'Return of the Lion' premieres in Kigali


The film's official premiere in Kigali attracted huge crowds. / Cyril Ndegeya

“Return of the Lion”, a documentary about the restocking of lions in Akagera National Park premiered on Thursday evening at Century Cinema in Kigali. Several people, including high-profile dignitaries and conservationists, graced the premiere of perhaps the biggest conservation stories in Rwanda’s history. Notable among the guests was Prime Minister Anastase Murekezi and his family.

PM and his family sat in the front row during the movie premiere. On the left is Robert Bayigamba, the Chairman of the Rwanda Association of Manufacturers. / Cyril Ndegeya

The 51-minute documentary was done by Metanoia Concepts, and sold to the National Geographic Wild. It focuses on the journey of seven lions from South Africa to Rwanda, and how they coped with the environment before they regained their status as the kings of the jungle.

Return of the Lion is a tale of hope, courage, challenges, survival, resilience and rebirth of not only the lions in the savannah park of Akagera, but it also resonates with Rwanda’s story of survival over the two decades since the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

PM Anastase Murekezi and the manager of Akagera Park Jes Gruner. / Cyril Ndegeya

“In the past twenty years, Rwanda has worked hard to maintain peace and restore its wildlife. Today, the rainforests and plains are flourishing, but there’s still one thing missing - lions. Seven lions are now making the arduous journey from South Africa to Akagera National Park. To thrive in their new home, the lions will need to come together as a pride to hunt and support each other.

Follow the lions in their journey for survival in the “Return of the Lion” - a tale of hope, courage, challenges and rebirth,” a recap of the movie reads in part.

Seven lions, including two males, which arrived in Rwanda in July 2015, have since multiplied to 17. The females were donated by Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve, and the two males by Tembe Elephant Reserve and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife protected area, both located in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

PM and his family on the red carpet at the premiere of “Return of the Lion” at Century Cinema in Kigali. / Cyril Ndegeya

According to the Akagera Park manager Jes Gruner, the big cats have brilliantly adapted to their new habitat and are likely to increase to 35 within three years.

“With the Akagera size and the growing population of their preys, we feel Akagera can easily hold 70 lions. Obviously, lions are their own worst best friends (they will kill each other at some point). When they arrived, we said they would be 20 in two years and at the moment they are 17. We are looking at bringing in some two more males, but within the next three years we will be looking at a population of about 35 to 40 lions,” said Gruner.

He added: “Since we are in a closed system of controlling their population to about 60 to 70, unfortunately there will have to be some human interventions through contraception, and bringing some males which will kill off some young cabs and stimulate the natural system and then they will keep the balance.”

A scene in ‘Return of the Lion’, a documentary about the restocking of lions in Akagera National Park. / Cyril Ndegeya

Alexander Sletten, the man behind the production of the documentary, said the Kinyarwanda version will be ready for viewing today and communities around Akagera Park will be the first to watch it.

The National Geographic channel (on DStv) will screen the reintroduction of lions from South Africa to Rwanda, on Sunday afternoon.

It will be the first time that the Rwandan national park will be featuring on the global wildlife television channel that focuses primarily on wildlife and natural history programming.

According to Sletten, Metanoia Concepts have also started working on yet another series of a documentary showcasing several touristic destinations around the country.