Akagera National Park is the only savanna national park in Rwanda.  Covering an area of 112,000 hectares, the park protects incredible flora and fauna. It is located in the east of Rwanda, on the border with Tanzania.

The park is named for the Akagera River that flows along its eastern boundary and feeds into a labyrinth of lakes. Rolling hills of Acacia bush with panoramic views across scattered grassland, patches of thick forest and a mosaic of swamp-fringed lakes along the meandering Akagera watercourse contribute to this park’s almost unrivalled scenic beauty.

As the only protected savannah environment in the country, Akagera is a unique destination to visit in Rwanda. It is the only park where game viewing can be done. Large herds of buffalo and impala, zebra and topi are commonly seen on the open plains, whilst smaller antelope such as oribi, klipspringer, bushbuck and reedbuck exist widely throughout the park.

Quick Facts

  • Akagera National Park is the largest of Rwanda’s national parks.
  • The park is found in Eastern Rwanda and covers an area of about 1,200 sq km.
  • Akagera National Park lies along the border with Tanzania and is found in a relatively low attitude area.
  • The  national park is Rwanda’s only savanna game park where tourists can enjoy a wildlife safari.

Attractions in Akagera

The two main attractions in Eastern Rwanda is the Akagera National Park and Lake Muhazi, a long shallow lake situated 30kms from Kigali which is soon to become a resort area. Akagera National Park with its many lakes is a big game country where tourists can enjoy game viewing.

About Akagera National Park

Akagera National Park is located on the north eastern edge of Rwanda. The breezy cool climate and steep cultivated hills make it an exciting park with nature attractive game reserves, savanna landscape and tropical vegetation. Most long safaris in Rwanda combine Akagera national park with a gorilla safari in the Volcanoes National Park. A A wildlife tour within the park is rewarding to any tourist interested in enjoying game viewing and possible trips include day tours and 2 Days+ adventure safaris.

Akagera is among the oldest national parks in Africa. It was gazetted in 1934 by the Belgian Colonial Government. The park celebrated 80 years in 2014. It has had a turbulent but fascinating history, from Belgium administration through independence and war, and leading-edge conservation initiatives throughout history. In 2010 Akagera entered a new phase in its development, under the management of a public private partnership between Rwanda Development Board and African Parks.

Akagera Wildlife

Akagera National Park is the only savanna park in Rwanda. As the only protected savannah environment in the country, Akagera is a unique destination to visit in Rwanda. It is the only park where game viewing can be done. Large herds of buffalo and impala, zebra and topi are commonly seen on the open plains, whilst smaller antelope such as oribi, klipspringer, bushbuck and reedbuck exist widely throughout the park.

Lions were reintroduced in 2015; five females and two males –  a few visitors have seen some of these lions. The park has a population of around 100 elephants which tend to stay around the lakes. The park is also inhabited by large populations of hippo and crocodiles.

Baboons and vervet monkeys are commonplace, less so is the secretive blue monkey. Leopard, hyena and jackal are also residents and may be seen on a night drive along with genet, serval, bushbabies, porcupine and other nocturnal wildlife. An important population of sitatunga lives in the papyrus swamps along with other rarities such as the shoebill and other papyrus endemic bird species. These are among the 482 bird species recorded in the park, which make Akagera a haven for bird enthusiasts.

Akagera is naturally attractive with developed trails for game viewing and beautiful walking trails for those interested in exploring the park on foot. On a foot safari you can trail through the swamps, acacia trees, rolling grassland and forests. In the past, the park suffered from heavy poaching by the local communities in search for red meat until when the Rwanda government became strict and put up various laws governing the protection of national parks and game reserves. From that time there has been an increase in the number of tourists visiting the park.

There are several species to encounter within the park; buffaloes, elephants, zebras, giraffes,  and a variety of antelopes.

The park is recognized by BirdLife International as an Important Birding Area (IBA)

Mammals in Akagera National Park

While in Akagera’s considerable scenic qualities and superb birdlife are largely unaffected by the recent years of turmoil, the large mammal populations have suffered badly at the hands of poachers. The populations of large mammals except perhaps hippos are severely depleted in comparison with the pre-1994 levels, while a few high profile species , if not already locally extinct, appear to the heading that way. The good news however, is that most large mammals are still sufficiently numerous to form a viable breeding population, furthermore, with adequate protection, these numbers are likely to be supplemented by animals crossing into the park from unprotected parts of neigbouring Tanzania which still support plenty of big game. Akagera in short is a damaged but salvageable game reserve.

