Rwanda welcomes lions at Akagera National Park after 21 years’ absence
More than 20 years after they were last seen in Rwanda, lions are finally back in the country’s Akagera National Park. The majestic beast, fondly referred to as ‘The King of the Jungle’ was wiped out following the country’s 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. On 29th June this year, conservationists and animal lovers had reason to rejoice as seven lions- two males and five females – were transported from South Africa and arrived by air in Rwanda after a 36 hour journey. Afterwards, they were slated to be 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.” “It’s 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.” The lions are from parks in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, from “relatively small, confined reserves where it is necessary to occasionally remove surplus lions.
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. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the lion remains listed as vulnerable at a global level.
Rapid decline has been recorded in eastern Africa, which historically has been a stronghold for lions, IUCN said. “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 recollared,” 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. Located two hours by road from the capital Kigali, it is an important tourist destination, with some 28,000 visitors in 2014.