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michael-ibk

A Thousand Hills, A Million Smiles & Gentle Giants - a Rwanda and Kenya Safari

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Atravelynn

Nice hint on Umubano! Fantastic itinerary. You had to be on a neighboring tree for that Brown Snake Eagle shot!

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janzin

Wow off to a great start and I'm eager to see it all..don't skimp on the bird photos either :) Keep 'em coming!

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michael-ibk

Thanks again! :)

 

Was Nov-Dec a good time to go, in term of weather and wildlife sightings?

 

@@xyz99

 

Of course there´s always pros and cons, there´s a reason this is the low season - we had a fair bit of rain and quite a lot of cloudy, sometimes gloomy weather but more hours of sunshine than we had hoped for. There were only two days when it really rained a lot, once when we were in Kigali (good timing) and the other time in the Mara. Other than that it could drizzle a bit from time to time but nothing too bad. The huge advantage is that we saw very few other tourists. Granted, some of the places we went to are not exactly hotspots anytime of the year, but even in the Mara (main reserve) it was wonderfully quiet - and some of the big herds were still present. Since that part of East Africa has suffered from a drought and desperately waited for rain this year it was still very dry in many places which was not good for the people and the wildlife but good for animal viewing - grass was very short everywhere. So yes, for us at least it was a very good time, but of course conditions could be totally different in another year, with lots more rain, so I guess it´s a matter of luck.

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michael-ibk

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Akagera National Park is Rwanda´s only "Big Game" safari park, in the very East of the country, bordering Tanzania. It was founded already way back in 1934 so it´s among the oldest national parks in Africa. In the 50ies Black Rhinos were introduced, and for some time they thrived, reaching a population of almost 100. For a time in the 70ies the park must have been paradise, with big numbers of Buffalos, Zebras, Topis and others.

 

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Almost 300 lions lived in the park. But soon the poaching waves started, and the situation only became worse. We all know what happened in Rwanda in the 90ies. The park was abandoned in 1994. When genocide ended returning refugees sought land for themselves - and their cattle. So for years a lot of people and livestock lived inside the park, and of course that has left huge scars. But in 1997 the park was officially downsized by two thirds and the land distributed for settlement. The remains of the park were free of people again, and that was the birth of Akagera National Park as it exists today.

 

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In December 2009 African Parks, partnered with the Rwanda Development Board, took over and created the Akagera Management Company (AMC). As with other places (Zakouma in Chad for example) they seem to be doing an excellent job and wildlife is recovering again. By the end of 2016 over USD 17 million were spent in the park to "restore, develop and manage Akagera National Park as a functioning savannah ecosystem through biodiversity rehabilitation, sound conservation practices and tourist development, thereby creating additional benefit for the economy of Rwanda".

 

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The number of ranger patrols was more than doubled, a lot invested in their training, and so poaching has decreased by 97%. A 120 km western boundary fence was completed in 2013 to reduce human-wildlife conflicts. The fence is walked on a daily basis. Visitor numbers have doubled since 2010, much of the road network graded. 200 locals are directly employed by the park, about 100 from time to time for construction, fire breaks and more.

 

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Last year seven lions (from South Africa) were introduced into the park, five females and two males. One female named Garuka unfortunately died in November. The cause is unknown but there were no signs of illegal activity. But on the plus side three other females had cubs, and so there are now 15 lions in the park, the population has more than doubled! :) We did not have the privilege of seeing them, it is a huge park, and they keep more to the North.

 

Now all preparations are humming for bringing Black Rhino back to the park, we saw the boma they constructed for the first phase. I believe in 2017 Akagera will be a Big Five park again, and I´m very hopeful that this gem will continue to prosper and attract lots of tourists in the future. It has huge potential, and maybe in the not too far future people will come here instead of combining their Gorilla treks with Kenya or Tanzania.

 

But enough facts - what did we see?

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michael-ibk

We had two full days in the park, and there is plenty to explore. We were out all day both times, explored the area around Lake Hago on the first day and went up almost to the Northern end on day 2.

 

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Masai giraffes, one of the first animals we encountered. (Re-?)Introduced in the 80ies, we saw them a couple of times. Almost a 100 now in the park.

 

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The South is mostly pretty thick bushland (except for the lake shores), and seeing the animals is not too easy. But wonderful for birds (as is the whole park).

 

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African Hawk-Eagle

 

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Black-Headed Gonolek - East Africa´s answer to the Crimson-Breasted Shrike

 

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African Green Pigeon

 

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Bushbucks love this part of the park, they are very, very common.

 

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Defassa Waterbuck, almost 1,500 in the park, and they are found pretty much everywhere, thicket, plains, lakes - they don´t care too much apparently.

