Rhinos around the globe are facing an unprecedented threat to their survival. As the slaughter for their horn continues to push them closer to extinction, a rare glimmer of hope has emerged. This week will see the first black rhinos to wander the bush of Rwanda for 10 years, after the conservation group African Parks reintroduce up to 20 of the animals to Akagera National Park.
“Rhinos are one of the great symbols of Africa yet they are severely threatened and are on the decline in many places across the continent due to the extremely lucrative and illegal rhino horn trade,” said Peter Fearnhead, the CEO of African Parks, in a statement. “The rhino’s return to this country, however, is a testament to Rwanda’s extraordinary commitment to conservation and is another milestone in the restoration of Akagera’s natural diversity.”
It is thought that in the 1970s, around 50 of the animals still roamed the park. But in the following years an increase in poaching, as well as the horrors of the Rwandan Civil War, took their toll on the wildlife, and 2007 saw the last confirmed sighting of the black rhino not only in Akagera, but the entire country. Since 2010, however, the park has been taken over by African Parks, who have strived to restore what is the largest patch of protected wetland in Central Africa.
Under this management, the national park has thrived. It is now home to wandering herds of elephants, pods of hippos, and even lions, after being reintroduced two years ago, where previously they had been absent from the entire country for 15 years. Since the original seven were released into the park, their numbers have doubled as the lions have flourished.
The threats to rhinos since their extirpation in Rwanda, though, have not subsided. Poaching is still rife across much of Africa, with only 5,000 black rhino thought to survive. In light of this, much has gone into preparing the grounds and stepping up security, before the animals, which are coming from South Africa, even arrive in the country. In the six years that African Parks have been managing the park, the organization says that they have seen poaching fall to an all-time low.
There is now a dedicated rhino-tracking and protection unit in place, including a canine anti-poaching team, as well as regular helicopter surveillance over the park. The rhinos that are to be introduced are members of the Eastern black rhino subspecies. With roughly 1,000 of the animals left, their survival is balancing on the edge. It is hoped that this reintroduction will form a new population, and help safeguard the species from extinction.