Akagera National Park, Rwanda
A story of rebirth and resilience
Just 20 years ago Akagera National Park was on the verge of being lost forever. While peace was being restored after the 1994 Genocide against Tutsis, Akagera’s demise was just beginning. Refugees returning to Rwanda after the genocide were battling for their own survival. They turned to the forests for timber, wildlife for protein and the fertile savannahs for their livestock. Consequently, the Park’s wildlife was displaced by tens of thousands of long-horned cattle. Lions were hunted to local extinction and Rhinos disappeared. Akagera National Park’s ecological integrity was jeopardised, so too was employment opportunity and tourism. The Park’s value was diminished to the point of barely existing at all. Considering it’s history, makes where Akagera National Park is today remarkable.
Since African Parks, in partnership with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), assumed management of Akagera National Park in 2010, they have achieved tremendous conservation and tourism success. This includes essentially halting poaching activity, re-introducing Eastern Black Rhino and Lion populations (becoming a ‘Big Five’ destination) as well as growing tourism revenue to the point where the Park is currently 80% self-sustaining.
Along with habitat (wildlife) conservation and community engagement, tourism is a key driver in unlocking the much needed economic benefits for those that live around Akagera National Park. During 2018 more than 44 000 guests visited Akagera, which represents a tourism revenue increase of 900% since 2010. The Park has developed two award-winning lodging options of their own in Ruzizi Tented Lodge and Karenge Bush Camp. Rwanda (and Akagera National Park) now provides a safe and accessible destination for those fascinated by the natural environment and conservation success stories.
An alternative tourism approach
Primitive Wilderness Trails offer an alternative way of exploring Africa’s National Parks. It’s a shift from the spectatorship of a traditional safaris and encourages participation in nature. It represents a sustainable tourism model, which requires no additional infrastructure development (such as roads or accommodation). The activity is also seasonal, which provides the area of operation enough time to recover from what already is a negligible impact. Primitive Trails could therefore provide economic justification for wild (undeveloped) spaces and may be incorporated into wilderness zoning and wilderness management plans in the future.
It was agreed that Trail de Akagera is an alternative tourism model that could contribute towards a financially self-sustaining Akagera National Park. The Primitive Trail will greatly contribute towards an increase in the average stay per visitor and open the Park to adventure travellers. It is exciting to consider that this Primitive Trail, which meanders across an inspiring landscape with it’s iconic mammal species, will contribute towards a self-sustaining Akagera National Park.