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michael-ibk

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Akagera has several beautiful lakes, Ihema (the biggest one), Birengero, Kivumba, Hago, Gashanju, Mihindi and Rwanyakazinga from South to North. Always a good place for Crocs and Hippos, and bird´s paradise of course.

 

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African Openbill

 

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Water Thick-Knee

 

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African Jacana

 

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The juvenile

 

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Lake Hago here. A bit of a smelly place because of ...

 

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But also mammals enjoy the beautiful lakesides - like these Zebras.

 

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And a great area for Monitors - we saw dozens of them, in all sizes. Almost dragon-like, lizard-like.

 

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michael-ibk

One of our most delightful sightings were ...

 

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Akagera´s Elephants!

 

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Our guide was very careful around them, never switched off the engines and kept a good distance. With good reason. Elephants don´t forget, and it´s obvious that they have many reasons to don´t like humans. Poaching and fear of humans must still be deeply engrained in their memory, they did not like us at all, and a couple of times we had to go back quite a bit because one or the other individuals made it very clear that we were not welcome.

 

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Their behaviour was fascinating, they always would cluster together very closely, so different from the relaxed herds freely dispersing in the Mara. It reminded of me what Inyathi and .... had described about Zakouma´s Elephants.

 

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One can only hope that Akagera´s Elephant children will never be given a reason to become so distrustful about us humans.

 

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It´s not easy seeing them in Akagera, they avoid the open areas (where they would be vulnerable) and stick to the bushy areas close to the lakes, so this was a lucky encounter we enjoyed a lot. :)

 

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They are not natives. Elephants disappeared from the park in the 60ies. The current elephants of Akagera National Park have been transported from Bugesera (Kigali) in in the year 1975. By that time they were about 7 years old. 26 elephants were brought in in that year, 12 females and 14 males. Now there are more than a 100.

 

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michael-ibk

I always love seeing new species, so was very happy about finding Oribi in the park.

 

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Quite shy and not too easy to approach, but we would see them several times in the park.

 

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A Black-Bellied Bustard, a bird we would see a lot on this trip.

 

I always love seeing Zebras (escpecially the young ones), and they were quite regular fixtures of Akagera. About 2,000 in the park apparently.

 

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The first rain had helped a few flowers to get into bloom.

 

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Lake Islands like this are the preferred home of the Village Weaver:

 

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michael-ibk

One of my favourite birds is the Crowned Crane. Such an iconic African bird, and they are very common in the park.

 

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Some other birds from Day 1:

 

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Spur-Winged Goose

 

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A very familiar bird for all of us - Helmeted Guinea-Fowl. As you can see in this picture it did rain a bit at times, the weather was always changing.

 

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Diederik Cuckoo

 

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Pied Kingfisher - one of my favourite birds.

 

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The landscape around Lake Hago.

 

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Grey-Backed Fiscal

 

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Senegal Lapwing

 

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Little Bee-Eater

 

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Sacred Ibis

 

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You know who. :)

 

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Crowned Hornbill

Edited by michael-ibk

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michael-ibk

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On our first day we also did a 90 minutes-boat tour on Lake Ihema. A very enjoyable activity with lots of birds (Weavers, Bee-Eaters, Egrets, Herons, Cormorants, Kingfishers) but unfortunately after five minutes of sunshine ...

 

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... the weather got pretty bad, it became very dark and windy ...

 

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... so the low light and the waves resulted in a photo keeper rate of almost zero. But still a great outing we thoroughly enjoyed, especially since we had the boat all to ourselves (and the "captain" of course).

 

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There´s an island in the middle of the lake which is home to an unbelievable number of Egrets, Cormorants and Darters, it was very impressive seeing such a dazzling amount of birds.

 

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The others did not like this visitor one bit.

 

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That was Day 1 - let´s see what the next one had in store for us.

 

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AmyT
On 1/1/2017 at 12:27 PM, michael-ibk said:

One of our most delightful sightings were ...

 

Akagera´s Elephants!

 

 

 

Our guide was very careful around them, never switched off the engines and kept a good distance. With good reason. Elephants don´t forget, and it´s obvious that they have many reasons to don´t like humans. Poaching and fear of humans must still be deeply engrained in their memory, they did not like us at all, and a couple of times we had to go back quite a bit because one or the other individuals made it very clear that we were not welcome.

 

gallery_19319_1621_16046681.jpg

 

Their behaviour was fascinating, they always would cluster together very closely, so different from the relaxed herds freely dispersing in the Mara. It reminded of me what Inyathi and .... had described about Zakouma´s Elephants.

 

 

 

One can only hope that Akagera´s Elephant children will never be given a reason to become so distrustful about us humans.

