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michael-ibk

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

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michael-ibk

Speaking about attractions, Akagera had one unexpected delightful surprise for us. It was the day before when I spotted something in the background when we were going down a hill. At first I thought Oryx but it was even more interesting - a Roan!

 

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A group of four but they are very shy in the park. More than 100 are around apparently, and they do prefer the Southern area. We were lucky enough to have four sightings of them in total, another on the second day in the morning - again disappearing very fast:

 

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In this very area we also saw some on the way back in the late afternoon, possibly the same individuals. Gone too quickly for shots.

 

And another sighting was up on the hills where they kept a good distance from the road but at least did not run. :)

 

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Edited by michael-ibk

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michael-ibk

Up North we would see more of the Papyrus areas. A lot of the park is swamp.

 

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This is Shoebill area, but we were not lucky enough to see one. And you cannot really expect to. This summer one individual was spotted by some very lucky tourists (mostly from quite a distance judging by the FB posts), and also the game count did only come up with one (though they did not really cover the swamp area). Also a habitat for Sitatunga but like in Botswana they are there - but hardly anybody ever sees them.

 

But it was very noticeable how many more animals were around here. We had not seen more than a handful or Warthogs in the South, and here they were everywhere all of a sudden.

 

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And many, many Impala.

 

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Some beautiful water birds, like this Long-Toed Lapwing.

 

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Hamerkop

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michael-ibk

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A peninsula going into Lake Rwanyakazinga was Crocodile paradise, and some even stayed out long enough to grant us some shots.

 

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This Snake had us quite excited, we all hissed "Black Mamba" but pretty certainly nonsense since Black Mambas are not as black as this snake. So what is it, anybody know? (I realize it´s difficult to tell from this photo.)

 

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African Wattled Lapwing

 

On the other side we saw a veritable "Hippo beach".

 

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The number of Pied Kingfishers was incredible, there seemed to be one every 20 metres.

 

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And some Malachites as well:

 

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michael-ibk

We had one of my favourite bird sightings of the trip here - a Pin-Tailed Whydah did its very best to impress his lady:

 

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His efforts finally paid off as you can see here:

 

 

I pitied him - all that hard work for just that? :)

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michael-ibk

The peninsula was absolutely packed with mammals, hundres of Impala, lots of Zebra, dozens of Warthogs, and quite a few Buffalos, the first we had seen here in Akagera.

 

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With a Yellow-Billed Oxpecker

 

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Typical grumpy buffalo mode. The size of these guys was quite impressive.

 

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A bit further up we saw more and more Topi groups, in the next two hours we would certainly see a few hundred of them.

 

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The open plains of Kilala. Lots of Waterbuck, Impala, Zebras, Buffalos, Topi, Giraffe, simply a wonderful place to be. Also our only sighting of Bohor Reedbuck.

 

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We had our lunch here by the lake - this is also the place where the photo with the car was taken.

 

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Edited by michael-ibk

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michael-ibk

We took a different route back, driving up the hills to the Mutumba area, in the very West of the park. Again a totally different habitat and my favourite area scenically.

 

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The views down over the lakes were fantastic, the pictures don´t do it justice.

 

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A lonely Top male standing guard:

 

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This is the area where we had our third Roan sighting:

 

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Going down again:

 

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Our only Eland sighting here - a sizable herd.

 

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Klippspringers can be found in this area (there are some rocky parts) but we did not try.

 

More Buffalos from the hills:

 

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Edited by michael-ibk

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michael-ibk

Some birds from the way back to camp:

 

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African Grey Hornbill

 

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Grey Kestrel

 

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Lizard Buzzard

 

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Yellowbill

 

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African Marsh Harrier

 

And that´s a wrap for Akagera - we really enjoyed the park and could easily have stayed one more night. So many different habitats, a beautiful camp, lots of birds, and definitely more mammals than we would have expected. I hope - and am quite sure - that the park will become more and more popular with Gorilla trekkers, it really has a lot to offer.

 

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ld1

@@michael-ibk what an amazing way to celebrate being 40. I seriously considered Akagera back in 2012 when we went Gorilla trekking. I went with the Selous instead as I'd always wanted to visit and we had a first-timer with us, so we wanted him to get that "once in a lifetime" Africa trip. Not getting to Akagera has always niggled me and your report has certainly re-ignited that itch!

 

Looking forward to the rest of your report ?

