[PHOTOS]: Rhinos return to complete 'The Big Five' of Akagera park

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The capture team assists in navigating a rhino. (Courtesy photos)

Rwanda has received 10 Eastern Black Rhinoceros from South Africa, officially sealing Akagera National Park’s ‘big five’ status, thus boost tourism sector.

This is the first batch of rhinos to arrive in the country with about 10 more expected over the next week.

The Eastern black rhinos, which weigh over on average about two tonnes each, arrived at Kigali International Airport at around 3:30am yesterday aboard an Etihad Airways cargo plane.

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 Belise Kariza, the Chief Tourism Officer at Rwanda Development Board speaks to the media.

The game animals were offloaded under the supervision of a team of veterinary doctors and immediately loaded onto trucks for the last leg of their journey to Akagera National Park.

At hand to receive the 10 Rhinos were Belise Kariza, the chief tourism officer at Rwanda Development Board (RDB); George Twala, South African Ambassador to Rwanda; and the manager of Akagera Park, Jes Gruner.

The development was realised through a partnership between African Parks, a non-profit organisation that manages national parks on behalf of governments, Rwanda Development Board and funding from Howard G. Buffett Foundation.

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The rhinos were introduced to Akagera National Park under the supervision of a team of an expertly-trained rhino tracking and protection team.

In the 1970s, estimates put the number of Black Rhinos in Akagera National Park at about 50 but their numbers declined largely due to poaching. The last sighting of rhinos in the country was in 2007.

In readiness for the rhinos, the park has since undergone transformation since African Parks assumed management in 2010.

Among the upgrades in readiness for the rhinos was establishment of an expertly-trained rhino tracking and protection team, a canine anti-poaching unit and the deployment of a helicopter for air surveillance.

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The game animals were offloaded under the supervision of a team of veterinary doctors.

‘A new chapter’

Commenting on the development, RDB Chief Executive Clare Akamanzi said it will go a long way in boosting the tourism industry.

“The return of the rhinos to Rwanda’s Akagera National Park opens a new chapter in our conservation journey and we are grateful to all our partners that contributed to this achievement. We are fully prepared to welcome them and ensure their safety for the benefit of our tourism industry and the community at large. We couldn’t be more excited for their return,” she said.

Wildlife experts say that the return of the species is testimony to the country’s progress in conservation efforts.

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Some of the Eastern Black Rhinos that were received yesterday. 

African Parks chief executive Peter Fearnhead said that despite being a symbol of the continent, the species existence has been threatened due to extremely lucrative and illegal rhino horn trade.

“The return of rhinos to this country is a testament to Rwanda’s extraordinary commitment to conservation and is another milestone in the restoration of Akagera’s natural diversity,” Fearnhead said.

Howard G. Buffett, chairperson and chief executive of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, termed the development as another milestone Rwanda’s emerging leadership on the continent in conservation, eco-tourism and good governance.

With fewer than 5,000 Black Rhinos surviving, experts estimate that there are only about 1,000 Eastern Black Rhinos remaining.

The ‘return’ of rhinos follows the re-introduction of lions in Akagera National Park in 2015. Park managers say the population of the big cats has since more than doubled with 15 lions currently.

The only protected savannah region, Akagera  park also boasts of buffaloes, elephants, zebras, hippos, giraffes, and antelopes.

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There are about 1,000 Eastern Black Rhinos remaining on planet earth. 

The latest biennial Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in April ranked Rwanda among the top 10 safest countries on earth, a feat that could also boost tourism.

The WEF report, among others, put Rwanda’s international tourist arrivals at 987,000, and international tourism inbound receipts at $317.8 million.

Tourism revenue is projected to grow at a rate of 25 per cent until 2018, from $305 million generated in 2014 alone.

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Rwanda is among the top 10 safest countries on earth, a major boost to tourism.

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