Rwanda’s lion population just received a much needed boost on July 28. Seven lions, including a one year old cub, were transported into the nation from South Africa following a long journey and quarantine. Five females and two males will make up the first new pride in the Central African nation since the civil war and genocides ended about 15 years ago.
The lions will enjoy life in Akagera National Park, which covers some 1,100 square kilometers near the Tanzanian border. The park has been set aside since the mid-1930s to protect the wildlife in the area, but the conflicts in the nation during the ‘90s pushed many refugees into the parkland in order to survive. Unfortunately for the animals in the area, human survival meant the end of their own. Lions were among the animals who were killed off, along with much of the elephant and giraffe population, both of which have already been reintroduced. In fact, some 90 percent of the park’s biodiversity is estimated to have been lost since its inception.
The effort to restore biodiversity to Akagera and several other parks across the continent is being led by African Parks. The conservation group has eight parks across Sub-Saharan Africa with the aim of bringing back animals to areas where they have been hunted or otherwise lost, thanks primarily to the actions of humans. The group has plans to expand their role as well, hoping to have 20 parks by 2023 and are hoping to be at the forefront of movements like this not only in Africa, but worldwide. They have further future plans for other animals in Akagera as well.
“It is a milestone conservation achievement for both the park and the country and is a positive development that we have all joined in celebrating,” said CEO Peter Fearnhead. “It is also an initiative that bodes well for the reintroduction of rhino into Akagera which will establish the park as a Big Five destination with far-reaching, tourism benefits.”
The lionesses come from And Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve and the two males from Tembe Elephant Park in South Africa and have been fitted with satellite radio collars in order to track their progress. They have been in quarantine since June and were sedated for transport. The five lionesses were eager to explore the area, tempted out by some fresh waterbuck meat, though the two males were a little more timid.
While the reintroduction of the lions and other animals is a good cause in and of itself, it’s also expected that the project will generate tourism revenue for the nation. Rwanda is mostly known outside of Africa for its civil wars and genocide, but it has rebounded nicely and become a destination for many travellers. Last year they received an estimated $300 million US, with those numbers expected to see a major boost from the project.