5 endangered black rhinos relocated from Europe to Rwanda preserve

Five critically endangered eastern black rhinos raised in captivity in European countries were transported to Rwanda's Akagera National Park on Monday, where they will roam on protected conservation land. 

Animals all raised in captivity will now live on protected conservation land

Manny, pictured in this undated photo provided by Safari Park Dvur Kralove, is one of five eastern black rhinos transported European zoos and safari parks to Akagera National Park in Rwanda. (Oliver Le Que/Safari Park Dvur Kralove/AP)

Five critically endangered eastern black rhinos raised in captivity in European countries were transported to Rwanda's Akagera National Park on Monday, where they will roam on protected conservation land. 

Two male and three female eastern black rhinoceroses were released into protective enclosures and will eventually be introduced into open plains to increase the genetic diversity of the park's rhino population, said officials. 

The eastern black rhino is in critical danger of extinction with about 1,000 remaining in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. 

The five rhinos from European zoos and safari parks will bring to 20 the number of eastern black rhinos in Akagera after a number of the rhinos were delivered from South Africa in 2017. 

More than 50 black rhinos once lived in Akagera's savannah habitat, which is considered excellent for black rhinos, but their numbers declined due to wide-scale poaching, and the last confirmed sighting of a rhino was in 2007.

"The newly translocated rhinos will bolster the founder group that we introduced in 2017, contributing to the  re-establishment of a robust eastern black rhino population in Rwanda," said Jes Gruner, manager of Akagera, which is around 1,200 square kilometres.

Mandela and Jasiri are photographed at Safari Park Dvur Kralov sometime before their 30-hour journey to Rwanda. (Dominika Stempa/ Safari Park Dvur Kralove/AP)

"This unique achievement represents the culmination of an unprecedented international effort to improve the survival prospects of a critically endangered rhino subspecies in the wild. Their arrival also marks an important step in Akagera's ongoing revitalization, and one that underscores the country's commitment to conservation." 

Clare Akamanzi, CEO of the Rwanda Development Board, said the eastern black rhinos are "crucial to wildlife conservation and biodiversity protection efforts, both in Rwanda and across Africa."

Months of preparation

Africa's rhinos remain under intense pressure from poachers, who kill them to meet demand for their horns in illegal markets, primarily in Vietnam and China. 

Under the management of the African Parks group, Akagera has rebuilt its wildlife populations. In July 2015, Rwanda reintroduced lions to Akagera, 15 years after they had disappeared. 

Rwanda is actively promoting tourism as part of its recovery from the genocide 25 years ago, in which some 800,000 people were killed.

In this photo released by African Parks, one of the eastern black rhino walks around its enclosure just after being offloaded from a truck in Akagera National Park on Monday. (Scott Ramsay/African Parks/AP)

According to government statistics, 1.3 million visitors came to the country in 2017. Many come to encounter the rare mountain gorillas, and Rwanda is increasing the ability for tourists to see other big game such as elephants, lions, leopards and buffaloes, as well as rhinos. 

The five eastern black rhinos were all born and raised in captivity: Jasiri, Jasmina and Manny came from Safari Park Dvur Kralove in the Czech Republic; Olmoti comes from Flamingo Land in Britain; and Mandela is from Ree Park Safari in Denmark.

The five began their journey from the Czech Republic on Sunday following months of preparation at the safari park. African Parks said precautions were taken to minimize the animals' stress through the 30-hour journey during which they were held in custom-made crates, and fed and watered regularly. Experienced zookeepers and a veterinarian expert in rhino translocations monitored the rhinos during their trip and their release into Akagera.

With files from CBC News