You may have heard about the reintroduction of seven lions to Rwanda after two decades, but did you also know that Lion Guardians was called in to help ensure they are well protected? We were extremely honored when Akagera National Park (ANP) manager, Jes Gruner, asked for our help.
Today, we wanted to share with you exactly what we did and the first impressions from Rangers in the field on how the training went.
After understanding ANP’s requirements, Stephanie, Eric and Kisimir developed a curriculum drawing on our knowledge and expertise to help the rangers get comfortable with their new charges. The training started with presentations and lively interactive Q&A sessions. Classroom learning was then cemented through field coaching, which included foot patrols. These sessions were challenging not only because the participants were eager learners with lots of questions but also because there was a significant language barrier. None of the Lion Guardians team could speak Kinyarwanda and most of the rangers did not understand English or Swahili. Yet, in spite of this significant barrier, the Lion Guardians team was able to impart knowledge and build confidence within the ranger units per our remit.
Eric and Kisimir who came back from Rwanda in early October were humbled by the respect that the participants accorded them after every training session. They were also very pleased with the excitement and eagerness of the rangers to go out on foot patrols and get close to the lions post-training, showing that their confidence had definitely been bolstered. This was a great learning experience for us at Lion Guardians as well – while we know how to build up the basic literacy of individuals who had never been to school, or how to work with a different culture, we have never had to effectively build conservation capability with such a significant language barrier, working with translators, pictures and visuals as much as possible. It also revealed to us the power that knowledge holds – it has the power to transform beyond the limitations of language.
As we were leaving, several remarks from the rangers gave us much hope for the future of these lions in Rwanda. Ranger Anthony from Nyung’we post said “ I now know the importance of lions to the Akagera ecosystem and the entire Rwandan tourism sector. These lions are now a national asset that needs to be guarded jealously”. This was followed up by a statement from another ranger from Muyumbu who said, “If we play our responsibility as human beings well, lions are never a threat.”