When you think about Conservation in Africa you probably think of a battle that is being lost. The local and international conservation headlines read desperate times for wildlife. But it’s not all doom and gloom.
Good news arrived on the evening of May 12th, as Shema, one of five lionesses reintroduced to Akagera National Park in Rwanda, was spotted with three new cubs. Two of the other lionesses, sisters Umwari and Kazi are also suspected to be pregnant after mating with the dominant male, Ntwari.
Lions have not been present here since the Rwandan Genocide two decades ago. But In June 2015, the quiet was broken by a roar when African Parks successfully relocated seven South African lions to Akagera, including five females and two males.
Akagera has a host of success stories, from fragile dragonflies to mighty lions. It is the oldest of Rwanda’s three national parks and the only protected Savannah region in the country. At 112,000 Hectares it is viable size for a thriving ecosystem and is home to more than 8,000 large mammals and 500 bird species. At present her wildlife populations are flourishing thanks to effective law enforcement and community engagement, and it’s not just the wildlife that is thriving, local communities are too. But it wasn’t always like this.
In 1994 the Rwandan genocide not only decimated Rwanda’s people but its wildlife populations too. After the cessation of violence, portions of parkland were distributed to returning refugees as farmland. However, an absence of park management coupled with one of the highest population densities in Africa resulted in human wildlife conflict and lion populations quickly disappeared from Akagera.
In 2010 The Akagera Management Company was established. Spearheaded by African Parks and The Rwandan Development board this partnership launched a number of flagship projects and is one of the main reasons why the park is returning to its once wild abundance. These projects not only create employment opportunities for local communities but also mitigate human wildlife conflict in the settlements around the park.
The ripple effects are far-reaching for both wildlife and humans; with increased community involvement and a flourishing wildlife population, the tourism appeal of Akagera is growing and guides and rangers in the park are improving their skills.
A number of livelihood diversification projects have been successfully implemented to address these needs, such as the Community Freelance Guides organisation which offers professional guiding services. This enables local guides to gain financially from growing tourism at Akagera, and encourages locals to appreciate and get more involved in conservation.
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Article by Clare Townsend.