- Lions have been reintroduced to Rwanda for the first time since being wiped out after the 1994 genocide
- Five females and two males arrived this week, transported from South Africa to Akagera National Park
(CNN)It's the return of a wild king.
Lions have been reintroduced to Rwanda for the first time since being wiped out after the genocide of 1994, which claimed 800,000 lives. As people returned and settled after the gruesome period, lions were poisoned and killed for feeding on cattle.
Although efforts have been made to preserve the wildlife of the country, the return of the lion to Akagera National Park "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 Peter Fearnhead, CEO of African Parks, in a statement.
A total of seven lions arrived this week, transported from South Africa to Akagera, including five females and two males, donated by &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve and Tembe Elephant Park reserve. The small reserves sometimes find it necessary to relocate their animals, the Rwanda Development Board said in a statement.
The lions were also selected based on their future reproductive potential, the board said. The predators will be quarantined and closely monitored for at least two weeks before being released into the wild of the park.
"The return of lions will encourage the natural balance of the ecosystem," said Ambassador Yamina Karitanyi, chief tourism officer at the Rwanda Development Board, in a statement.
"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."
However, the relocation of the lions hasn't escaped criticism. Claudio Sillero, head of conservation at the Born Free Foundation, suggests that it is better practice to transport lions from nearby locations, but "many countries are often quite reluctant to allow wildlife exports."
"As a result lions were brought over from southern Africa, drawing some concern form biologists that those lions are not the most immediate genetic relatives of the now extinct Rwanda lions," Sillero told CNN.
But overall, the move is applauded. "With proper management, including the effective fencing to prevent the lions from straying into areas where they will be persecuted and killed, the lions in Akagera will breed into a small lion population which will contribute to a healthier and more biodiverse ecosystem," Sillero added.
Named after the Akagera River and bordering Tanzania, Akagera National Park is an expanse of rolling hills and lush grassland dotted with lakes and swamps. It boasts of wildlife that includes a variety of birds, elephants and giraffes. And it's likely that lions won't be the only animals to take up residence in the park.
"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," said Fearnhead.