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xyz99

I expected lots of wildlife, animals and birds...but I did not expect the beautiful scenery. What a treat! One can go there just for that...and for the Pin-Tailed Whydah :)

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offshorebirder

@@michael-ibk - your photography has really matured. Strong stuff!

 

Too many good photos to comment on individually. But it's funny how one will strike you. The Impala portrait in post #55 is superb. Neat how the face is in sunlight and the ears shadowed.

 

And the colorful shots of Topi standing on the red mounds are very nice.

 

Some very crunchy landscape shots too - this is a very enjoyable trip report.

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optig

@michaed-ibk I just love your photos of the pin-tailed whydahs mating. I also appreciate your photos of the lizard buzzard. I'm surprised that there are roan and klipspsringer in Rwanda.

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Caracal

Your report on Akegara @@michael-ibk is packed with superb photos - the wildlife, the birds and the landscapes all interlaced with your engaging commentary.

 

Have been particularly taken with the scenery and those magnificent cloud formations.

 

Be interested to know if anyone can identify that snake. Good sighting ( I've seen very few snakes in Africa and still hope to get a decent python sighting one day)

 

Now looking forward to the next part.

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dlo

I expected lots of wildlife, animals and birds...but I did not expect the beautiful scenery. What a treat! One can go there just for that...and for the Pin-Tailed Whydah :)

 

I feel Uganda is easily one of the most beautiful countries anywhere but Rwanda isn't too far behind, you definitely could go there for the landscapes.

 

@@michael-ibk I don't want to hijack you're report but it was dead in many ways. Maybe 2 crowded sightings that I remember, lots of successful predators and a couple of the quietest game drives I've ever had. We will do Nyungwe on our next trip to Rwanda but Akagera really does look nice!

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optig

@dio I need to return to Uganda and visit Rwanda. I was hoping to visit Rwanda in combination with the DRC, but it would also combine well with the Serengeti and Tarangire National Park. I can hardly wait.

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Towlersonsafari

what wonderful photo's in what looks like a beautiful park-and a palm nut vulture-very jealous! very much enjoying your report @@michael-ibk

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xyz99

 

I expected lots of wildlife, animals and birds...but I did not expect the beautiful scenery. What a treat! One can go there just for that...and for the Pin-Tailed Whydah :)

 

I feel Uganda is easily one of the most beautiful countries anywhere but Rwanda isn't too far behind, you definitely could go there for the landscapes.

 

 

Uganda was not really on my radar, but your note might change that...maybe a Uganda + Rwanda combo someday?

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michael-ibk

Thanks a lot again! A very important announcement, I just realized I neglected to mention the crucial fact that many photos in this report - especially, but by far not exclusively, landscapes - were taken by @@AndMic !

@@michael-ibk Not getting to Akagera has always niggled me and your report has certainly re-ignited that itch!


Thanks, @@ld1 , just go there next time ! :)

I expected lots of wildlife, animals and birds...but I did not expect the beautiful scenery. What a treat! One can go there just for that...and for the Pin-Tailed Whydah :)


Thanks, @@xyz99 , I do think that Akagera is one of the most diverse and scenic parks I have been to.

@@michael-ibk - your photography has really matured. Strong stuff!

Some very crunchy landscape shots too - this is a very enjoyable trip report.


Thanks, @@offshorebirder . And see above - the "crunchiness" is mostly @@AndMic ´s work.

@michaed-ibk I just love your photos of the pin-tailed whydahs mating. I also appreciate your photos of the lizard buzzard. I'm surprised that there are roan and klipspsringer in Rwanda.


@@optig I think Klippspringer are widespread in Sub-Saharan Africa where the terrain suits them. The Roan population, however, seems to be an isolated one.

Be interested to know if anyone can identify that snake. Good sighting ( I've seen very few snakes in Africa and still hope to get a decent python sighting one day.


Thanks, @@Caracal , glad you are enjoying it. One more cool snake coming up for you a little later from Kakamega. also really would like to know about this one, though. Went through "Snakes Other Reptiles and Amphibians of East Africa" but am none the wiser. @@armchair bushman , could you help here?

I don't want to hijack you're report but it was dead in many ways. Maybe 2 crowded sightings that I remember, lots of successful predators and a couple of the quietest game drives I've ever had.


