After more than two decades lions will return to conflict ridden Rwanda, wildlife officials have said. Indigenous, and highly endangered, lions were wiped out in the country after Rwanda's 1994 genocide.
Two males and five females, seven lions in total, are being moved from South Africa and will arrive by air in Rwanda on Monday after their 36 hour trek. They will be released into the eastern Akagera National Park after two week quarantine.
Park officials in Akagera, a 27,6800 acre park on the border with Tanzania, called the reintroduction "a ground-breaking conservation effort for both the park and the country of Rwanda."
Lions in Rwanda were stamped out after the 1994 genocide, because fleeing refugees and displaced people occupied part of the park, which saw indigenous lions being driven out or killed to protect their precious livestock.
"It is a breakthrough in the rehabilitation of the park," said the head of tourism at the Rwanda Development Board, Yamina Karitanyi. "Their return will encourage the natural balance of the ecosystem."
The South African lions are from parks in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province, from "relatively small, confined reserves where it is necessary to occasionally remove surplus lions," the conservation authority added.
Globally the lion remains listed as a vulnerable species and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said Thursday that it continues to be on the so-called "Red List" of threatened animals.
Eastern Africa, historically a stronghold for lions, has seen rapid declines the IUCN said, due to illegal trade in bones and other body parts for quack medicine in Africa and in Asia.
This pressure has caused the western African lion sub-population to become "critically endangered" as a result of over-hunting and lack of prey.
"The return of lions to Akagera is a conservation milestone for the park and the country," said Peter Fearnhead, head of African Parks, a group helping conservation efforts in Rwanda.