Elephants are always a wonderful sighting on any safari. The big mammals majestically strolling and feeding on the savanna plains is a sight to remember
A safari in Africa is one of the most life-changing experiences a person can have. Animal enthusiasts may now take part in a citizen science safari to save Africa’s most iconic species in Rwanda’s famed Akagera National Park. Poaching and disputes with people have made the African elephant one of the world’s most endangered species. These Elephants in Akagera National Park are beginning to thrive because to the Akagera Management Company, a collaboration between African Parks and the Rwanda Development Board, robust community participation, and high-end safari tourism.
Nearly two decades ago, the Elephants in Akagera National Park was on the point of extinction due to the environmental devastation caused by the Rwandan genocide. Returning refugees established themselves in and around the park, clearing ground for farming and grazing. “It was a barren environment overrun by more than 30,000 cattle, and it had lost all of its lion, wild dog, and rhino populations,” says JP Karangire, Akagera National Park’s Assistant Manager of Tourism and Marketing. “Human encroachment was rampant, and animals in general was unprotected.” The park was shrunk in 1997, and two-thirds of the original park was given to returnees seeking to settle down after the genocide.
Karangire claims that when African Parks joined with the Rwanda Development Board to take over management of the park in 2010. “The park changed into an ecologically functional and income-generating park benefiting people and wildlife.” Today, Akagera is Central Africa’s biggest protected wetland and a popular safari destination, earning millions of dollars in revenue. Lions and rhinos have been reintroduced in recent years, and the total animal population has increased from less than 5,000 to more than 13,000.
Elephants in Akagera national park began in an unexpected way. Around 26 baby elephants from a cull in southern Rwanda were transferred to the park in 1975. They now number around 130, thanks to conservation initiatives. “Times were harsh for both humans and animals in the early to mid-1990s. Poaching was rampant in Akagera, and many of the elephants today exhibit the scars of poacher’s snares placed during this period,” Matson explains. An electrified fence at the parks’ western boundary now avoids human-elephant conflict. Thousands of traps have been collected to protect elephants and other wild species that live in Akagera.
Matson, an Australian native who has spent the most of her life working as a conservationist in African wildlife-rich nations, returned to Rwanda to study Akagera’s elephants. In 2018, she launched The Akagera Elephant Project in cooperation with the Akagera Management Company in order to perform the first ever research study. The project’s goal is to collect data on elephant herds, such as their ages, gender, familial groups, and identifying individual characteristics and behavior in the park.
The Akagera Elephant Project employs techniques established over the years by the Amboseli Elephant Project to identify elephants and become acquainted with their families, such as ear tears/holes and tusk form and size. So far, the initiative has recorded two-thirds of the elephant population in the database.
The initiative, Matson writes, also includes “a developmental aspect through training of local guides, park officials and university students in elephant identification procedures”. Matson offers a local guide training on elephant ID procedures the week before her scheduled safaris so that individuals who live nearby may continue the work as citizen scientists throughout the year.
According to Matson, targeted high-end tourism, which might include citizen science visits, provides the funds required for the conservation of huge tracts of natural habitat and the preservation of species in nations such as Rwanda. Involving individuals from neighboring areas helps the cause. “You see real sustainable development in action when you bring local people to the table as genuine partners in high-end tourism and utilize it to create employment and skills in locations where there aren’t many other economic options,” adds Matson.
Successful conservation activities enhance animal populations and provide financial advantages, which reduces the need for poaching. Matson herself, as well as local guides from Akagera Guides’ Co-operative, will accompany you on a Matson & Ridley safari in Akagera. “We compensate local guides who live just outside the park and are essential conservation advocates in the community.”
Citizen science tours not only help to support conservation initiatives like the Akagera Elephant Project, but they also allow researchers like Matson to continue the crucial work of analyzing fragile wildlife populations with the assistance of fellow individuals. Safari visitors’ images and remarks are contributed to the Akagera elephant database. “It’s hard for me to capture enough images during a single sighting, so having additional citizen scientists on hand allows for a lot more data to be collected and compared during analysis.”
Travelers gain as well, because travelling with a competent conservationist and regional guides means having a deeper awareness of the situation on the ground, knowing about the work being done to save species, and having discussions about what has to happen to keep progressing.
While wildlife populations are expanding and sightings of rhinos, lions, and leopards are becoming more common on game drives, Akagera does not have the same density of species as other of Africa’s more well-known parks, such as Tanzania’s Serengeti and Kenya’s Maasai Mara. This safari, Matson suggests, is “for visitors who are searching for a more meaningful conservation experience, the ability to get to know elephant families better, and the potential to make a difference”.
The tour begins in Kigali and ends with three days of working on the Akagera Elephant Project in southern Akagera National Park. The trip continues with three days in northern Akagera for project work, followed by three days of gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park. Guests may also partake in African Parks activities such as strolling the fence line with rangers, seeing local Rwandan towns, and taking sunset boat cruises on the lakes. A normal group consists of six to twelve people.
Guests will stay in Kigali’s lovely Heaven Boutique Hotel and Akagera’s luxurious Ruzizi Tented Lodge, which is surrounded by monkeys and hippos and overlooks the lake. Other options for lodging include the upscale Wilderness Safaris’ Magashi Camp in Akagera’s northernmost region and the community-owned Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge close to Volcanoes National Park.
Matson picks lodges and camps that “set the bar high in terms of both the tourism experience and the good consequences.” The tour operator collaborates with high-end, African-based firms like as Asilia Africa, Natural Selection, and Wilderness Safaris that are committed to reducing their environmental effect and empowering people living near wildlife regions. Finally, we seek partners that share Matson’s conviction that connecting people with wild creatures and landscapes is critical to preserve them for the future. “ Going on safari in Africa is not the same as going to the zoo. You see folks while you’re out in the country, you witness people peeling away layers of tension and worry, literally ‘waking up’ to what it used to be like for all of us as a species, when we used to live in a linked way with nature.”
You may now enjoy the wonders of an African safari while also contributing to conservation in a meaningful and revolutionary way, due to programs such as the Akagera Elephant Project and citizen science safaris. This helps in preserving and conserving the population of elephants in Akagera National park.
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