AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK, Rwanda — As part of an effort to present Rwanda as an attractive vacation destination after the 1994 genocide, President Paul Kagame wanted to offer foreign tourists something in addition to a trek to see rare mountain gorillas in the tiny African nation.

But the baboons wouldn't move out of the lodge in the Akagera National Park.

The baboons and black-faced vervet monkeys were the shattered lodge's longest — and nonpaying — guests. They stubbornly refused to vacate the 60 rooms, bar, stairway and wherever else they had made themselves at home since the state-owned establishment was abandoned by staff during the 100-day slaughter in which at least a half-million people were killed in a campaign to wipe out minority Tutsis.

Kagame, the leader of Tutsi rebels who ended the killing in July 1994 and later became president, decided the solution was to privatize the lodge overlooking Lake Ihema on Rwanda's eastern border with Tanzania.

Led by banker Alfred Kalisa, a group of Rwandan businessmen bought the Hotel Akagera, renamed it Akagera Game Lodge and approached South African-based GDB Hospitality and Leisure Management Services Ltd. to run it.

Managing Director Gert Brumme first took a helicopter ride over the park that lies 43 miles east of the capital Kigali to see what he was getting into. He saw "a good investment."

"We saw about 50 elephants, these big, big pockets of water with hippos and crocodiles in them. We saw giraffe here, buffalo there. So we decided: no, this has got to happen," he said.

Between last July and December, the new management got rid of the unwelcome guests and spent $2 million replacing the roofing, reinstalling electrical and other fittings that had been looted and hanging banana leaf collages in the rooms in time for the grand opening of the lodge on Dec. 19.

Akagera National Park was established in 1934 by the Belgian authorities who ran Rwanda, then a U.N. trust territory. The northwestern corner was reserved for licensed hunting of mature male buffalo and antelope.

Hills that rise over 5,000 feet offer panoramic views of rolling green hills and valleys and lakes winking in the sun. Elephants browse in marshes, and reddish-brown antelope called topis graze confidently.

Grunting and snorting hippos bask in the sun in the park's eight lakes. Storks, Egyptian geese and dazzling white egrets poke through the shore waters for food. High above in the branches of a dead tree, an African fish eagle keeps a look out.

The park and its 25-year-old lodge are a proving ground for the government's efforts to deal with the country's immeasurably painful recent past and to move the economy beyond its reliance on subsistence farming and cattle herding, done by 80 percent of the country's 8 million people.

It's a daunting challenge.

More established and better-known grassland animal reserves like Tanzania's Serengeti National Park, Kenya's two Tsavo national parks or South Africa's Kruger National Park already rake in the tourist dollars Akagera is aiming for.

Furthermore, the park lost thousands of animals to heavy poaching in the early 1990s, a period of great instability in Rwanda when Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front rebels began an insurgency from neighboring Uganda.

Warden Benjamin Mugabo said research by the Office of Tourism and National Parks and the German development agency, GTZ, indicated some animal species are down to little as one-thirtieth of their 1990 populations.

Buffalo, estimated to number 491 in 2002, are down from 10,000 in 1990; impala, another member of the antelope family whose population was estimated at 1,890 in 2002, are down from 30,000 in 1990.

To further complicate matters, the crush of land-seeking Tutsi refugees returning home in 1997 after decades outside the country led the government to hive off about two-thirds of the park's 1,000 square miles to resettle the returnees from Congo, Tanzania and Uganda who now graze their cattle near — and often inside — the unfenced park.

Few Rwandans have experience running or working in game lodges, and the Rwandan owners wanted experienced staff hired from Uganda or Kenya. But Brumme said that's not how his company does things, so he hired Rwandans and trained them.

Poaching remains a problem in the park but is on a lesser scale than before, Mugabo said. Poachers, often Tanzanian fishermen, seem to prefer the hippos.

"We catch them and send them back home," he said. "But my goodness, after two or three weeks, we catch the same individual."