Black rhinos from European zoos in Rwanda: One year on

Today marks one year since the arrival of five Eastern black rhinos from Europe to Rwanda, the result of a unique collaboration between the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and African Parks to establish a new, genetically diverse, rhino population in the country. The convoy departed Safari Park Dvůr Králové, Czech Republic, on the 23rd June, 2019. Traveling overnight, the rhinos arrived in Rwanda early the following morning to be transported by road to Akagera National Park. While the journey was demanding, the rhinos settled in well and started the transition to living in Africa.

Shortly after their arrival the rhinos were fitted with transmitters to allow close monitoring of their movements as they adapted to their new environment. They were slowly weaned onto a diet of natural vegetation and gradually allowed to roam in increasingly large enclosures. By the end of the year they had been released into a 2,500 hectare area and continue to be monitored daily by a specialized team of rangers.

Currently, the youngest of the group, a female named Jasiri, spends her time with the young male, Mandela. Both are browsing naturally for themselves and are in very good condition. The other duo, females Jasmina and Olmoti, stay together feeding mostly on natural browse but they have also been supplemented with pellets and lucerne. Sadly, the older of the males, Manny, died in February. He was being provided with supplementary feed to support his adjustment while being closely monitored on a daily basis by a specialist tracking team who detected a sudden deterioration in his health and feeding behaviour. Park management immediately consulted with veterinarians, but he unfortunately succumbed before a veterinary intervention could be made. Post-mortem and histopathology tests did not reveal a conclusive cause of the death but suggest he was not able to cope with the acclimatization process, resulting in nutritional maladaption, despite being provided the same care and conditions as the other rhinos who are thriving in their new environment.

It is important to remember that success in such a big move is a long term goal; establishing a robust population of this critically endangered and highly vulnerable species. It will be some time before the four are fully released, into the wider park, where they will have the chance of meeting the park’s existing rhinos and contributing to the growth and genetic diversity of this important population. The rhinos, and the team that monitors them, have made important advances and the outlook is very positive. The successes of this project are very much down to the collaboration and care of all involved and their dedication to conserving Eastern black rhino.

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