Rwanda Welcomes Black Rhinos Ten Years After Disappearance

A Black rhino is seen in the Lewa wildlife conservancy in Kenya's Laikipia county on May 20, 2015. Up to 20 eastern black rhinos are being transferred from South Africa to Rwanda ten years after disappearance. TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images

Around 20 endangered eastern black rhinos are returning to Rwanda, ten years after the species disappeared from the East African nation, the non-profit organization African Parks said in a statement Tuesday.

The animals are being transferred from South Africa to the Akagera National Park, eastern Rwanda, in "a historic move for the nation and the species," the statement said. It added that "up to 20 eastern black rhinos" will be moved to the Akagera park in the next two weeks, but didn't say exactly how many would go.

At least ten rhinos have already arrived in the country, Rwandan daily the New Times reported, saying another ten are expected next week.

The eastern black rhino, a subspecies of the black rhino, is a critically-endangered species according to conservation organization World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF ).

Black rhinos, which are also in critical danger of extinction, are found in countries across southern and eastern Africa. There are an estimated 5,000 black rhinos in the wild today, with 98 percent of the total population found in four countries: South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya.

There were more than 50 black rhinos in the Akagera National Park in the 1970s, but the numbers declined because of wide-scale poaching for the illegal horn trade. The last black rhino spotted in Rwanda was in 2007.

"Rhinos are one of the great symbols of Africa yet they are severely threatened and are on the decline in many places across the continent due to the extremely lucrative and illegal rhino horn trade," said African Parks CEO Peter Fearnhead.

"The rhino's return to this country however is a testament to Rwanda's extraordinary commitment to conservation and is another milestone in the restoration of Akagera's natural diversity."

Clare Akamanzi, CEO- Rwanda Development Board, said the arrival of the rhinos opened a new chapter of the country's conservation journey.

"We are grateful to all our partners that contributed to this achievement. We are fully prepared to welcome them and ensure their safety for the benefit of our tourism industry and the community at large. We couldn't be more excited for their return," she said.

African Parks, which manages parks and protected areas across Africa, has been fighting poaching in the Akagera National Park since it assumed management in collaboration with the Rwanda Development Board in 2010.

Anti-poaching measures include the use of a helicopter for air surveillance as well as a rhino tracking and protection team and a canine anti-poaching unit.

Black rhino populations started to decrease due to hunting by European settlers during colonization in Africa, according to the WWF.

A subsequent wave of poaching in the 1970s is thought to have eliminated most black rhinos outside conservation areas and reduced their numbers in reserves and national parks.

In 1993, only 2,475 black rhinos were recorded. However, conservation and anti-poaching activities have increased the number to around 5,000.