Extirpated species include the African wild dog, probably a victim not of poaching but in common with many other African reserves, of a canine plague which would have introduced into the population through contact with domestic dogs. Of the larger predators, spotted hyena and leopard are still around, but infrequently observed though you might well come across hyena spoor, particularly the characteristic white dung.

The further of the park’s Lion hangs in the balance. Prior to 1994, the park supported an estimated 250 individuals, including a couple of prides that were uniquely adapted to foraging in the swamps, and others specialized in climbing trees. During the civil war, large numbers of lion were hunted out by the army to protect the presidential cattle herds, others were poisoned by cattle herders living outside the park. The situation today is open to conjecture. After a few years without any confirmed sightings, a female with three cubs was observed in the North of the park in the year 2000. More recent published estimates have placed the population at anywhere from 15 to 60 individuals, but local sources are less optimistic, placing the total number of resident lions at fewer than 10. That said, given the tenacity of this regal feline, and its tendency to wander long distances, it is one species that could naturally replenish itself through individuals crossing over from Tanzania once the park is fenced.

Smaller predators are well represented. Most likely to be encountered by day are dwarf, banded and black-tailed mongoose, while at night there is a chance of coming across viverrids such as the lithe, heavily spotted and somewhat cat-like genet and the bulkier black-masked civet. Also present, but rarely seen, are the handsome spotted serval cat and the dog-like side-striped jackal. One of the most common terrestrial mammals is the buffalo and, while the population is nowhere near the estimated 8,000 that roamed the park in the 1980’s. It is probably still measurable in thousands. Hippo, too, are present in impressive numbers, on some of the lakes there must be at least a dozen pods of up to 50 animals, and the total population probably exceeds 1,000. The handsome impala is probably the most common and habitat-tolerant large mammal in the park, and of the 11 antelope species which occur in Akagera, only the aquatic sitatunga is immediately endangered and unlikely to be seen by visitors. Small herds of Burchell’s Zebra are regularly encountered in open areas.

Also very common are three savanna primates, the dark, heavily built olive baboon  boldly resident around the safari lodge, the smaller and more agile vervet monkey and the tiny wide-eyed bushbaby, the latter a nocturnal species likely to be seen only after dusk. The forest-dwelling silver monkey, although listed for Akagera, is probably very rare, due to habitat loss following the reduction in the park’s area, although Callan  Cohen of Birding African reported a sighting in the trees where lakes Ihema and Birengero meet in July 2009. For the same reason, it is debatable whether Africa’s largest swine, the giant forest hog, still occurs in Akagera. The smaller bushpig, a secretive nocturnal species, is present but rarely encountered, while the diurnal warthog is very common and often seen trotting off in family parties, stiff tail held high. Two large mammal species that don’t occur there naturally were introduced to the park prior to the civil war. The first of these is the Masai Giraffe, which was introduced from the Magadi region of Southern Kenya in January 1986. The original herd of two males and four females produced its first off springs in 1988 and has since multiplied to a population of around 60 head, which tend to stick to patches of acacia woodland close to the Akagera park headquarters and safaris lodge. In 1957, Akagera became the recipient of Africa’s first black rhino translocation, when a herd comprising five females and one male was flown across from the bordering Karagwe region of Tanzania, to be supplemented by another male a year later. The rhino prospered in the dense bush and by the early 1970’s had colonized most of the park one individual is known to have strayed South almost as far as the Rusumo falls and by the end of that decade the population comfortably exceeded the half-century mark. Then came the whole sale rhino poaching of the 1980’s by the end of that decade no more than a dozen individuals survived, and it was long thought that the remainder were shot in the civil war. The occasional unverified rhino sighting was reported by visitors in the years that followed, but it was only in early 2004 that veterinary surgeon Claudia Schoene was able to confirm the presence of a nine-year old female she named Patricia in the North. Patricia died in July 2006, probably of natural causes, but plans are under way for fresh rhino stock to be translocated from South Africa.

Although the African elephant used to occur naturally in Akagera, the last recorded sighting of the original population was on the shores of Lake Mihindi in 1961. The present day herd is descended from a group of 26 youngsters that was translocated to Akagera in 1975, part of an operation to clear all the elephants from the increasingly densely populated Bugesera plains to the South of Kigali. Up to 100 adult elephants were shot in the process, while the young American filmmaker Lee Lyon was killed by one of the survivors upon its release into Akagera. By the late 1980’s an estimated 45 individuals roamed Akagera and although population of around 80 is probably the largest park has supported in 5o years.