It’s hard not to get excited about going on safari; seeing exotic wildlife, sleeping under the stars, for many it’s a once in a lifetime experience, but have you ever stopped to consider what impact your visit has on the park and it’s inhabitants?
Parks rely on tourism income to support conservation activities; every visit to Akagera directly contributes to both conservation of wildlife and work with the communities surrounding the park. But it is important to balance this need for tourism revenue with a respect for the needs of protected areas, which is why rules and regulations are in place; for your own safety as well as the wellbeing of wildlife and the environment.
In the nine years since Akagera National Park has been under the public private partnership between African Parks and the Rwanda Development Board, the park has seen wildlife numbers more than double from less than 6,000
to an estimated over 12,000 animals, largely as a result of improved security and better habitat management.
In the same period visitor numbers have also more than doubled from 15,000 tourists in 2010 to over 44,000 in 2018. In Volcanoes National Park 15,000 tourists visited 12 habituated gorilla groups in 2018, with nearly
30,000 tourists visiting the Volcanoes National Park area.
It is not difficult to understand the potential impact of these numbers and the importance of regulating the experience with maximum group numbers, rules on proximity and more. Here are a few best practices to follow when viewing wildlife and why they’re important:
1. Keep a distance
Over time animals become more accustomed to the presence of people or vehicles, but if you get too close they may feel threatened. Maintaining a safe distance helps protect the wildlife and allows you to see their more natural behaviour.
Animals who feel threatened will alter their behaviour, in the least they may learn to avoid vehicles and people making wildlife viewing more difficult in the long term, but more seriously, animals have been known to become so disturbed they neglect their young or fail to mate. Some of the larger and more dangerous wildlife, may become a threat to you.
2. Don’t drive off-road
While some parks allow off-road driving, Akagera does not. This is not to spoil your viewing experience but for your own safety and the protection of the park.Off-roading to get closer to animals can be disturbing to wildlife. They need a refuge to escape to if they feel threatened. Off-roading is damaging to the environment.
Tourism undoubtedly has negative impacts on protected areas but these can be mitigated by sticking to the marked roads. Self-driving is permitted in Akagera but off-roading creates ambiguous tracks confusing to other tourists and carries the risk of getting lost.
3. Don’t pick up wildlife or take away any natural article you find in
A tortoise crossing the road is tempting to pick up and take a closer look, did you know this can be life threatening for the tortoise? Tortoises store liquid in a cloacal sack, relying on this reservoir during dry times.
They are prone to excreting this liquid when threatened, in an attempt to deter a predator, and then may perish as a result if unable to replenish their supply. Flowers, seeds, wood and bones are all part of the cycle of life in the bush, providing nourishment and housing for a huge variety of creatures, fertilising soils and encouraging new growth. “Just one.. “ might be tempting but multiplying that impact by 40,000 can be devastating.
We highly recommend taking a local guide when visiting the park, and traveling with a reputable tour company. We all love a close sighting of wildlife, taking photos and creating memorable experiences, but remember to be a responsible traveller. Your visit today has an impact, maybe on your own future visit. Respect for wildlife and the environment is the responsibility of all.
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