Well, I´m looking forward to your report, @@dlo .

what wonderful photo's in what looks like a beautiful park-and a palm nut vulture-very jealous! very much enjoying your report @@michael-ibk


Thanks, @@Towlersonsafari , was very happy about the Palm-Nut Vulture!

Edited by michael-ibk

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michael-ibk

Some "outtakes" from the drive back to Kigali:

 

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Note: No plastic rubbish anywhere.

 

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Common Kestrel

 

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Rwanda, a country in green and blue

 

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The main roads were in an excellent state everywhere, tarmac or perfectly graded gravel, hardly any potholes.

 

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In a village we had our best trip sighting of a Long-Crested Eagle:

 

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Our stop of course attracted a lot of kids who enjoyed having their photo taken, and loved seeing it on the display. Children everywhere in the country were waving, laughing and running afte the car whenever they saw us, and people in general were very, very friendly. A land of a million smiles indeed!

 

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This was a light load, as so often it was fascinating how much stuff people could pack on their bikes and carts.

 

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Every single parcel of the country is used for cultivating something.

 

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Fishing ponds

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michael-ibk

We arrived in Kigali at about 10.00, and visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre there.

 

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Devastating, but - as weird as this may sound - not in a bad way. I think everybody is aware of what happened in the Rwandan genocide in 1994, so I won´t cover that (see the wiki entry here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rwandan_genocide).We had been unsure if we really would want to do this, it was clear this would not be "fun" at all. But I´m very glad we did. It is such an important part of Rwanda´s past, and I applaud the fact that this memorial exists, that it is raising awareness in tourists, and - much more vital - that is also a last rest for victims (the remains of 250,000 people are buried here), a place to mourn for survivors, and a hope for reconciliation.

 

I was impressed how many people we talked to in Rwanda very openly talked about the past, the phrase "since genocide" came up very often. Somehow, though, I was glad our driver was still quite young because whenever I was talking to somebody I just couldn´t help but wonder "What have you suffered? Who did you lose?" Or - even more chillingly "What have you done?"

 

Pretty much everyone in Rwanda must have done something or lost somebody back then, one way or another. But time is powerful. Today it is a safe, green, lush and friendly country, with good infrastructure, and definitely on its way up. It is proof that a country can fall into the abyss, into the very bottom - and can get out again.

 

The memorial itself is very tastefully done, with lots of documentation, newspaper articles, video statements of victims, exhibitions on other genocides in the world.

 

The two things that moved me the most:

 

1.) There´s a room with many enlarged pictures of children, each and everyone stating a few little facts about them. Like this:

 

"Elijah. Six years old. Loved his little sister. Enjoyed playing football. Hacked to death with a machete."

 

Here, the anonymous fate of 500,000 - 1,000.000 faceless people grew into intimate stories about real people, children. Very hard to stomach.

 

2.) I of course don´t know how accurate this story is but one article I read stated that in 1997, years after Genocide, some Hutu rebels assaulted a college, and demanded of the students to separate into Hutu and Tutsi. They refused, and one student was killed. Again they were asked to separate. But one student said: "Sir ... there are no Hutu and Tutsi here. We are Rwanda." And the students did not separate.

 

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ld1

@@michael-ibk You describe the genocide memorial very well. I found it harrowing in parts but respectful and enormously informative. I would in the have tended to shy away from this kind of place, but it changed my view completely. I knew little of events leading up to the genocide and this aspect in particular made me realize how little we learn or are exposed to in our daily lives about modern history.

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Chakra

We all can learn something from Rwanda. How they shine as a beacon of hope in this troubled area !

Interesting that they openly talk about the genocide whereas in many other places people try not to talk too much about these events.

I love the male Whydhas. I remember one male kept on attacking its own reflection on a shiny spotlight in the breeding season and how aggressive and fearless he was ! All for those three seconds :wub::wub:

Eagerly waiting for my Big Brothers !

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optig

@micheal-ibk I love your photo of the long-crested eagle,especially because I've never seen one. I also love your story about how Rwandans refused to identify themselves as either Tutsi or Hutu;all Africans should follow their example.

I have heard some kind things said about you.

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inyathi

@michael-ibk I don’t wish to hijack your report but it’s great to see one on Akagera which was one of Africa’s great parks.

