Czech-bred rhinos acclimatising in Rwanda after long journey

Eastern black rhino, photo: ČTK/David Taneček

Five endangered eastern black rhinos from Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic have been successfully relocated to Rwanda. The animals arrived in Akagera National Park in the east of the country on Monday afternoon. The move is part of an international effort to restore the critically endangered subspecies in the central African state, where the entire rhino population was wiped out as a result of the civil war in the 1990s.

Eastern black rhino,  photo: ČTK/David Taneček

The transport of the five eastern black rhinos from the Czech Republic to Rwanda started in the early hours of Sunday, following months of preparations at the Safari Park in Dvůr Králové, East Bohemia. The two male and three female rhinos were flown on a plane from Prague to Kigali before being transferred by truck to Akagera National Park in the east of the country.

Immediately upon their arrival they were released into a special enclosure, where they started their long adaptation process. Dvůr Králové Zoo’s special projects coordinator Jan Stejskal, who has been accompanying the animals along the way, says the whole process might range from weeks to months.

Jan Stejskal,  photo: Milan Baják / Czech Radio
“The acclimatisation of the rhinos will take definitely weeks and months. It started of course immediately after their arrival. They started to feed already early in the morning on hay brought from the Czech Republic. Slowly the hay will be phased out and they will start getting used to local food, to local acacias.”

The rhinos are accompanied by two breeders from Dvůr Králové, who will stay in Rwanda for the next few weeks to oversee their adaptation process to the new environment. Even though all of the five animals were born in captivity, Jan Stejskal is confident the animals will soon regain their natural instincts:

“We did translocation of rhinos already in the past and from this experience we know that rhinos born in captivity and taken to wild areas actually resume their instincts very fast.

“There needs to be an acclimatization period and they need to be carefully observed, so it is difficult to say when exactly they could be released into the wild areas of the National Park Akagera.”

Eastern black rhino,  photo: ČTK/David Taneček
Some two dozen rhinos were donated to Rwanda by South Africa already in 2017, reintroducing the species that had disappeared for more than a decade due to poaching. The rhinos arriving from Dvůr Králové Zoo should expand the genetic diversity of the founder population, increasing its chances to survive.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, there are currently around 5,000 eastern black rhinos remaining across their range in the wild, making them one of the most critically endangered species in the world.

Along with efforts to reintroduce the eastern black rhinos to Rwanda, the zoo in Dvůr Králové is also leading international efforts to save the northern white rhino, which is practically extinct now.