 

gallery_19319_1621_1572007.jpg

 

gallery_19319_1621_1755392.jpg

 

It´s not easy seeing them in Akagera, they avoid the open areas (where they would be vulnerable) and stick to the bushy areas close to the lakes, so this was a lucky encounter we enjoyed a lot. :)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One benefit, however, is seeing them all together to see the vast range of sizes. The bulls are enormous!! Hopefully the next generation will have no reason to fear humans.

 

Your photography is gorgeous. :)

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xyz99

Fabulous!!!

Love the pictures, thanks for including the birds :) and love all the facts, as this is a "not yet explored" part of the world. East Africa will probably be a 2020 trip for us, but that's a long time to go, and reading TRs like this is the best I can do for now.

 

Thanks for the weather pros and cons explanation. It looks green and beautiful, and the variety if birds and animals is astonishing. And this was only the 1st day...can't wait to see more and learn more about this area.

 

The legs of that juvi jacana...wow!

 

Are the monitors dangerous? I've seen National Geographic of big, bad Komodo dragons, and these monitors look so much like those...although might be a little big smaller? How big were they? Are they as bad as their Komodo cousins?

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AKR1

Another fantastic trip report from @@michael-ibk! Just superb photography ( your flying bird shots are particularly spectacular and amongst the best on this board), but it's your erudite prose and writing style that really provides the reader with detailed insight and let's us savor the adventure with you. Thank you for posting this. And congratulations on your 10th safari. Happy New Year.

Edited by AKR1

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Antee

Great pictures and report from an unkown area (at least for me)!

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optig

@Michael-Ibk You've just sold me on Akagera, and Nyungwe National Parks. I love all photos particularly those of green pigeons, and Diederik cuckoo. I can't recall ever having seen an oribi

before.

Edited by optig

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Zubbie15

Akagera looks really beautiful @@michael-ibk, hopefully as AP keeps up their work things will only continue to improve. Did you mention what type of vehicle you used for the game drives? Our guide drove us around the country in a western style SUV which I can't see using for a game drive, so I'm curious how it worked for you.

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SafariChick

stunning photos! The colors and the sharpness are gorgeous. Love the elephants, the monitors, the giraffe with its tongue out especially!

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SafariChick

stunning photos! The colors and the sharpness are gorgeous. Love the elephants, the monitors, the giraffe with its tongue out especially!

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Kitsafari

what a great success story on the elephants and such a wonderful comeback by the giant species. the breeding groups displayed similar behaviours in the surrounding areas of the cliffs in Gonarezhou although they were more relaxed close to the Chilo lodge. my guess would be the interactions with Chilo lodge vehicles and guests had soothed their fears of human attacks but less human interactions and less familiar areas near the cliffs made them more nervous. Perhaps over time, the adult elephants will relax more in Akagera.

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dlo

As everyone else has said great photos all around especially those ele's. Going in low season really does have its advantages and for us I couldn't believe how dead the mara was.

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michael-ibk

One benefit, however, is seeing them all together to see the vast range of sizes. The bulls are enormous!!

 

Thank you, @@AmyT . I rather think this would be females, the biggest one being the matriarch. The males usually have to leave the herds when they reach a certain age.

 

East Africa will probably be a 2020 trip for us, but that's a long time to go, and reading TRs like this is the best I can do for now.

 

Are the monitors dangerous? I've seen National Geographic of big, bad Komodo dragons, and these monitors look so much like those...although might be a little big smaller? How big were they? Are they as bad as their Komodo cousins?

 

@@xyz99

 

Thanks, and no, I don´t think they are dangerous to humans although I would prefer a respectful distance to those claws. I remember I was sitting by the river in Samburu one evening, and had quite a scare when I realized a Monitor was less than a metre to my right. They are much smaller than Komodos, but can reach a length of 2 m. The first one in the pictures here was quite a big boy.

 

Another fantastic trip report from @@michael-ibk! Just superb photography ( your flying bird shots are particularly spectacular and amongst the best on this board), but it's your erudite prose and writing style that really provides the reader with detailed insight and let's us savor the adventure with you. Thank you for posting this. And congratulations on your 10th safari. Happy New Year.

 

@@AKR1 : Thanks a lot, and to you too.

 

Great pictures and report from an unkown area (at least for me)!

 

@@Antee

 

I´m surprised there are still unknown areas for you - haven´t you been everywhere? ;)

 

@Michael-Ibk I can't recall ever having seen an oribi

before.

 

Thanks, @@optig . It seems to me they are not seen too much in the classic safari areas, they are rarely featured in trip reports here.

 

Akagera looks really beautiful @@michael-ibk, hopefully as AP keeps up their work things will only continue to improve. Did you mention what type of vehicle you used for the game drives? Our guide drove us around the country in a western style SUV which I can't see using for a game drive, so I'm curious how it worked for you.