I have to confess I had the good fortune to visit Akagera a long time ago before the war when the park was more than twice the size it is now (it covered 10% of Rwanda) and saw some of the original lions before they disappeared. As far as is known giraffes in historical times were for some reason not native to Rwanda even though the nearest Maasai giraffes were in fact just the other side of the Kagera River in north-western Tanzania, the habitat in the park is obviously good for giraffes so why they were absent I don’t know. The first six Maasai giraffes were introduced in 1986 they were still being settled in and fed on branches cut from acacia trees while I was there.

 

In recent times at least Akagera would have been I guess the only area of suitable habitat for black rhinos in Rwanda I guess they must have been hunted out in colonial times. The translocation of black rhinos to the park in the 1958 was I believe the first ever rhino translocation anywhere in Africa and they thrived in the park up until the 80s, apparently from the reports I’ve read now, there may have still been around 80-90 at the time I was there but we certainly never saw any. They were then apparently poached out during the war although a few did survive because remarkably a last surviving cow ‘Patricia’ was spotted in 2003 she was darted and had a tracker put into one of her horns, there was plan to fly in a bull but this never happened and she was found dead in 2006 just three years before AP took over. I hope that some of the park’s new rhinos will arrive this year, they are apparently coming from a private reserve in Limpopo South Africa called Thaba Tholo I was initially a little concerned that the rhinos were coming from SA but then it occurred to me that these rhinos must be the descendants of East African black rhinos (Diceros bicornis michaeli) that were taken from Kenya to Addo Elephant NP in 1961 and 62. The rhinos from Addo were sold to Thabo Tholo when SanParks wanted to replace the rhinos in Addo with Cape black D. b. bicornis rhinos of Namibian origin that were deemed to be more appropriate to the area. Previously some of these East african black rhinos had been sent to Tanzania but clearly not all of them, I understand that the plan is to bring in 20 animals; this should mean that in time it will be possible to send surplus rhinos from Akagera to Tanzania or Uganda, (kenya has enough of its own and KWS seems reluctant to share them) I don’t think there are any black rhinos in Uganda at present. The return of the black rhino will therefore be very important.

 

Good to hear that you saw some roan, I had hoped to see some as I’d never seen one at the time of my visit but I wasn’t lucky. I’m interested in what you say about shoebills and sitatungas because I had excellent views of both from a little metal tower somewhere overlooking an extensive area of swamp and would have said the Akagera was one of the best places to see both species or certainly sitatungas we might have just been very lucky with the shoebill. I’m not sure exactly where this was in the park but I presume it wasn’t in the northern section that was sadly lost in the aftermath of the war as this was predominantly savannah, so I’m surprised that it’s not easy to see sitatungas anymore, but then wherever it was that I saw them I don’t suppose the tower is there anymore.

 

Aside from thinking that the park was one of the most beautiful parks I’d visited, what I most recall is seeing huge herds of impalas, we also saw a few zebras, buffalos and topis but not large numbers of them. There were very few elephants in the park at the time and we didn’t see any of them. I’m not that surprised by your description of the elephant’s behaviour their history is very sad. For a while there had been no elephants at all in Akagera the last ones disappeared from the park in the 60s, in the 70s a herd of 146 elephants had become stranded in an area of swamp at Busegera not far from Kigali their habitat was disappearing as farmers expanded into the area and the elephants were raiding crops. In particular they were destroying the banana crop at an agricultural research station there, the Rwandans wanted to move the elephants to Akagera but sadly in those days they didn’t have the knowhow or the means to translocate elephants that conservationists have today, so it was decided in 1975 that the best option was probably to cull the adults. To try and avoid this Ian Douglas Hamilton the famous elephant researcher and conservationists came up with an idea to try and capture the elephants the way that they have always done in Asia by driving them into large enclosures known in India as keddahs. Once trapped the elephants would then be kept captive for several months until they had calmed down and become reasonably tame and they would then be driven in short stages over to Akagera which was just 80 kms away. No one had ever done anything like this in Africa before and there was no guarantee that it would work so regrettably the idea was rejected in favour of culling them, all of the elephants over eight years and under 1 year old were killed, the 26 remaining calves were then transported by helicopter to Akagera. Before Daphne Sheldrick learned how to keep them alive orphaned elephant calves less than a year old always died, so in those days when elephants were culled it was thought better just to kill these calves. Unless any elephants have crossed over from Tanzania since then, I presume that all of the elephants in the park are descendants of these 26 calves. I don’t know how many but it is reasonable to assume that elephants must have been poached during the war, so it’s not a surprise if they hate humans.

