African Parks, in partnership with the Akagera Management Company (AMC), the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and with the generous support from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the Dutch Government and the People’s Postcode Lottery, is moving a founder population of approximately 20 Eastern black rhinos to Akagera National Park in Rwanda to repopulate the park and mark the historic return of this threatened species. Akagera National Park, at 1,112 km2, is the largest protected wetland in Central Africa and the only protected savannah environment in Rwanda. A population of over 50 Eastern black rhinos once thrived in this park in the late 1970’s, but their numbers declined due to years of wide-scale poaching. The last confirmed sighting of an Eastern black rhino in Akagera was documented in 2007. As the park falls within the historical geographic range of the Eastern black rhino a founder population of this subspecies has been selected for reintroduction to Akagera.
Over the course of February and March in 2017, a founder population of Eastern black rhinos were carefully selected and captured in South Africa’s Thaba Tholo Game Ranch. These individuals will be transported by truck, and plane to their new home in Akagera, Rwanda. Following their arrival at the heavily secured park, they will be released for a very short time into a boma (a relatively small enclosure used to familiarise the animals with their new home) to give them a chance to settle after their long journey before they are released into the wider park.
Donated to the Rwandan government by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, these rhinos will be looked after by African Parks as part of its overall responsibility for the total management of Akagera and managed in accordance with a verified rhino management programme.
Planning and Protection
To ensure the best possible outcome for rhinos in the region, staff have undertaken years of research, planning and preparation, including training by Akagera Park staff in rhino tracking and monitoring. Consultation with experts and specialist groups also occurred to secure a genetically appropriate and available source of Eastern black rhino for reintroduction.
Security measures have been implemented specifically to ensure the safety and well-being of the rhinos once in the park. A canine anti-poaching unit (also generously provided by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation) and a team of highly trained, motivated and well-equipped law enforcement staff have been established and a helicopter has been deployed in addition to other security measures implemented specifically for the reintroduction of rhino. Since 2010 when African Parks first assumed responsibility for managing Akagera, poaching levels have been at an all-time low and numerous species have rebounded in the park.
Rhinos in Akagera
Akagera was historically home to a diversity of large African mammals, many of which were sadly hunted to local extinction over recent decades. Since 2010, African Parks has partnered with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) to form the Akagera Management Company (AMC), which manages Akagera with a vision of restocking the park with species that have become locally extinct and securing their long-term protection.
The reintroduction of the Eastern black rhino forms part of this vision. Their return will be the final step towards restoring Akagera to its previous natural glory for the country and its people. The homecoming is also anticipated to elevate the park’s international profile as the country’s only Big Five tourism destination, boosting the local economy, directly benefiting communities, establishing the park as a valued national asset, and helping to solidify Rwanda as a leader in African conservation.
Rhinos in Perspective
The brutal onslaught of poaching on rhino populations across Africa has resulted in fewer than 5,000 black rhino remaining in the wild, 1,000 of which are the Eastern black rhino subspecies. This translocation represents an urgent and valuable opportunity to expand the range and protection of this iconic species to the only protected area in Rwanda that is suitable for their reintroduction.