With Ghosh’s book, we’ve discussed the controversy of who takes priority: wildlife preservation and the natural homes of these wild animals or human refugees. In the book, an island is set aside for nature conservation, but Kusum makes the point that these animals have a home while human beings, being forced from their homes, do not have anywhere to go.
I spent time the last two summers in Rwanda and at the end of both trips, my group and I went on a safari through Akagera National Park. The 433 square mile national park, was created in 1934 and is home to zebras, giraffes, elephants, lions, hundreds of bird species, rhinos, hippos, crocodiles, and hundreds of other animal species. And there, I heard stories similar to that of Kusum’s island.
In the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, a million people were killed over the course of a hundred days. In the aftermath, Rwanda became chaotic as thousands of refugees came back to Rwanda to rebuild their lives. Many of them set up camp in Akagera National Park, which was largely unguarded. Home to thousands of animals, many endangered, the mix of humans and wildlife was explosive. Lions preyed on cattle that the refugees were raising, so the people killed the entire lion population in Akagera. There’s an infamous elephant named Mutware in the park who is known for being a friend to people before the genocide, but now he is violent. In 2005, he destroyed three vehicles. He lived by himself along the edge of a small lake until his death in 2018 because of the violence and abuse he faced post-genocide. His tusks were taken and his body scarred.
The conflict between humans and animals within the park really wasn’t resolved until 2013 when a 75 mile long fence was built along Akagera’s western boundary to separate people and the wildlife. It was built specifically to include Mutware’s home along the lake. So I raise the question again. What do you do in cases like this? The thousands of refugee survivors trying to rebuild their lives after the horrible war they had faced? Or the animals and their homes for whom the land is preserved? Rwanda’s solution in 1997 was to give 50 percent of the land of Akagera to refugees. Then in 2009, big steps were taken to increase preservation in the remaining 50 percent to rebuild the animal populations and create a safe home for the African wildlife again. Bringing in lions and rhinos, Akagera is trying to restore preservation of specific species after the violence that the Rwandan wildlife faced. Do think this was a fair decision?
Sorry this was so long! Here are some cool articles if you want to read more.