Monday, July 10, 2017

Rwanda Brings Back Lions

credit: M. Poole
The genocide that struck Rwanda in the 1994 was a human tragedy of millennial proportions. An estimated one million Tutsi died at the hands of blood-thirsty Hutu. Beyond the human suffering, wildlife also suffered from the slaughter. The last lions in in Akagera National Park were poisoned by herders when the genocide left the park unmanaged and unprotected. Conservationists at the NGO, African Parks, with the cooperation of the Rwandan government are relocating seven South African lions to Akagera after a fifteen year absence. Lions are in deep trouble in Africa due to human conflicts, habitat and prey loss and hunting. The latest research shows that Africa has lost 68% of its lions in the last fifty years. More effort will be needed to protect these iconic felines in the future. The relocation to Akagera is a hopeful start to rebuilding lion populations in Africa.

white bottom, black top
Akagera was the location of the unfortunate death of a Hungarian researcher, Kirsztián Gyöngyi, on June 7th.  He was killed by an eastern black rhino he helped relocate to the park.  Black rhino (Diceros bicornus michaeli) are notoriously volatile compared to the more docile white rhino [illustration left].  Prior to their reintroduction in May, black rhino had not been seen in Akagera since 2007; its population of about fifty were wiped out by poachers. Only an estimated 5,250 black rhino remain in the wild.  Gyöngyi's death reminds animal advocates that protecting wildlife takes unselfish dedication and courage. The ecologist who specialized in rhino habitat leaves behind a wife and young daughter.