Akagera National Park is Central Africa’s largest protected wetland and the last remaining refuge for savannah-adapted species in Rwanda. Classified as part of the Lake Victoria Basin biome, Akagera’s rolling highlands, vast plains, and swamp-fringed lakes contain incredible biodiversity and rare species, such as the shoe-billed stork.
Plans are underway to identify and map the impact of alien invasive plant species in the park.
Following lion and rhino reintroductions, Akagera officially became a “Big Five” park in May 2017. It now boasts thriving populations of lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo, as well as zebra, giraffe, and hundreds of bird species.
Predators: Before the reintroduction of lions, the park’s only large predators were leopards and spotted hyaena. A founder population of seven lions was reintroduced in 2015 after the species was hunted out in the 1990s. Two additional males were translocated to the park in 2017 to increase genetic diversity and the park’s lion population has since quadrupled in size. Small predators are also abundant: serval, side-striped jackal, and several mongoose and viverrid species are thriving.
Primates: Of the primate family, olive baboons and vervet monkeys are common in Akagera. Far rarer is the secretive blue monkey that, until a few years ago, was believed to be extinct in the park.
Herbivores: Elephant, rhino, giraffe, and hippopotamus are the largest mammals found in the park. They join several naturally occurring large plains game species, including buffalo, topi, zebra, defassa waterbuck, the elusive roan antelope, and the statuesque eland. Smaller herbivores include duiker, oribi, bohor reedbuck, klipspringer, bushbuck, and impala. The endangered Masai giraffe was introduced to Akagera from Kenya in 1986, and the current population contains an estimated 78 individuals.
Over 400 bird species have been documented in the park. Akagera is an important ornithological site, with rarities such as the shoebill and papyrus gonolek – both restricted to papyrus swamps – as well as the localised red-faced barbet and the swamp flycatcher. Six vulture species, including the lappet-faced and white-backed, were documented – a rare find for the park.
The first ever foot-survey was conducted in 2020 for counting elusive species in harder to access areas, including rare antelopes like roan and eland, as well as giraffe, to determine presence and habitat use. The survey was successful and informative in terms of gauging numbers of key species including accounting for nearly 50% of both roan and eland populations. Eighty-one giraffe were counted, comprising nearly the entire population, as well as over 1,300 buffalo and more than 600 zebra.
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