Seven lions, including two males, arrived in the country from South Africa, yesterday, in what conservation activists and officials say will go a long way in rehabilitating the country’s ecosystems and enhancing the tourism sector.
The lions, which arrived at the Kigali International Airport aboard a chartered flight, were immediately transported by road to Akagera National Park in Eastern Province, where the endangered species were decimated about two decades ago as people increasingly encroached on the savannah park.
Officials in charge of tourism at Rwanda Development Board said last week that the five lionesses were donated by and Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve and the two males by Tembe Elephant Reserve, an Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife protected area.
Located in the South African province of KwaZulu – Natal, both game reserves are relatively small and confined, necessitating for occasional transfer of surplus lions to avoid overpopulation.
“In the prime of their lives, the lions have been selected based on future reproductive potential and their ability to contribute to social cohesion – young adults, sub-adult females, young adult males with different genetics – and associations such as adult female with sub-adult female and adult male coalitions,” RDB said in a statement.
On arrival in Akagera National Park, the lions were due to be placed in a specially constructed 1,000 square metre boma in the north of the park.
Split into two separate enclosures, the perimetre features a three – metre high chain-linked electric fence. A water reserve has been constructed within the boma and the lions will be fed game meat while in the enclosure.
They are to be quarantined for at least 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 Fearn head, the chief executive of African Parks, which managers the Akagera National Park.
The beasts were tranquilized on June 29, placed in individual slatted, pen-crates and loaded onto trucks for their journey to OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, officials said.
In Akagera, the lions will be fitted with satellite collars, which will enable the park management team to monitor their movements and reduce the risk of entering community areas.
The park fence has been predator-proofed as a way to check human-wildlife conflict and poaching.
“The return of lions will encourage the natural balance of the ecosystem,” Amb. Yamina Karitanyi, the chief tourism officer at RDB, said last week. “Rwandans and visitors will now have the chance to see one of Africa’s ‘Big Five’ (animals) in one of the continent’s most diverse national parks, cementing Rwanda’s status as conservation focused, all-in-one safari destination.”
Tourists will have a chance to start seeing the lions about two weeks from now, officials said. Last year, Rwanda received $303 million from the tourism sector, representing a three per cent increase from the $293m earned in 2013, according to statistics from RDB.
Between July 2013 and June last year, Rwanda received 1.17 million visitors, compared to the previous year where 1.14 million tourists were recorded.