January 2020 – Wilderness Safaris’ Magashi Camp, situated in north-eastern Akagera National Park, is strongly rooted in a core purpose: to help contribute towards the conservation and sustainable operation of Rwanda’s last protected savannah ecosystem, and to drive sustainable ecotourism in the wildlife-rich park.
Launched in partnership with African Parks and the Rwanda Development Board, collectively called the Akagera Management Company (AMC), Magashi forms part of Wilderness Safaris’ objective to build sustainable conservation economies in Rwanda, and further entrench its commitment to expanding ecotourism in the region by offering an extended high-end circuit that goes beyond gorillas.
“Opening Magashi, our second camp in Rwanda, in May 2019, was an exciting venture for us, as it demonstrated the difference that responsible ecotourism can make to rural Rwandan people, and biodiversity conservation in a different ecosystem. Our presence in the park has since enabled us to assist AMC through a number of local initiatives, such as the monitoring and study of endangered wildlife, training of future trackers, removal of alien invasive plant species and the support of post-graduate Rwanda conservation students”, comments Rob Baas, Wilderness Safaris Rwanda MD.
Although Magashi’s primary conservation focus is to contribute to the sustainable financing of the management of Akagera National Park, the camp and its staff also provide monitoring support for Akagera’s black rhino reintroduction project, which saw a new supplementary population of the East African subspecies returned to the park from European zoos late last year.
“We also continue to support AMC’s lion research through the sponsorship of satellite collars and regular monitoring”, adds Rob. In 2015, African Parks reintroduced lions to the park after a 20-year absence, and a strong population of multiple healthy prides now exists, the territory of one of which – the 12-strong Amahoro Pride – covers the private Magashi Concession.
This is a predator-rich area and as of October 2019, 16 individual leopards had also been identified on the Magashi Concession and adjacent traversing areas. Some 520 bird species have also been documented, including rarities such as the papyrus gonolek (restricted to the papyrus swamps), the localised red-faced barbet and the swamp flycatcher. Guests are also able to view a range of plains game – from buffalo and hippo to zebra, Defassa waterbuck, impala, eland, Masai giraffe and topi – while exploring the concession on expertly guided day and night game drives and boating trips.
Boasting a light footprint, Magashi is 100% solar powered and completely single-use plastic free. “In addition to our commitment to conservation and sustainable operations, we are delighted to have set up a Children in the Wilderness Eco-Club at Akayange Primary School, near the North Gate of Akagera; this will likely impact about 60 children”, notes Rob.
Further community empowerment initiatives include hiring locally, with one-third of staff recruited from the surrounding communities. Ongoing training and development is offered to ensure staff are able to grow into senior roles. The camp also spends about USD500 each month in support of local community cooperatives that make lunch bags for guests, kitenge beeswax wraps, candles for the dining tables and carved wooden shoebills.
Akagera provides one of the most scenic and biodiverse savannah experiences in East Africa, hosting around 36 000 visitors each year, half of whom are Rwandan nationals – an extraordinary acknowledgement of the importance of Akagera and Rwanda’s natural heritage.
“Just eight years after the formation of the AMC partnership, Akagera had become 75% self-sufficient due to tourism, which also supports the surrounding communities. We feel privileged to partner with AMC to help contribute to achieving 100% self-sufficiency, and at the same time aiding the restoration of the ecosystem and offering our guests a truly life-changing journey”, concludes Rob.