In east-central Africa, numerous fires (marked in yellow), probably agricultural in purpose, were burning when the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this image on July 5, 2004. Unfortunately, in the Kagera National Park that hugs the far eastern margin of Rwanda, the fires may not be routine agricultural burning. According to news reports, wildfires started by poachers may have burned as much as one-third of the protected land in the park. The dense vegetation (bright green) of the small park (seen in rectangular inset) is marred by several reddish-brown burn scars, the largest in the northern tip of the park, surrounded by three actively burning fires. Water in the image appears dark blue or nearly black.
In the densely populated country, the natural environment is under extreme pressure from humans in need of fuel, food, and shelter. The park is a last refuge for elephants, lions, hyenas, leopards, buffalo, antelopes, zebra, and other wildlife in the country, whose natural landscapes have been almost completely deforested or otherwise transformed.
Established in 1975, the park saw fur traders nearly two centuries earlier, and it supported human inhabitants thousands of years before that. Today, almost a third of the park is water, and travel through the park is usually by boat.