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article imageFor the first time in two decades, lions will return to Rwanda

By Megan Hamilton     Jun 28, 2015 in Environment
Kigali - After being wiped out more than 20 years ago in Rwanda's horrific genocide that claimed an estimated 800,000 lives, lions will return to the country, wildlife officials say.
A pride of seven lions — two males and five females — are being transported in a 36-hour journey from South Africa and will arrive in Rwanda on Monday, The Daily Star reports. After a two-week quarantine, the big cats will be released into the eastern Akagera National Park.
Officials at the 112,000 hectare (276,800 acre) park, which borders Tanzania, say the reintroduction is "a ground-breaking conservation effort for both the park and the country of Rwanda."
Yamina Karitanyi, chief tourism Officer at the Rwanda Development Board, told reporters that the move is an effort to boost the tourism sector and to encourage the natural balance of the ecosystem in Akagera Park, The Guardian reports.
"It is a breakthrough in the rehabilitation of the park under the public private partnership between the RDB and African Parks, she said. "Visitors to the park will now have a 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," she said.
After the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi people ended, thousands of Rwandan refugees returned from exile, bringing their extended families, News of Rwanda reports. Some adopted a pastoral lifestyle — raising livestock, while others became farmers. Land for crops and livestock was at a premium, and for these people, obtaining a plot of land was a life-or-death situation. Land grabbing was very common, meaning that poorer people were left out. Then, Rwanda's government intervened, cutting off a giant chunk of Akagera National Park, and then giving it to farmers and herders. The park shrank from 2500 square kilometers to 1200 square kilometers.
Wild creatures didn't fare well because they were often hunted, and this included lions, especially since the big cats started attacking cattle because their natural prey were so diminished.
So the herdsmen took a decidedly lethal measure, setting out poisoned carcasses to kill the prides of nine to 12 lions.
By 2000, all of the lions remaining in Akagera National Park were dead.
The lions arriving on Monday come from parks in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province, having lived in "relatively small, confined reserves where it is necessary to occasionally remove surplus lions," said a statement from Akagera National Park, The Daily Star reports.
African lions, (Panthera leo), may very well be Africa's most iconic animal, but tragically, they are listed as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
In fact, these magnificent cats are in trouble throughout most of Africa, it seems.
Once a stronghold for lions, eastern Africa's populations of the big cats has been declining rapidly, the IUCN reports. A new and dangerous trend is emerging, in which bones and other body parts used for traditional medicine in Africa and Asia, the organization warns.
Lion sub-populations in western Africa are listed as "critically endangered" because of over-hunting and dwindling prey.
The seven lions heading to Akagera were chosen "based on future reproductive potential and their ability to contribute to social cohesion," with animals in a mix of ages and genetic makeup, Discovery News reports.
"The return of lions to Akagera is a conservation milestone for the park and the country," said Peter Fearnheard, head of African Parks.
While Akagera is fenced, the big cats will also be equipped with "satellite collars" to reduce the risk of wandering into inhabited areas.
"These 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 re-collared," the park noted.
In this park, there's plenty of food to be had for these big cats, including many species of antelope, buffaloes, giraffes, and zebras. The park also boasts leopards and elephants.
The park is an important tourist destination, with more than 28,000 visitors in 2014. Hopefully future tourists will have the chance to once again watch African lions hunting in their world.
More about Lions return to rwanda, Lions, Rwanda, African lion, Genocide
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