An ambitious Rwandan conservation project aims to reintroduce lions to the wilderness of the country, from where they disappeared 15 years ago, after cattle herders drove them to extinction in the years following the country’s horrific 1994 genocide.
The project aims to repopulate the species in the Akagera National Park in Rwanda with the help of seven lions brought from South Africa. The lions, five females and two males, were donated for the effort by two South African natural parks and are set to arrive on Monday, after being transported through plane and truck for over 24 hours, according to the group which administrates the park.
The lions will be quarantined in an extended enclosure for the next two weeks before being released into the park’s wilderness, where they will be closely monitored. Lions disappeared from Rwanda as a result of an extermination campaign done by cattle herders at the end of the last century, with the country’s natural parks and reservation being in disarray due to the bloody conflicts which resulted in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi population. By the time natural wildlife groups regained control of the parks, the lions had already disappeared from the country.
“It is a breakthrough in the rehabilitation of the park … Their return will encourage the natural balance of the ecosystem and enhance the tourism product to further contribute to Rwanda’s status as an all-in-one safari destination” said Yamina Karitanyi, Rwanda Development Board’s chief of tourism.
The Akagera National Park is situated along Rwanda’s border with Tanzania and spans of 112,000 hectares, all of which are fenced. Initially, the lions will be restricted to a 1 square kilometer radius, and will be afterwards released into the entirety of the park, but not without wearing satellite collars.
This measure will permit park keepers to detect whether they are heading towards inhabited areas. The collars will last two years; after measuring the eventual pride’s dynamics, only the dominant males will be applied with new collars.
Efforts into the program have started last year, as the group managing the Akagera park ran an awareness and sensitization program in the inhabited areas next to the park so that it will accommodate residents with the idea of peaceful coexistence with lions.
The lion was listed as a vulnerable species in this month’s International Union for Conservation of Nature red list, which grades potentially-endangered species by level of risk. The threat was explained due to increase of lion bones trade and destruction of their natural habitat.
Image Source: Inhabitat