increasing patrol coverage and to deterring illegal activity. The unit’s capabilities and skills have enhanced the efforts to conserve and grow Akagera’s rhino population that inhabits some of the most rugged, hard-to-reach areas of the park.

The K9 unit also contributes benefits to local communities. Safeguarding biodiversity will ensure that Akagera remains one of the most unique tourist destinations in Africa, providing a source of employment and generating revenue in support of socio-economic development, benefitting local communities and the entire country. In addition, the K9 unit helps to mitigate human-wildlife conflict, making the park a safe landscape enabling both people and wildlife to thrive.

Since early 2020, tourism revenue has been severely reduced as a result of Covid-19. Despite these ongoing challenges, conservation activities in Akagera must continue to ensure the preservation of the park’s key species. With continent-wide pressure causing species such as lions and rhinos to decline across their remaining range, securing Akagera as a regional stronghold is paramount. During this period, sustained operations, including the maintenance of the K9 unit, have ensured that both species continue to flourish in the park. The rhino population has grown with six calves born, and the lion population is increasing quickly with numerous litters of cubs produced.

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 training and refresher sessions, as well as work with the dogs daily. The unit has recruited an additional member to its now 11-person team to help maintain the kennels and ensure the welfare of the dogs. The dogs are excelling in all aspects of training. Deployment and patrols have been increased, and they continue to contribute meaningfully to law enforcement efforts.

Support from IUCN Save Our Species and co-funded by the European Union has helped to ensure that the K9 unit remains an integral part of the law enforcement team during this critical and challenging time, helping to build the long-term ecological, economic and social sustainability of this key savanna and wetland habitat 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.