Akagera National Park is located in the north-east of Rwanda, on the Tanzanian and Ugandan borders. It now covers an area of 100,000 ha, following a recent reduction of its original size of 250,000 ha. The excised areas are mainly from the eastern and northern parts of the park’s original limits. The park was contiguous to the north-west with the Mutara Hunting Reserve (34,000 ha), degazetted in 1997. The topography of the park is characterized by rolling sandstone hills in the west, cut in places by deep, narrow valleys. In the east, flood-plains and swamps are predominant. The extensive lakes and swamps of Akagera river valley cover an area of c.100,000 ha. The highest point in the park is Mount Mutumba (1,825 m). The vegetation of the park is extremely varied and, indeed, has been described as the most heterogeneous savanna ecosystem in the region. Open savannas are dominated by three typical grasses, Themeda triandra, Hyparrhenia filipendula and Cymbopogon afronardus. Though Acacia spp. and Combretum spp. predominate, more than 250 tree species occur in the park. The relatively steep hills of central and southern parts support a denser tree- and bush-cover. Towards the lake borders to the east, the savanna becomes more heavily wooded, with gallery forest occurring along lake edges. Gallery forest species include Albizia spp., Acacia polyacantha and some Ficus spp. Flood-plain and marsh vegetation occur in the river valley, with marshes dominated by Cyperus papyrus, Cladium and Miscanthidium.
See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. At least 525 species are known from the park, reflecting the extremely wide diversity of habitat. These include 44 species of raptor, Balaeniceps rex and many Palearctic migrants, amongst which Falco naumanni, Gallinago media and Glareola nordmanni have been recorded. The park represents the northern limit of distribution of a number of Zambezian biome (A10) species, including Lanius souzae, Myrmecocichla arnotti and Cisticola angusticauda. In addition, one species of the Guinea–Congo Forests biome (A05) and seven of the Afrotropical Highlands biome (A07) also occur (see Table 3). However, all these data need to be reviewed in the light of the recent reduction in size of the park, which means that some species are no longer likely to occur within it, e.g. species of gallery forests (e.g. Camaroptera chloronota, Cossypha cyanocampter) and montane forests (e.g. Illadopsispyrrhoptera, Cisticola chubbi).
Non-bird biodiversity: More than 50 species of mammal are known from the park, including Lycaon pictus (EN), now thought to be locally extinct. Diceros bicornis (CR) and Loxodonta africana (EN) were introduced to the park in 1958 and 1975 respectively.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Akagera National Park and the formerly contiguous Mutara Hunting Reserve were protected by Decrees dating from 1934 and 1957 respectively. Compared with other parts of Rwanda, the park is not heavily populated. At least, it has not been in recent decades; its previous inhabitants were displaced on the creation of the park. Following social unrest in the country in the 1960s, there was uncontrolled poaching and grazing and many guards were killed. In 1969, 3,800 ha were degazetted from the park as were 8,400 ha from the Hunting Reserve. Following the recent civil war, the park came under further pressure, as a result of occupation by many thousands of pastoralists, which resulted in 60% of the park being degazetted in 1997. Furthermore, there is a plan to build a hydroelectric dam on the Rusumo falls on the Akagera river. This represents a serious threat for the wetland ecosystems of the park and all surrounding areas.