The news was hardly reported, but earlier this year five zoo-born black rhino were moved from Europe to Rwanda, where they joined 18 translocated from South Africa. It was the latest move to turn Akagera – and with it, tourist Rwanda – into a place very different from what it was even a decade ago.

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Photo: Rwanda Tourism.

“Akagera is almost unrecognisable today compared to just 20 years ago when it was on the verge of being lost forever,” according to African Parks, which has been spearheading the revitalisation of the park. After the 1994 genocide, “Lions were hunted to local extinction, rhinos disappeared, and the park’s wildlife was displaced by tens of thousands of long-horned cattle.”

The rise of Akagera has gone hand in hand with the rise in the fortunes of Rwanda itself, not least of all as a tourist destination. In the last month Rwanda was named on Forbes’ top 20 list of places to go, and the blog Travellemming put it in the top 30. Several luxury lodges, including the top-end Singita, Wilderness Safaris and One&Only have opened in the last three years, although only Wilderness has a tented camp in Akagera. African Parks has its own lodges there, Ruzizi Tented Lodge and Karenge Bush Camp.

In late 2010, African Parks signed a joint management agreement with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) to establish the Akagera Management Company to manage the park. Almost devoid of animals 10 years ago, Akagera now has the Big 5.

Lions were reintroduced in 2015, after they were hunted out in the 1990s

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Magashi Camp. Photo: Wilderness Safaris.

In 2017, 18 Eastern black rhinos were reintroduced to Akagera, brought from Thaba Tholo game farm in South Africa in collaboration between RDB, African Parks and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. They had been absent from Rwanda for 10 years. Lions were reintroduced in 2015, after they were hunted out in the 1990s, and the population doubled in the first year with the birth of 11 cubs. Two additional males were translocated from South Africa in 2017 to increase the population’s genetic diversity.

African Parks overhauled law enforcement and significantly reduced poaching in Akagera to an all-time low. In 2015, a counter-poaching canine unit was trained and deployed.

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Photo: African Parks

More than 44,000 tourists visited the park in 2018 , half of them Rwandan nationals. Tourism revenue has increased from $200,000 in 2010 to $2M in 2018, making Akagera 75 percent self-financing. More than 1,800 school children visit the park each year along with teachers and local leaders as part of the environmental education programme.

The five rhino transported to Akagera in late June included three from Dvur Kralove Zoo, Czech Republic, one from Flamingo Land, UK, and the other from Ree Park Safari, Denmark. They had been together in Dvur Kralove Zoo since November 2018.

“The addition of these five individuals is a prime example of how a collaboration between zoos and conservation organisations can support in-situ efforts to secure a future for a threatened species,” African Parks said.

Watch until the end and look who gets to meet his first wild leopard! Mandela, one of the five black rhinos to arrive in @akagerapark this last June from Europe is enjoying his new and wild life.Happy Black Rhino Friday ? ? ❤️ ? @adriaanmulder #blackrhino #blackfriday #visitrwanda #beautifuldestinations

Posted by African Parks on Friday, November 29, 2019

European zoos that are members of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria work together as part of the European Endangered Species Programme to improve the future of endangered species within zoos and in their natural habitats.