Poachers’ paradise is now an African conservation triumph
African Parks has made Rwanda’s Akagera park a major tourism success story — and plans to do the same in even the most remote places in the continent
When Sarah Hall arrived to run Rwanda’s oldest national park in 2010, its rangers could barely cope with poachers who were trapping hippos in snares for food. The rhinos had vanished. The lions had been wiped out.
Last year, the reserve drew more than 37,000 visitors from Rwanda and abroad, tourists eager to observe such wildlife favourites as 22 lions and 18 black rhinos flown in from SA.
“It feels like a very different place from nine years ago,” said Hall, who manages Akagera park together with her husband, as she stood near a fenced enclosure holding motorbikes seized from poachers and hundreds of rusty snares.
Akagera National Park is one of the biggest success stories of African Parks, an unusual not-for-profit company that has been mandated by nine governments in Africa to take over complete management of some of their reserves. On a continent where wildlife conservation is often a low priority, African Parks is the only non-governmental organisation to run national parks. It oversees more than 10-million hectares in some of the most inaccessible places, from lawless Central African Republic to floodplains in the far west of Zambia.
It also operates the largest anti-poaching force of any private organisation in Africa, with almost 1,000 rangers, and builds lodging for visitors that range from basic rooms to $1,300-a-night luxury tents. That, and the reintroduction of big animals, has helped boost tourism in unlikely places such as Chad, which attracts the super-wealthy with a remote safari camp in the vast Zakouma National Park that is fully booked until 2021. “Tourism to Africa i...