 

@@Zubbie15

 

We had a proper safari vehicle, only the colour (white) was a bit unusual. Absolutely satisfactory, with windows sliding all down and open roof.

 

Here´s a picture with our guide Didier, @@AndMic and park ranger Belena (a very nice woman who knew the park inside out and was very good with birds).

 

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what a great success story on the elephants and such a wonderful comeback by the giant species. the breeding groups displayed similar behaviours in the surrounding areas of the cliffs in Gonarezhou although they were more relaxed close to the Chilo lodge. my guess would be the interactions with Chilo lodge vehicles and guests had soothed their fears of human attacks but less human interactions and less familiar areas near the cliffs made them more nervous. Perhaps over time, the adult elephants will relax more in Akagera.

 

Let´s hope so, @@Kitsafari .

 

As everyone else has said great photos all around especially those ele's. Going in low season really does have its advantages and for us I couldn't believe how dead the mara was.

 

Thanks, @@dlo . "Dead" as in "no cars", yes?

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janzin

wonderful photos, especially love the flying cranes, and the ellies!

 

So other than lions what other predators are in the park? Is there leopard, hyena? Just wondering as the game animals seem to be proliferating very well!

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michael-ibk

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We stayed at Ruzizi Tented Lodge, a delightful camp right at the shore of Lake Ihema in the South of the park. (https://www.african-parks.org/the-parks/akagera/visit-the-park/ruzizi-tented-lodge). I don´t remember how many tents, probably 8, and each tent is quite far away from the next one, so very private. On the first evening there were about 10 other guests, only three on the second day.

 

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The walkway to the breakfast and dining area - right at the water´s edge.

 

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The sitting area.

 

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A beautiful place to enjoy one´s meals, hippos were always present, and lots of Weavers and Kingfishers could be watched. These naughty guys were around too, and the waiters had to be very alert to defend the fruit salat against the crafty thieves.

 

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"What, me, stealing? Never!"

 

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Dinners (a three course-affair, served) were exquisite, among the best we had on this trip. Breakfast was very nice as well, with lots of fresh fruit. Apparently they try to a bit for a more posh style, which can also be noted in the staff´s behaviour. Very friendly, but also a bit stiff and reserved. No communal dining here, every group of guests had their own table.

 

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They have all these walkways because there are a lot of hippos around, and they often wander through the camp area in the dark.

 

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Here is our tent, with a "private beach".

 

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Note the hippo head. :)

 

Very spacious and comfy, also huge bathroom. No outside shower regrettably. For whatever reason on the second night about a million of super-tiny insects terrorised us, so tiny that the fly-screens could not keep them out. Must have hatched. They were not biting or stinging but it was not much fun having the white linen completely dark with these little bastards. We decided to just turn off the lights and sleep, out of sight, out of mind! (Until wake-up when we were quite covered with them...) Didn´t have insect problems at all the other two nights, and the tent was spotless again in the evening, staff were very thorough with cleaning.

 

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There´s also Akagera Game Lodge, a large 120-bed hotel overlooking Lake Ihema. From everything I´ve read and heard not a particular good place to stay. An interesting option would be Karenge Bush Camp, a seasonal rustic bush camp in the very North of the park. Definitely the most animal-rich part of Akagera, and I´m sure the best sightings could be had when staying up there. It was not open, however, in November.

 

gallery_19319_1621_3932753.jpg

 

 

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michael-ibk

wonderful photos, especially love the flying cranes, and the ellies!

 

So other than lions what other predators are in the park? Is there leopard, hyena? Just wondering as the game animals seem to be proliferating very well!

 

Thank you, @@janzin .

 

Leopards are there, other guests had a short sighting while we were there. A matter of luck, they are apparently shy around cars. The Game Count 2015 had 7. No Cheetah, no Wild Dogs. Spotted Hyena is there, a group of 30+ was posted on the Friends of Akagera FB feed, the 2015 game count had 7. Serval and Black-backed Jackal do occur I was told, did not feature in the game count. We did not see predators. My guess is that the best chances of finding them would be up in the North, as mentioned this is the most game-rich area, and it´s much more open than the South, so visibility is much better.

Edited by michael-ibk

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michael-ibk

gallery_19319_1621_602293.jpg

 

On day 2 we wanted to get up North, and since it´s a long distance (~ 100 km) we did not spend time at the Southern lakes. We saw a few Bushbuck, Waterbuck, and Impala but the main attraction for a while were birds again.

 

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Crested Barbet

 

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Bateleur ...

 

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... with "child".

 

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Palm-Nut Vulture - a first for me.

 

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Black Cuckoo-Shrike.

 

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White-Browed Coucal - never had realized how common this bird is in East Africa, we saw it a lot everywhere.

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