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Sunday, July 5, 2015

Rwanda imports lions from South Africa KwaZulu- Natal

Lion is a majestic animal, hailed as the King of Jungle.  A couple of decades ago, stage dramas were popular – RS Manohar was extremely popular with his historic and puranic dramas.  The man hailed as NadagaKavalar was known for special effects on stage – and reportedly once proposed to bring a lion  on stage ( understand the proposal was never approved by authorities)
Photo credit abc.net.au
Rwanda  is a Republic located in Africa.  Located a few degrees south of the Equator, Rwanda is bordered by Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Rwanda is in the African Great Lakes region and is highly elevated; its geography dominated by mountains in the west and savanna to the east, with numerous lakes throughout the country.  Rwandans are composed of three ethnic groups: the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. Germany colonised Rwanda in 1884 as part of German East Africa, followed by Belgium, which invaded in 1916 during World War I. Both European nations ruled through the kings and perpetuated a pro-Tutsi policy. The Hutu population revolted in 1959. They massacred numerous Tutsi and ultimately established an independent, Hutu-dominated state in 1962. The Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front launched a civil war in 1990. Social tensions erupted in the 1994 genocide, in which Hutu extremists killed millions.  The 1994 Rwandan genocide began in Apr 1994 and continued for more than 100 days.  International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda convicted a number of political, police and religious figures involved in the killings. 
Rwanda's economy suffered heavily during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, but has since strengthened. The economy is based mostly on subsistence agriculture. Coffee and tea are the major cash crops for export. Tourism is a fast-growing sector and is now the country's leading foreign exchange earner.  One of the star attractions is - Akagera National Park,  founded in 1934.  It is named after the Akagera River that flows along its eastern boundary and feeds into a labyrinth of lakes of which the largest is Lake Ihema.  The park attracted people for its lions – but after the genocide, lions disappeared !
By some accounts, after the genocide,  thousands of Rwandan refugees returned from exile with extended families. Some were pastoralists. Others were farmers. Land for cultivation and rearing cattle became scarce. Getting a plot was a matter of life or death. Land grabbing was the norm of the day, where only the “haves” would get a plot. The “have not” suffered. The appetite for land mounted. The government intervened, cuting off a huge chunk of Akagera national park giving  it out to farmers and herders. The park was reduced from 2500 to 1200 square Kilometers.
This led to large scale hunting of animals including lions.  Lions fought back, defending their territories. Lions eventually started attacking cattle.  There were poisoning the carcasses to kill prides of lions too.  with depleted numbers, lions were no longer seen in the park and tourists had to return frustrated. 
In a tactical shift, Rwanda negotiated importing 8  lionsfrom Kenya; Kenya’s wildlife conservation groups have fiercely opposed the idea, demanding Rwanda to explain the extinction of its lion population. Now comes the news that seven lions in South Africa are to be tranquillised, placed in steel crates and loaded on to a charter flight to Rwanda, restoring the predator to the east African country after a 15-year absence.
It is stated that two parks in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province with “relatively small, confined reserves where it is necessary to remove surplus lions” are donating the big cats to Rwanda. The seven – five females and two males – were chosen based on future reproductive potential and their ability to contribute to social cohesion, including a mix of ages and genetic makeup.  So by Monday, they will be transferred to Akagera national park in north-east Rwanda by truck and plane in a journey lasting about 26 hours. African Parks said: “They will be continually monitored by a veterinary team with experience in translocations. They will be kept tranquillised to reduce any stress and will have access to fresh water throughout their journey.”
Upon arrival at the 112,000-hectare park, which borders Tanzania, the lions will be kept in quarantine in a specially erected 1,000m² enclosure with an electrified fence for at least two weeks before they are released into the wild.The park is fenced, but the lions will be equipped with satellite collars to reduce the risk of them straying into inhabited areas. African Parks said: “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.”
As a wildlife tourist destination, Rwanda is best known for its gorilla tracking safaris. But Akagera, a two-hour drive from the capital, Kigali, is home to various antelope species, buffaloes, giraffes and zebras, as well as elephants and leopards.  According to the Tourism spokesperson of Rwanda Development Board, “It is a breakthrough in the rehabilitation of the park ... 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.”
So after almost two decades after human genocide, lions are set  to roam Rwanda again.
With regards – S. Sampathkumar

29th June 2015.

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