About a month after 20 Eastern black rhinos made their return to Rwanda following a ten-year absence, the creatures are quickly settling into their new habitat at Akagera National Park, officials say.
“It is a really ideal habitat for black rhino and they appear to be adapting well,” says Sarah Hall, Tourism and Marketing Manager, Akagera National Park, adding that there is plenty of food for the animals.
Once a thriving home for black rhinos with more than 50 of the species living there in the 1970s, Akagera National Park slowly lost all its rhino inhabitants to relentless and wide-scale poaching until the last confirmed sighting of the species in 2007.
However, concerted efforts by African Parks and the Rwanda Development Board have seen the park, which is a protected savannah habitat in Rwanda, undergo a remarkable transformation over the years, and today Akagera National Park is flourishing.
Since 2010, when it took over management, African Parks has overhauled law enforcement in the park, reducing poaching to an all-time low in six years.
For the rhinos in particular, special security measures have been put in place, including a rhino tracking and protection team, a canine anti-poaching unit, and helicopter surveillance of the park.
And it would appear that the rhinos are showing their appreciation for the initiative by making themselves at home in their new habitat.
“Most of them are staying not too far from the release site but a couple has wondered further north- as far as Lake Hago. Some are already establishing territories as the rhino monitoring team are seeing large dung middens, which is how they mark their territories,” Sarah reveals.
The return of black rhinos to Rwanda is expected to boost the country’s tourism numbers as it will now be possible for visitors to track and see all the big five game (rhinoceros, lion, elephant, buffalo and leopard) in the same park.
Indeed, according to Sarah, some lucky tourists have seen them on a few occasions already, within days of their release from the boma.
In a presser marking the return of the species to Rwanda, African Parks CEO Peter Fearnhead hailed the development as testimony to “Rwanda’s extraordinary commitment to conservation”, while RDB CEO Clare Akamanzi pledged that Rwanda would ensure the rhinos’ safety for the benefit of the tourism industry and the community at large.