A conservation group plans to move seven lions from South Africa to a national park in Rwanda, where it says the lion population was wiped out 15 years ago.
The five female lions and two males will be transferred beginning Monday to Rwanda's Akagera National Park by truck and plane in a journey lasting more than 24 hours, said African Parks, a South Africa-based group that runs national wildlife parks in Africa.
Cattle herders poisoned the Rwandan park's last lions after parks were left unmanaged following Rwanda's 1994 genocide, according to African Parks. The group manages Akagera, a Rwandan park on the border with Tanzania, and seven other national parks in Africa.
Two parks in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province are donating the lions to Rwanda. On arrival at the Akagera park, the lions will be kept in quarantine in a large enclosure for at least two weeks before they are released into the wilderness.
Yamina Karitanyi, a senior tourism official in Rwanda, said she hopes the return of lions to Akagera will attract more visitors. Currently, mountain gorillas are the mainstay of Rwandan wildlife tourism.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature listed the lion as vulnerable in an update this month of its "red list" of species facing survival threats. It noted lion conservation successes in southern Africa, but said lions in West Africa were critically endangered and that rapid population declines were also being recorded in East Africa.
The conservation group cited human encroachment on lion habitats as well as a decline in lion prey as reasons for the population drop. It identified a trade in lion bones and other body parts for traditional medicine in Africa as well as Asia as a growing threat.