First lions to re­turn to Rwanda af­ter over 2 decades


Lions will re­turn to Rwanda for the first time in more than two decades, wildlife of­fi­cials have said, af­ter the en­dan­gered an­i­mal was wiped out fol­low­ing the coun­try’s 1994 geno­cide.

Seven lions — two males and five fe­males — are be­ing trans­ported from South Africa and will ar­rive by air in Rwanda on Mon­day af­ter a 36-hour jour­ney, where they will be taken and re­leased af­ter at least two weeks quar­an­tine into the eastern Akagera Na­tional Park.

Park of­fi­cials in Akagera, a 112,000 hectare park bor­der­ing Tan­za­nia, said the rein­tro­duc­tion was “a ground-break­ing con­ser­va­tion ef­fort for both the park and the coun­try of Rwanda.”

Lions in Rwanda were stamped out af­ter the 1994 geno­cide, which left an es­ti­mated 800,000 peo­ple dead.

Flee­ing refugees and dis­placed peo­ple oc­cu­pied part of the park, with the lion be­ing driven out or killed as peo­ple tried to pro­tect their live­stock.

“It a break­through in the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of the park,” said Yam­ina Kar­i­tanyi, head of tourism at the Rwanda De­vel­op­ment Board. “Their re­turn will en­cour­age the nat­u­ral bal­ance of the ecosys­tem.”

Lions are com­ing from parks in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, from “rel­a­tively small, con­fined re­serves where it is nec­es­sary to oc­ca­sion­ally re­move sur­plus lions,” a state­ment from Akagera added.

The seven were cho­sen “based on fu­ture re­pro­duc­tive po­ten­tial and their abil­ity to con­trib­ute to so­cial co­he­sion,” with an­i­mals in­clud­ing a mix of ages and ge­netic makeup.

‘Con­ser­va­tion mile­stone’

The lion re­mains listed as vul­ner­a­ble at a global level, the In­ter­na­tional Union for the Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture said Thurs­day in an up­date to its “Red List” of threat­ened species.

Rapid de­cline has been recorded in eastern Africa, which his­tor­i­cally has been a strong­hold for lions, IUCN said, warn­ing that trade in bones and other body parts for tra­di­tional medicine in Africa and in Asia was a new and emerg­ing threat to the species.

The western African lion sub­pop­u­la­tion is listed as “crit­i­cally en­dan­gered” due to over-hunt­ing and dwin­dling prey.

“The re­turn of lions to Akagera is a con­ser­va­tion mile­stone for the park and the coun­try,” said Peter Fearn­head, head of African Parks, which helps run Akagera.

The park is fenced, but the cats will be equipped with “satel­lite col­lars” to re­duce the risk of them en­ter­ing in­hab­ited ar­eas.

“The col­lars have a two-year life, by which time the park team will have eval­u­ated the pride dy­nam­ics and only the dom­i­nant in­di­vid­u­als in each pride will be re-col­lared,” the park added.

Akagera of­fers plenty of food for the top preda­tor, and is home to mul­ti­ple an­te­lope species, buf­faloes, gi­raffes and ze­bras, as well as leop­ards and ele­phants.

Some two hours by ve­hi­cle from the cap­i­tal Ki­gali, it is an im­por­tant tourist des­ti­na­tion, with some 28,000 visi­tors in 2014.

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