The lions have been almost fully "reintroduced". They have been awakened in Rwanda and initial introductions have been made in the form of quarantine bomas. They will spend 14 days in these bomas acclimating to their new Rwandan home and getting used to the sites, sounds and smells of their new home. Apparently, the local baboon troupe isn't too happy about it.
The non-profit African Parks, an organization charged on taking total responsibility for the rehabilitation and long-term management of national parks in partnership with governments, wildlife organizations and local communities, was responsible for the management of the translocation efforts. They are a management organization with a focus on the generation of sustainable income streams to pay for running costs and capital replacements. Although they seem to have an economic focus, they do have a conservation approach and mention long-term biodiversity restoration in their model. This seems like a great organization, taking on the financial burdens that often plight national parks, my only concern is that with this move of South African lions into Rwanda rather than eastern African lions into Rwanda is that the individuals making the decisions regarding long-term biodiversity restoration may not fully understand what biodiversity and biodiversity restoration means.
Lions went extinct in Rwanda 15 years ago after the 1994 genocide when the Akagera National Park went unmanaged and cattle herders poisoned many of the animal species. And this week, in a big conservation effort, seven lions, 5 females and 2 males, are being relocated from the South African province of KwaZulu Natal to repopulate Rwanda with lions. They are starting their journey from OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg to Rwanda today!
7/1/2015 - While doing a bit more research combing through article after article reading the same shpeal over and over I finally found something that somewhat confirmed my suspicion but with no real concrete evidence... there is political mumbo jumbo afoot....
The Christian Science Monitor (um, the what?) says that Kenya offered to donate eight lions to Rwanda last year but Kenya's wildlife conservation groups fiercely opposed the plan saying "Rwanda had not sufficiently addressed issues that resulted to the loss of its own lion population."
There isn't much genetic research on the puma (FYI: puma, cougar, mountain lion, catamount, panther... all the same thing, just depends on where you are and who you talk to). The scientific community seems to be quite torn about taxonomic assessment and there has been much debate around subspecies distinction, particularly in the case of using cougars in Texas to repopulate the Florida panther population. Some say they are distinct enough that they shouldn't be hybridized while others say they are the same so one can successfully repopulate the other. According to the Federal Register, "the best available information continues to support the assignment of the eastern taxon to Puma concolor couguar as distinct from other North American subspecies" based primarily on biology and life history.
The proposal to remove the eastern cougar from the endangered species list does not affect the status of the endangered Florida panther subspecies, a cluster of conservation genetics issues to discuss in more detail at another time. But, although the extinct animals will no longer be protected under the Endangered Species Act, which is intended to save animals and plants that still have a recorded population, it will also no longer be able to be used to protect similar animals, such as the Florida panther. Not sure if that matters since the Florida panther is already protected (and possibly diluted with Texas cougar) but its interesting nonetheless.
A ban on the hunting of big cats in Zambia, which has been in effect since January 2013, was officially lifted a few days ago. Hunting of leopards will resume at the end of this year/beginning of next and hunting of lions will return about a year after that.
Zambia, however, is one of 5 countries to have lion populations 1000+ individuals strong and, in areas with thriving lion populations, a hunting ban could actually have potentially deleterious effects (and not just on eco-tourism). Studies have shown that the presence of hunters deters poachers, providing protection for the habitat and other animals. Revenue brought in by hunters also contributes to anti-poaching efforts as well as community assistance by providing jobs and other resources.
So, after the realization that a continued full ban in Zambia on hunting for big cats could be damaging for the population (and economy), the government decided to reinstate hunting under the pretense there will be “cautionary quotas.” Tourism and Arts Minister, Jean Kapata, said "safari hunting was profitable and good for off-take of wildlife and could benefit the whole country if well nurtured." The study I just submitted for publication will (hopefully) be used to help with decisions for setting quotas and implementing management to prevent loss of diversity while big cat hunting is permitted.