Rwanda is set to receive five critically endangered eastern black rhinos from wildlife parks in three European countries, the parks announced on Tuesday.
Three female and two male rhinos from the Safari Park Dvur Kralove zoo in the Czech Republic, Flamingo Land in Britain and Ree Park Safari in Denmark will first meet in the Czech park to get used to each other and get ready for their transport to the Akagera National Park.
Eugene Mutangana, the Head of Conservation at Rwanda Development Board (RDB), confirmed to The New Times that the country will receive the black rhinos in June next year.
He revealed that the Board has already finalised the process of signing of a memorandum of understanding with the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA).
“The memorandum of understanding has been signed on our side, and we are waiting other parties including Akagera National Park and EAZA to do so,” he disclosed.
He added that the new animals from the EAZA Zoos will make a strong contribution to the overall sustainability of the existing rhino population at Akagera National Park.
“It will add value to what we already have. Their integration with existing rhinos that we have is a good thing for the ecosystem,” he noted.
It will be the biggest single translocation of rhinos from Europe to Africa.
Mutangana said that, once in Rwanda, the five rhinos will initially be kept separate from 19 eastern black rhinos that were translocated to the same park from South Africa last year.
The black rhinos will be returning to their natural habitat,in Akagera national park in eastern Rwanda, where an entire rhino population had been wiped out in the immediate aftermath of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
There are only about 900 of the subspecies remaining in the world, 90 of them in 22 European zoos.
A statement from Safari Park Dvur Kralove indicated that Jan Stejskal of Dvur Kralove zoo from Czech Republic and Veronica Varekova, an avid advocate of wildlife conservation, first discussed the possibility of a large-scale reintroduction of Black rhino into Africa two years ago.
“I have witnessed increasing pressure put on the rhino population in Africa over the past 8 years, due to poaching and habitat loss, so when I was presented with the idea of European zoos donating black rhinos to Akagera National Park, I was thrilled,” Varekova said in the statement.
“In my view Rwanda is one of the safest countries on the continent today, a country I have visited often in the last 10 years,” she added.
Dvur Kralove zoo has 16 eastern black rhinos, the largest group in Europe.
Meanwhile, once both groups settle in Rwanda, they will be allowed to interbreed.
Currently, the primary threat against the rhinoceros is poaching by criminal syndicates to supply the traditional Asian medicine market.
Officials believe the reintroduction represents a strong response from all involved institutions to the devastation being inflicted on rhino populations across Africa.