AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
Akagera National Park was named after the river that flows along its eastern boundaries and is Rwanda’s gifted park in relation to the to the famous savanna reserves of Kenya and Tanzania. Much as most of Rwanda is not warm, this park is located in a relatively warm and an area with a lower latitudinal range of undulating plains supporting a cover of dense, broad-leafed woodland interspersed with lighter acacia woodland and patches of rolling grassland studded evocatively with stands of the superficially cactus shrub. To the west of the plain lies a chain of low mountains, reaching elevations of between 1600m and 1800m above sea level. The eastern part of the park supports an extensive wetland: a complex of a dozen lakes linked by extensive papyrus swamps and winding water channels fed by the meandering Akagera River.
In terms of game viewing, it would be misleading to compare Akagera to East Africa’s finest savanna reserves. The northern and western portions of the original 2500sqkm park were degazetted in 1997 in a bid to accommodate returned refugees, reducing the protected area to 1085sqkm. Given that the inhabitants and surrounding communities were hunters, there is still poaching around and in the park which has impacted negatively on wildlife populations, and those lakes that remained within the national park were until recently used to water domestic cattle-indeed, a few years back, long horned Ankole cows were the most commonly seen large mammal in Akagera National Park
Akagera National Park today still ranks among the most scenic of Africa’s remaining savanna reserves and very much worth visiting. For one thing it ranks among the , with its sumptuous forest-fringed lakes, tall mountains and constantly changing vegetation. On top of that, the birdlife is quite phenomenal-for specialist birders, the checklist of almost 500 species includes several rarities, whilst for first time African visitors, it’s a great place to see eagles and other large raptors along with some truly impressive concentrations of water associated birds.
Akagera also still retain a genuinely off-the-beaten-track character: this is one African game reserve where you can still drive for hours without passing another vehicle, never knowing what wildlife encounter might lie around the next Corner. And contrary to some reports, there is plenty of wildlife around, with the likes of zebra, giraffe, hippo, baboon, warthorg and half-a-dozen antelope species all reasonably visible and less skittish than one might expect. In addition, the lakes support some of the highest concentration of hippo you’ll find anywhere in Africa, as well as numerous large crocodiles.
As for the coveted big five, buffalo are plentiful and easily seen, elephants are quite common but more difficult to track down, and leopards are present but secretive as ever.