July 2, 2015

Phinda Mountain 2013-158

Game parks in Rwanda will again be home to lions after tour operator, &Beyond, donated five lionesses from Phinda Private Game Reserve. The five lionesses are being translocated to Rwanda as part of an African Parks project aimed at reversing the local extinction of the species in Akagera National Park.

Lions became extinct in Akagera fifteen years ago when Rwanda experienced a period of intense upheaval following the 1994 genocide. A lack of management of Rwanda’s national parks following these events and the subsequent poisoning of lions by cattle herders resulted in the lions becoming extinct.

Prior to translocation, the five lionesses were held at &Beyond Phinda where they were fitted with satellite collars, which will enable the Akagera management team to monitor their movements and reduce the risk of them breaking out into neighbouring community areas. The collars have a two year life span, allowing ample time to monitor pride dynamics as the lions settle in. As an additional precaution, the park’s fence has been reinforced to keep the predators in.

&Beyond Phinda is also proud to have been home to one of the oldest lions known outside of a zoo. This female lion was introduced in May 1992 at age 18 months and died in September 2009 of injuries caused in a fight, when she was almost 20 years old.

In preparation for the translocation, the Akagera management team ran a comprehensive sensitisation programme in the communities surrounding the park, to educate the reserve’s neighbours about the significance of lions in the natural environment and promote harmonious co-existence.

WILDLIFETo begin their journey to Rwanda, the lionesses were tranquilised, placed in individual crates, loaded onto trucks and driven to Johannesburg. They were then loaded onto a charter flight and flown to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, where they were transported by road to Akagera National Park. Throughout the journey, the lions were accompanied and monitored by an experienced veterinary team and kept tranquilised to reduce stress.

On arrival in Akagera, the lions were placed in a specially erected boma, split into two separate enclosures and surrounded by a three metre high fence. A water reserve was constructed within the boma and the lions fed every three to four days, replicating their natural feeding patterns.

&Beyond Phinda has a long history of lion conservation in South Africa, being one of the first private game reserves in South Africa and the first in the province of KwaZulu-Natal to introduce lions. Since the first 13 lions were introduced in 1992, almost 220 lions have been born on the reserve. &Beyond Phinda has helped establish other lion populations in private game reserves in the Eastern Cape, Zululand, Mpumalanga, North West and the Limpopo Province, as well as neighbouring Mozambique. The reserve is also a founding member of the Lion Management Forum of South Africa, which aims to promote best practice in lion management and conservation in Southern Africa, generating industry norms and standards for lion conservation.

Sandra Tiltman