Some illegal hunters are poor villagers seeking protein, but rangers say no animal is safe as long as “bush meat” - any animal that can be eaten - continues to be sold in back-alley butcher shops across the region.
“Poaching, historically, has been very, very bad in Akagera,” said African Parks project manager Bryan Havemann. “At the moment, it’s still bad. We are working on getting a well-motivated paramilitary-trained law-enforcement force.”
Mr. Havemann said rangers are up against well-armed poachers willing to fight for their catch. Last year, he said, two rangers were killed and a third survived a gunshot wound.
Commercial fisheries also continue to operate inside Akagera despite its protected status. Lakes are fished until they are virtually lifeless and take years to recover.
“Inside a park, animals are supposed to have protection,” Mr. Havemann said. “Those fish have just as much right to that protection.”
Soil erosion, water shortages and overpopulation in surrounding areas also threaten the long-term health of the park, said Chris Murphy, an international-development master’s degree student at Trinity College in Dublin who is working in Akagera.
Mr. Murphy said the long-term life of the park depends on the health of the surrounding communities.
“If the poorer people outside the park are seeing that the park is thriving, and they are getting no benefit, it’s going to be very difficult to maintain the fence,” he said.
“It’s going to be very difficult to stop poaching. It’s going to be very difficult to maintain water supplies within the park.”
Mr. Havemann said a government plan to share tourism income with local communities could offer some relief. If the fence can keep the animals in and rangers can keep the poachers out, he said, the park can proceed with its plan to import lions and rhinoceroses.
The addition of these animals would make the park home to what some call the “big five” tourist attractions: buffalo, elephants, leopards, lions and rhinos. Rwanda is already famed for its rare gorillas.
For farmers in Humere, building the electric fence is far more pressing than drawing tourists.
Mukansanga Adele grows beans and corn, but buffalo and hippos often destroy her crops. Elephants have stolen stored food, and her children are in danger from wild hyenas.
“If they build a fence to keep the animals out, that would be good,” Ms. Adele said. “Then we could feed our children.”
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