Elephants and buffalo are among animals whose numbers have increased in Akagera National Park, which signals the progress of conservation efforts. This was shown in the latest aerial animal survey released last week.
The fourth aerial animal survey, which focused on 13 large animal species in Akagera Park in August, counted 100 elephants and 2,879 buffalo in the second most important conservation area by tourism receipts.
In a previous survey conducted in 2015, elephants, which were put on the list of endangered species in 1989, numbered 90, while buffalo were 2,567.
The census found 88 giraffe, 214 eland, 39 roan antelopes, 1,033 waterbuck, 1,901 zebra, 888 topi, 55 sitatunga, 1,773 impala, 783 warthog, 1,643 hippopotamus and 500 crocodiles.
Akagera’s marketing manager, Sarah Hall, told Rwanda Today that conservation efforts would continue.
“We will continue to focus on law enforcement and keeping the park secure as well as continued rhino monitoring,” she said.
According to the census’ results, populations of elephant, hippopotamus, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, topi and crocodile are increasing in number, while eland, roan, waterbuck, impala and warthog are declining.
However, the report partly attributes the decline of some species on “poor weather conditions” for counting, caused by clouds and rain, which affected visibility.
Park authorities said, “The reduction in roan numbers is of great concern and dedicated efforts will be made to monitor the population.”
Big five status
Most visitors who go to Akagera National Park go to see wild animals. The park recently acquired the big five status following the introduction of rhinos mid this year. The status is expected to boost tourism in the park.
The 18 black rhinos were moved from South Africa.
During the census, the park was divided into three zones for survey purposes based on three broad habitats: The terrestrial part, the wetland fringe and the greater wetland.
While the increase in animal populations in the park marks progress in conservation efforts, illegal human activities in park still remain a challenge.
According to the census there is “strong evidence to suggest illegal human activities have been confined to the remote wetland areas,” in the east of the Park.
Park authorities said 17 boats belonging to poachers and five of their camps were destroyed.
A total of 12,142 animals were counted in the census, but the figure excludes birds and primates. The census noted that the presence of lions does not appear to have affected prey specie distribution as yet.
This year, Akagera National Park received a total of 33,618 visitors up to the end of November and hopes to exceed last year’s number.
The film Return of Lion, which premiered recently in Kigali; is an opportunity for viewers to see how the lions in Rwanda’s Akagera National Park live.
The documentary, produced by Nat Geo Wild, an international wildlife TV, follows two males and five females as they adjust to their new environment and overcome challenges to survive.
The lions were translocated to the park located in Eastern Rwanda along the border with Tanzania, from South Africa, in 2015, as part of a conservation effort after they had all died off in the park.
According to Jes Gruner, the park manager, there were over 300 lions in the park but they died mainly due to human wildlife conflict in the area. Some were poisoned, he said.
The film shows how the big cats compete with hyenas for prey as they hunt impala and other herbivores.
The wildlife documentary captures how the re-introduction changed the ecosystem in the park.
It also shows the night life in the park, when lions to do their hunting.
However, the film narrator said the imported lions lacked hunting skills and strategy in the beginning.
The movie also takes the viewer to the beautiful landscapes with scattered lakes, plains, savannah, and marshland.
The documentary was aired on Nat Geo for a worldwide audience, and will also be aired around parks for conservation campaign for local communities to watch.
The narrative is in English and is being translated into Kinyarwanda.
Towards the end, the movie captures the lions after they gave birth. Currently their population is 15, and is projected to rise to between 34 and 40 in the next three years.
Conservationists say 70 lions can easily coexist with other animals in the park.
At the end of the screening, there was a question and answer session.
Some people wanted to know how the lions were filmed at night.
Alexander Sletten, the filmmaker, said they used specialised cameras that would not disturb the animals.
Others wanted to know why some of the lions had chains on them.
The park manager said they are to monitor the lion’s movements in the park and keep them safe.