From top left; one of the five females on a tree in Phinda. Other two female lions. AFRICAN PARKS/MATTHEW POOLE. One of the two male lions in a holding boma in Tembe AFRICAN PARKS/ CLINTON WRIGHT. A labyrinth of lakes makes up Akagera National Park, Rwanda AFRICAN PARKS / JOHN DICKENS.
African Parks in partnership with the Rwanda Development Board is to translocate seven lions from South Africa to re-introduce the species into Akagera National Park in Rwanda in a ground-breaking conservation effort for both the park and Rwanda.
The group of lions destined for Akagera includes five females that have been donated by &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve and two males that have been donated by Tembe Elephant Reserve, an Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife protected area.
Located in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal, both are relatively small, confined reserves where it is necessary to occasionally remove surplus lions.
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.
The lions have already been captured and are being held in bomas on Phinda and on Tembe. On 29 June they will be tranquilised, placed in individual slatted, pen-crates and loaded onto trucks for their journey to OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.
At the same time they will all be fitted with satellite collars which will enable the Akagera park management team to monitor their movements and reduce the risk of the lions entering 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 only the dominant individuals in each pride will be re-collared.
On arrival at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg the seven lions will be immediately loaded onto a charter flight and flown to the capital of Rwanda, Kigali, from where they will be transported by road to Akagera National Park.
The entire journey is expected to take 36 hours. They will be accompanied and continually monitored by a veterinary team with experience in translocations. The lions will be kept tranquilised, will not be fed but 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 game meat while in the enclosure. 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 re-introduce one of the charismatic species to this beautiful national park”.
Ambassador Yamina Karitanyi, Chief Tourism Officer at the Rwanda Development Board said “It 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.”
Akagera National Park
Akagera is 112, 000 hectares in size, located in the east of Rwanda on the border with Tanzania. A river of the same name (Akagera River) on its eastern boundary feeds into a labyrinth of lakes that make up the park. Leopard, serval, hyena, jackal and giraffe are found in the park which is also home to large herds of buffalo, impala, zebra and several antelope species.
Elephants often congregate around the lakes that are inhabited by more than 800 hippos as well as crocodiles. In addition, Akagera is home to around 482 bird species including the endangered shoebill and endemic red-faced barbet. Visitors can explore the park on a self-drive, in a safari vehicle with a knowledgeable guide or on a guide-led, boat experience on the lakes.
The park is two hours by car from the Rwandan capital of Kigali and day visitors are well catered for at the Visitors’ Centre.
Those wishing to overnight have three options: three basic-facility campsites, the eco-friendly Ruzizi Tented Lodge or the larger Akagera Game Lodge.