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Lioness with two cubs in Akagera National Park, Rwanda
© Michelle Sole
GUEST POST by Michelle Sole

Rwanda has a dark history with a civil war in 1991 and the tragedy of the 1994 genocide. Despite this, Rwanda appears to be a country that is turning itself around. There is certainly a conscious move within the country towards conservation and as a result tourism. Rwanda has a zero tolerance of plastic bags and is considered to be one of the cleanest, if not the cleanest, country in Africa. The world could learn a lot from this small landlocked African country.

Spotted hyena in Akagera National Park, Rwanda
© Michelle Sole

Akagera National Park, the only place in Rwanda home to the Big 5, is located on Rwanda’s eastern border with Tanzania. The park is home to 480 bird species and is the largest wetland in Africa. The reserve was founded in 1934, at which time it covered 2,500 square kilometres. As a result of the civil war and the genocide, large sections of the park were reallocated as farmland and by 1997 the park had halved in size. It now spans over 1,000 square kilometres.

Klaserie Sands River Camp

Due to poaching, many species including lion, rhino and a number of antelope species were wiped out. In 2010, African Parks formed a partnership with the Rwanda Development Board and assumed the management of Akagera National Park.

The landscape in Akagera National Park, Rwanda
© Michelle Sole

Since the formation of this joint partnership the reserve has seen huge changes. In an effort to reduce friction between humans and wildlife, a 120-km solar powered predator-proof fence was erected. In 2015 lions were reintroduced and within two years the population had tripled. In 2017 two male lions were introduced to increase genetic diversity, and in the same year 18 eastern black rhinos were reintroduced.

This project was such a success that this year, as part of the largest relocation of rhinos from Europe to Africa, five zoo-born black rhinos can now call Akagera home.

Two black rhinos in Akagera National Park, Rwanda
© Michelle Sole

In 2018, 44,000 tourists visited the park, half of whom were Rwandan nationals. In eight years the revenue generated from tourism has increased by 900 percent!

It goes without saying that the success of the reserve is important for the conservation of wildlife, but it is also a valuable source of income for the surrounding communities. The community and the national park go hand in hand; the one cannot survive without the other. A percentage of the park fees goes to local communities and locals are employed within the park. Those that once poached now form part of the anti-poaching team. The locals are friendly and educated in conservation. There is an understanding of the importance of protecting wildlife.

After all, conserving pockets of paradise like this guarantees not just the preservation of species but also work for future generations.

Topi in Akagera National Park, Rwanda
© Michelle Sole
Ndumu River Lodge
Michelle Sole

Michelle Sole is a safari and polar guide, wildlife photographer and blogger. As a child, Michelle always had a love and respect for nature, animals and the outdoors. She competed for Great Britain as an alpine ski racer for ten years, chasing winters around the world. On a family holiday to Africa in 2008, Michelle fell in love with elephants. In 2011 she moved to South Africa where she completed her studies to become a field guide and worked for five and a half years in the Waterberg Biosphere in South Africa. In 2017 Michelle spent a year backpacking around the globe, travelling from one national park to another. At the end of the year she spent three months guiding in Antarctica. She now divides her time between the African sun and the Antarctic ice, sharing with guests her passion for whales, birds and photography. Her thrill for adventure, the outdoors and adrenaline are at the core of her photography and writing. Follow her on Facebook or Instagram.