Lion royalty returns to Rwanda

African Parks is to trans locate seven lions from South Africa as part of the reintroduction of the species into Akagera National Park in Rwanda in a ground-breaking conservation initiative for both the park and the country of Rwanda. Lions became extinct in Akagera 15 years ago when many of the species were poisoned by cattle herders in the years following the 1994 genocide when the park was un-managed.

The group of lions destined for Akagera includes five females that have been donated by a reserve in KwaZulu Natal and two males that have been donated by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife from Tembe Elephant Park. Located in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal, both are relatively small, confined reserves where it is necessary to remove surplus lions, a situation that arises with good management.

Sub-adult females and young adult males from different genetic stock have been selected based on future reproductive potential and their ability to contribute to social cohesion. The lions have already been captured and are being held in bomas in the various home parks.

Today, on 29 June they will be tranquilized, placed in individual steel crates, and loaded onto trucks for their journey to OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. At the same time they will be fitted with satellite collars which will enable the Akagera park management team to monitor their movements and reduce the risk of the lions breaking out into neighboring community areas. As an additional precautionary measure the park fence has also been predator-proofed. The collars have a two year life by which time the park team will have evaluated the pride dynamics and can determine whether it is prudent to re-collar any of the animals.

On arrival in Johannesburg the seven lions will be immediately loaded on to a charter flight and flown to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, from where they will be transported by road to Akagera National Park tomorrow, 30 June. The entire journey is expected to take approximately 26 hours. They will be continually monitored by a veterinary team with experience in translocations. They will be kept tranquillized to reduce any stress and will have access to fresh water throughout their journey.

On arrival in Akagera National Park they will be placed in a specially-erected, 1,000m² Boma in the north of the park. Split into two separate enclosures, the perimeter features a three-metre high, chain-linked electrified fence. A water reserve has been constructed within the boma and the lions will be fed every three to four days, replicating their natural feeding pattern. They will be quarantined for a minimum of 14 days, during which they will be continually monitored, before being released into the wilderness of the park.

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

“Restoring national parks to their former biodiversity state is a key deliverable of the African Parks conservation model and we, in conjunction with our government partner, the Rwandan Development Board, are delighted to have been able to reintroduce one of the key species to this beautiful national park.”

Ambassador Yamina Karitanyi, the Chief Tourism Officer at the Rwanda Development Board said: “It is a breakthrough in the rehabilitation of the park under the public private partnership between the Rwanda Development Board and African Parks. 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 for the Wildlife & Gorilla Tours.”

Last year, as part of the preparations for the reintroduction, the Akagera park team implemented a comprehensive sensitization programme in communities surrounding the park to promote harmonious co-existence with lions.