IUCN Save Our Species

Akagera's K9 Unit continues to safeguard people and wildlife

Update: 21 September 2021

African Parks and the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) entered into a partnership in 2010 to manage Akagera National Park. Many returning refugees from the 1994 genocide had been resettled around the boundary of the park, contributing to intense pressure on the park’s natural resources. Due to these pressures, lions and black rhino both became locally extinct, disappearing by 2000 and 2007 respectively. When African Parks was invited by the Rwandan Government to manage Akagera in partnership with the RDB, their shared goals were to secure the park from poaching, revitalise its ecosystem, establish a leading tourism destination to drive sustainable socio-economic development, and ensure the community would enjoy the benefits of a healthy and functioning ecosystem.

To achieve these goals, a well-trained and equipped ranger team was needed to protect the park, creating a safe place for people and wildlife populations to prosper. Akagera’s K9 unit was introduced as a force multiplier, creating a highly effective law enforcement team that enabled the reintroduction of lions in 2015 and black rhinos in 2017. Akagera has been successful in maintaining zero incidents of poaching of black rhino (listed by the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered), elephant (listed as Endangered), or lion (listed as Vulnerable), with numbers of each population on the rise. Since 2010, elephant numbers have increased from 27 to 133 individuals today, and lion numbers have increased from the nine initially introduced individuals to 37 today.

The K9 unit is a critical addition to the law enforcement unit. Its dog and handler team operates in synergy with rangers, vehicles and technology to help secure the park against threats of poaching. The detection capability of dogs and their capacity to access areas of the park where poachers might operate make them an indispensable part of the law enforcement team.

The training and care of the K9 unit is critical to its success, and support from IUCN Save Our Species, co-funded by the European Union, has allowed the K9 program to continue unabated even as Covid has drastically affected the self-financing ability of Akagera National Park. The K9 training program develops both the skills of the handlers and the dogs. As well as honing skills in on-leash and off-leash tracking, the K9 unit trains regularly in ivory and rhino horn detection. 

One particular threat to the dogs of the K9 unit is Trypanosomiasis, a tsetse-fly borne illness. Regular and adequate veterinary care, and prompt treatment when needed, keeps this disease at bay, and the financial support of our partners has been key in enabling the provision of this care.

By protecting and restoring its key species and ecosystems, Akagera National Park has been transformed into a world-class tourism destination, attracting visitors from around the globe and from across Rwanda to its picturesque landscapes. Tourism generates important revenue for the park and the communities it supports, creating cascading benefits via employment, park-supported socio-economic projects and local product purchases. A Rwandan Government tourism revenue-sharing scheme sees a further 10% of Akagera’s annual revenue funneled into local community upliftment.

The role of Akagera’s rangers and the K9 unit is fundamental to conserving and restoring the rich biodiversity of Akagera National Park. A healthy, biodiverse ecosystem attracts visitors from around the world, creating positive long-term socio-economic impacts both locally and nationally.

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.