This photo is from our trip to Akagera National Park

This photo is from our trip to Akagera National Park a few days ago. We were there for two days and spent the second one driving through the whole park seeking lions, elephants, and black rhinos. While the lions and rhinos are nearly impossible to see, we were assured, we found elephants, giraffes, a pregnant leopard, and this gorgeous scene of five kinds of wildlife — zebras, antelopes, warthogs, and flowers — gathered in a field just bore a storm.

Akagera, aside from being beautiful, has a fascinating history. During the genocide the national park was abandoned and refugees fleeing the violence moved onto the land to seek refuge. Many of them brought livestock and in order to protect their livelihood from being eaten by lions, they poisoned and killed all of the lions. The black rhinos (the rarest of the rhinos and now an endangered species) were killed off as well by poachers, and many of the other animals saw a rapid and dangerous decline in their populations, including the hippos and zebras as well.

In the past few years however, a private organization has been working to restore the wildlife. They put up fences around the park to keep the livestock of the villages safe from the predators and brought in replacement lions and rhinos from South Africa. The rhinos were brought in last year and we were told by the people running the park that they are doing pretty well, and have even had some calves. The politics of a private South African company (whose president is Prince Harry of England) taking over the park from the Rwandan government deserve to be examined, but that is a job for a much longer article. However, it is no question that the park is thriving, and the organization’s intention is to rebuild the park and prepare local Rwandans to take it over after 20 years. The people in the park claim to have an excellent and mutually beneficial relationship with the surrounding community, but this reporter did not get the opportunity to verify this with the surrounding community. It has the potential to bring in significant tourism revenue for the country, much of which is given to funds for the country and other national parks, and it is already exceeding its own expectations in that regard. All this is to say. I enjoyed myself immensely though I wish I could have spent more time there to do proper reporting.

My final conclusion: hippos are very silly looking but they are deadly.

-Ema O’Connor