Bringing back wildlife to Akagera National Park
Published September 2020
In 2010 African Parks and the Rwanda Development Board came together to establish the Akagera Management Company (AMC) to jointly run Akagera National Park in Rwanda. The park’s wildlife had been severely impacted by the civil war, but since the introduction of effective law enforcement in Akagera in 2010, poaching is at an all-time low, allowing the tourism industry to prosper. This in turn has created local employment opportunities, funded community development projects and more generally strengthened ties with the local communities surrounding the park.
Akagera National Park covers an area of 1,122km2 and is the largest protected wetland in central Africa. In May 2017, the park once again hosted the Big Five, following reintroductions of lions and rhinos. The park is also home to other mammals such as giraffe, hippo and zebra, as well as nearly 500 bird species.
Over 300,000 people live locally to Akagera, with many employed directly by the park.
The poaching and wildlife trade problem
Species affected African Elephant Loxodonta africana , Black Rhino Diceros bicornis , Hippos Hippopotamus amphibious , Lion Panthera leo , GiraffeProducts in trade
Rhino horn, ivory, other sought after products.
Overview of the problem
In 1997, following the civil war, the area of Akagera was reduced by two-thirds to allow for resettlement. This put major pressure on the park’s wildlife, causing increased human-wildlife conflict and high-rates of deforestation and poaching.
Since 2010 and the introduction of new management, poaching has dramatically reduced. The few poaching incidents that do occur are usually carried out by people who live further away, not by the communities surrounding the park.
The anti-IWT initiative
The AMC’s approach is a combination of strengthened law enforcement and community engagement efforts.
Community engagement activities include environmental education, compensation for human-wildlife conflict, employment, access to revenue sharing and infrastructure development.
Strengthening disincentives for illegal behaviour
The communities have initiated an informal process of reporting potential poaching incidents to local authorities and law enforcement officials. A financial incentive is provided in exchange for this evidence-based intelligence on poachers.
Increasing incentives for wildlife stewardship
AMC is continuing to develop the park’s tourism offering, ensuring that communities feel the benefits through revenue sharing and employment, and from the strengthening of local economies by purchasing material and services locally. Locals living in communities surrounding Akagera receive 30% of shared revenue from Rwanda’s three national parks, as set out by the Rwanda Development Board.
Local employment has risen hugely since 2010, with around 80% of the park’s full-time staff originating in the surrounding communities.
Decreasing the costs of living with wildlife
The Rwandan Government established a Special Guarantee Fund to allocate 5% of park revenues to compensate losses from human-wildlife conflict.
In 2013, the government also provided funding for a fence on the western boundary of the park to limit incidents of human-wildlife conflict.
Increasing livelihoods that are not related to wildlife
Communities have formed fishing cooperatives and are permitted to fish in Akagera’s lakes and sell their catch at local markets (for a reduced price) and in Kigali. The income generated from these cooperative serves as an incentive to stop poaching.
AMC hopes to strengthen local economies by ensuring materials and services are purchased locally where possible, as well as helping to develop small enterprises and local associations.
Several infrastructure projects have been undertaken, including the construction of schools, health clinics and libraries, and the provision of better access to water.
Improving education and awarenessFurther detail
Local school children are educated on the importance of conservation. Also, the park hosts regular awareness raising sessions on the environment, bringing 2,000 children plus teachers and leaders into the park for free.
Has the initiative made a difference?
Since 2010, Akagera has strengthened its law enforcement and community engagement capacities, which has allowed wildlife to flourish. Poaching has dramatically decreased, attributed largely to the introduction of a canine unit in 2015 and because communities receive tangible benefits from the park. In 2013, nearly 2,000 snares were removed from inside the park, dropping to just 25 in 2019, highlighting the massive achievements made by the AMC.
The reintroduction of flagship species (lion and rhino) have been a great success, with tourism revenue increasing by over 1000% from 2010 to 2019. In 2019, half of all tourists were Rwandan.
Anecdotal evidence from local community members suggests community buy-in has massively increased, and that many of them no longer poach inside the park – these ex-poachers have been very influential in changing behaviours and in leading the informal intelligence network. Similarly, as communities now benefit from the park’s resources, for example through the fishing cooperatives, they now take action to prevent poachers entering the park.
What works and why
Effective partnerships with the communities surrounding Akagera are critical for long-term success, so it’s important to invest in activities that ensure communities receive benefits from the park. Engaging with ex-poachers has helped to influence others to stop poaching in the park.
Factors for success
Supportive, multi-stakeholder partnerships with a shared vision
Transparent and accountable distribution of benefits to local communities
Clear and tangible benefits to local communities from wildlife (These may be financial and/or non-financial)
Organisers, donors and partners
The Rwanda Development Board and African Parks jointly manage the park through the Akagera Management Company.
Donors include Stichting Natura Africae, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and the Wyss Foundation.
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