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Rhinos to Rwanda: the Largest Ever Transport of Rhinos from Europe to Africa Begins Today

By Diaryofamuzungu @CharlieBeau
Rhinos to Rwanda: the largest ever transport of rhinos from Europe to Africa begins today

Rwanda's commitment to protecting and investing in its National Parks is phenomenal. The annual Kwita Izina gorilla naming ceremony is one example of that.

"On Sunday June 23, five critically endangered Eastern Black Rhinoceroses, born and bred in European zoo environments, will be flown 6,000 km to Akagera National Park in Rwanda. This is the largest ever translocation of rhinos from Europe to Africa.

This historic journey will begin at Safari Park Dvůr Králové (Czech Republic) where all five animals have been gathered since November 2018.

While their flight departs on Sunday June 23rd, their journey began years ago, through EAZA's vision to supplement wild populations in secure parks in Africa with genetically-robust individuals who have been successfully bred and cared for over the years by the EAZA Ex Situ Programme (EEP).

This is a unique collaboration between the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), the Government of Rwanda and conservation NGO African Parks.

Fewer than 5,000 wild black rhinos and only 1,000 Eastern Black Rhinos remain in Africa; and their future is severely threatened by poaching for the illegal demand for their horns. This translocation project represents an urgent and valuable opportunity to expand the range and protection of the black rhino, and demonstrate how captive rhinos can help supplement and repopulate wild populations within secure landscapes.

Three female and two male black rhinos, ranging between two to nine years old, were chosen. Jasiri, Jasmina and Manny were born in Safari Park Dvůr Králové (Czech Republic); Olmoti comes from Flamingo Land (United Kingdom) and Mandela is from Ree Park Safari (Denmark). The rhinos are being donated to the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), the government body that manages Akagera National Park, the rhino's new home in Rwanda, in partnership with African Parks.

Rhinos to Rwanda: the largest ever transport of rhinos from Europe to Africa begins today
Rhinos to Rwanda: the largest ever transport of rhinos from Europe to Africa begins today
Rhinos to Rwanda: the largest ever transport of rhinos from Europe to Africa begins today
Rhinos to Rwanda: the largest ever transport of rhinos from Europe to Africa begins today
Rhinos to Rwanda: the largest ever transport of rhinos from Europe to Africa begins today
Rhinos to Rwanda: the largest ever transport of rhinos from Europe to Africa begins today
Rhinos to Rwanda: the largest ever transport of rhinos from Europe to Africa begins today
Rhinos to Rwanda: the largest ever transport of rhinos from Europe to Africa begins today
Rhinos to Rwanda: the largest ever transport of rhinos from Europe to Africa begins today
Rhinos to Rwanda: the largest ever transport of rhinos from Europe to Africa begins today
Rhinos to Rwanda: the largest ever transport of rhinos from Europe to Africa begins today
Rhinos to Rwanda: the largest ever transport of rhinos from Europe to Africa begins today
Rhinos to Rwanda: the largest ever transport of rhinos from Europe to Africa begins today

All five rhinos have undergone months of sensitisation to prepare them and minimise stress to ensure the safest journey possible. During the voyage, which will be approximately 30 hours long, they will be inside custom-made crates, and fed and watered regularly. Experienced zookeepers from the Safari Park Dvůr Králové as well as veterinarian Dr. Pete Morkel, a world expert in rhino translocations, will accompany and monitor the rhinos throughout the entire trip, as well as their release into the Park.

"By undertaking a highly supervised and well-planned gradual acclimation process, we believe these rhinos will adapt well to their new environment in Rwanda. They will first be kept in bomas - enclosures made by wooden poles. Later, they will enjoy larger enclosures in a specially protected area. The final step will be to release them into the northern part of the national park where they will roam free," said Přemysl Rabas, Director of Safari Park Dvůr Králové.

Akagera National Park is an ideal destination for the reintroduction of the animals.

Rhinos were first reintroduced in 2017 - a decade after they were last seen in the country. In that year, African Parks successfully translocated 18 Eastern black rhinos from South Africa to Akagera in collaboration with RDB and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. The translocation entailed a 2,485-mile journey. This success is testament to both the potential of the park to sustain a rhino population, but also to the high levels of security and effective park management. You can read more about that translocation on the African Parks website.

This video is from 2017.

Since 2010, the Park has undergone a revival with poaching practically eliminated, allowing for key species to be reintroduced. In 2015 lions were reintroduced and have since tripled in number [see photo below]. Strong community conservation efforts have resulted in tremendous support for the Park, and tourism is now leading to Akagera being 80% self-financing, generating US $2 million a year, which goes back to the Park and surrounding communities.

"We have been preparing for this moment for years and are excited to build on our efforts to revitalize the Park with the RDB and the successful introduction of the first round of rhinos in 2017," said Jes Gruner, Park Manager of Akagera National Park. "This transport of five rhinos from Europe is historic and symbolic, and shows what is possible when dedicated partners collaborate to help protect and restore a truly endangered species."

These conditions also will allow for the ongoing study of the five animals from Europe and the existing population as they gradually integrate to contribute to a stable population of black rhinoceros in East Africa. The Park is a key component of the Government of Rwanda's strategy to foster economic growth while providing a secure future for wildlife in the country.

"The translocation of five rhinos from European zoos to Rwanda will further enhance the natural ecosystem in Akagera National Park. This partnership with our European friends is a testament to Rwanda's commitment to conservation. Today, poaching is almost non-existent in our four national parks and we are confident that these rhinos will thrive in their natural habitat in Akagera. They are a positive addition to Akagera, a Park where tourists can now visit the African Big Five," said Clare Akamanzi, Chief Executive Officer, RDB.

The Rwanda Development Board is responsible for ensuring that the tourism and conservation goals of the Government of Rwanda are successfully implemented.

The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria comprises more than 400 zoos, aquariums and other institutions across 48 countries, collaborating for the advancement of conservation, research and education. EAZA Ex Situ Programmes is responsible for the planning and administration of over 200 programmes.

Safari Park Dvůr Králové is one of the best rhino breeders outside of Africa. So far, 46 black rhinos have been born there and the park coordinates efforts to save the northern white rhino. The park assists with conservation of rhinos, even in the wild. In 2014 and 2017, the park organized public burnings of rhino horn stockpiles to raise awareness of the plight of rhinos.

The Akagera Management Company (AMC) is a public-private partnership between RDB and African Parks and has been responsible for fully managing Akagera National Park since 2010. African Parks manages 15 national parks and protected areas covering over 10.5 million hectares in Benin, Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Zambia."

To follow the progress of the rhinos follow #rhinostorwanda on Twitter.

The rebirth of Akagera

Akagera is almost unrecognisable today from what it had become 20 years ago when it seemed destined to be lost forever. While peace was finally restored after the 1994 Genocide against Tutsis, Akagera's demise was just starting. Refugees returning to Rwanda after the genocide were battling to survive. Forests were cut for timber and the park's savannah became home to tens of thousands of long-horned cattle that displaced wildlife. Rhinos disappeared and lions were hunted to local extinction. The park's value was "diminished to the point of not existing at all." This makes Akagera's revival even more remarkable.

To be honest, I didn't expect to see a lot of wildlife when I first went on safari to Akagera National Park three years ago (working in conservation in Uganda may have spoiled me!) I was therefore thrilled beyond words to see a leopard (just a few metres from us). Later we spent half an hour in the company of three young lions, offspring of the first lions reintroduced to the park.

Every safari in Akagera is more interesting than the first - I can't wait to revisit!


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