 

During my visit I had stayed part of the time at a very nice place called Gabiro Lodge which no longer exists (well very nice except for the captive chimps in a cage in the garden), it was a sad day some years later when during the war I was listening to the radio and heard on the BBC news that there was heavy shelling going on at Gabiro, the lodge was occupied by a platoon of RPA troops. There used to be a large hunting area called Mutara bordering the park but even before the war this area had been earmarked for the resettlement of refugees, following the war the Mutara hunting area and the whole northern section of the park that went all the way up to the Ugandan border was occupied by returning refugees. Much of it was carved into cattle ranches for Tutsi herders and I’ve no doubt the best grazing land went to prominent members of the RPF regime that had taken over the country. This northern section of the park and the adjoining hunting area was de-gazetted in 1997 reducing the size of the protected area by about two thirds, but thankfully the government decided to keep the southern section, I was very pleased when I heard that AP would be taking over the management and that this remaining section of Akagera would be restored. When the fighting was going on in the park both sides would have poached and eaten a lot of the animals, I fear if AP hadn’t been invited in there would be almost nothing left at all now. The removal of so much of the park’s savannah and much of the best grazing has obviously significantly reduced the population of topi and other grazers that Akagera can support, but hopefully now that what's left is so much better protected the park will still provide a good home for reasonable numbers of them. It was the invasion of the park by refugees and specifically herders with their prized Watusi/Ankole cattle that led to the original lions being poisoned and finally killed off. Despite all of this history and the fact that the park is so much smaller than it was, it looks like overall the game viewing may well be better now than it was when I visited, certainly your photos suggest this and show that the surviving park is just as beautiful as I remember. Until AP took over I never wanted to go back to Akagera given everything that has happened to the park since my visit, but after reading your report I’m seriously starting to change my mind. I do need to go back to Rwanda someday because I haven’t made it to Nyungwe Forest yet. I think thanks to AP Akagera will once more become one of the great parks of eastern Africa and everyone who visits Rwanda to see the gorillas should visit the park. .

 

Before letting you carry on I might just add that the last elephant in Nyungwe Forest was poached in 1999, researchers have confirmed that although Nyungwe is rainforest the elephants there were savannah elephants. Back in 2009 WCS published a feasibility study on the reintroduction of elephants to the park which you can find online, the plan if it goes ahead would be to try and find some elephants that live at least part of the time in similar habitat probably from somewhere in Uganda, I think that translocating elephants from Akagera has been ruled because there are still only a small number of them and the habitat is very different. I don’t know if this reintroduction will ever go ahead but I think it’s still being talked about, if it does the Rwandans could presumably get assistance from AP to capture and move the elephants.

 

I really hope that Rwanda's troubles are over, I've added quite enough to your report already without adding a whole lot about the history of the country but it was the colonial Germans and then the Belgians who really decided that the people of Rwanda and Burundi had to be divided into Hutus and Tutsis and Batwa (pygmies) that lies at the root of the problem. The distinction was largely artfificial everyone in the two kingdoms whatever their supposed tribe or status spoke the same language either Ikinyarwanda or Ikirundi. Burundi still evidently has a lot of problems but in Rwanda at least there may come a day when differences between Hutus and Tutsis are a thing of the past, this might hopefully set an example for the Burundians to follow.

 

I look forward to your gorilla experience with interest. :)

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dlo

 

 

I expected lots of wildlife, animals and birds...but I did not expect the beautiful scenery. What a treat! One can go there just for that...and for the Pin-Tailed Whydah :)

 

I feel Uganda is easily one of the most beautiful countries anywhere but Rwanda isn't too far behind, you definitely could go there for the landscapes.

 

 

Uganda was not really on my radar, but your note might change that...maybe a Uganda + Rwanda combo someday?

 

 

That's what we did and we were helped by a large amount of time to do it. We did 3 months in East Africa and spent 3 of those weeks there and could easily have done more.

 

@@michael-ibk The report which will pale in comparison to your's is coming very soon. Interesting thoughts on the memorial, for me it was a must and those pictures and comments on the children were particularly touching.

 

@@inyathi Thanks for the information dump, very well said.

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optig

I'm sure that the wildlife in Akagera will improve even more. It's superb to see just how well it's doing in the absence of poaching. I'm sure that it will attract more tourists in the future.

I'm sure that people will gradually discover that there's more to Rwandan tourism than gorilla trekking.

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