There are several factors influencing the urgency and timeliness of INKURA. First, rhinos are the most endangered species on the planet. The Northern White rhino, for example, is down to just two females, making the species "functionally extinct." Black rhinos are critically endangered. By most accounts, there are only 5,000-5,500 alive in the world and only 900 of those are the eastern black rhino subspecies, making them also one of the most endangered animals today.
Thankfully, there are organizations, governments, and conservation experts working hard to help eastern black rhino populations recover. The multi-national organizations whose work is featured in INKURA are:
Akagera Management Company (AMC)
European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA)
Rwanda Development Board (RDB)
Safari Park Dvůr Králové (SPDK)
European Zoos Are Genetic Banks
Zoos and safari parks in Europe have learned a lot about rhino genetics and breeding over the past 50 years. Cooperative inter-zoo captive breeding programs successfully maintain the genetic health of rhino populations. However, the real benefit of these efforts would come only by returning these rhino to Africa, where their offspring would greatly enhance the genetic diversity and viability of local rhino populations.
The Greatest Gift
In 2017, the leadership of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) determined that five eastern black rhinos from three zoos could be flown from Europe to Africa. Perhaps even more amazing was the fact that the rhinos would be given free of charge — truly a gift. After all, how could one put a price on the priceless? The question was where exactly would they go... which country could receive and protect such a gift?
Akagera National Park
Dating back to 1934, Akagera National Park is one of the oldest parks in Africa and was well known for the spectacular diversity of its landscape and the wildlife that lived within it. Eastern black rhinos once roamed Rwanda's savannah in the thousands. However, in the years following the Rwandan genocide, Akagera was decimated — the park was reduced to 1/3 of its former size and almost all the wildlife in the park was driven away or killed for food. Poachers roamed freely, killing animals along with any hopes for renewal. In 2007, the last eastern black rhino died.
In 2009, the government of Rwanda decided to make a change. It would prioritize the re-forming of its national parks, including Akagera. The Akagera Management Company was created to bring a plan, infrastructure, and funds to the process. In 2015, lions were returned to the park. Two years later, a founding population of eastern black rhinos was brought in from South Africa. However, the genetic diversity of those rhinos could be better...
The Largest Transport Ever
And so the stage for INKURA is set. Zoos in Europe are committed to "gifting" five rhinos. The curators of Safari Park Dvůr Králové are committed to training the rhinos for the journey. And the leadership of Akagera National Park and the government of Rwanda are committed to receiving the five rhinos and protecting them. Over the long term, there is a sincere hope that this effort will deepen and strengthen the gene pool of Rwanda's eastern black rhinos, giving the species greater viability. But, in the short term, will the transport go well? Will the rhinos survive the journey and the acclimatization to the wilds of Africa?
INKURA weaves a compelling, heart-felt story about an epic journey, shining a spotlight on the urgent need for rhino conservation and the people who work tirelessly to save a critically endangered species.