efe-epaBy Gustavo Monge and Martin Divisek Prague

Jasiri, Jasmine, Manny, Olmoti and Mandela, five European-born black rhinos, are getting ready to take on a very special mission: to assist in repopulating Rwanda, where their species had become extinct in the wild.

The Dvur Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic, has been training the rhinos since 2018 and they now are comfortable with each other, respond to their names when called and obey simple instructions such as exiting and entering special containers.

"Rwanda has lost its population of black rhinos in the wild since 2007," Jan Stejskal, director of the international Dvur Králové project told Efe. "They started establishing a new one in 2017, but these rhinos that came from South Africa are only from four founders, so it means their genetic variability is very low."

"It's really important to get these five rhinos from Europe there to have good chances and a good prospect for the future to have a sustainable population of rhinos that will be free roaming in Rwanda national park," the director added.

But the mammals, native to eastern and southern Africa, now have a challenging journey ahead, which starts on Sunday, before being set free into the wild in the land of their ancestors who were hunted into local extinction.

They will have to withstand a long journey to Rwanda where they will have to acclimatize to a very different environment and source their own food.

Up until now, the fivesome has been fed bush leaves, cherry tree branches, fruit and animal fodder.

The Czech zoo has been breeding black rhinoceros for five decades and since the program began 46 animals have been raised there.

Now the institution leads an international preservation project to protect this species of which only 700 specimens remain in the wild globally.

According to most recent surveys most of them, 600, live in Kenya's savanna.

Tanzania has records of some 80 of these critically endangered animals.

In 2009, the Czech program sent three black rhinos to the Mkomazi natural park in Tanzania and the group has grown to a gang of five since then, an encouraging feat.

On Sunday, the largest migration of European rhinos to Africa is set to take place, a joint project that has brought together three European zoos and the Rwanda Development Board (RDB).

Rwanda, a small central African Republic that has ceased to see these mammals frolicking in its grasslands, is keen to re-establish the iconic animals in the country after convincing European experts that they had the adequate infrastructure to help the rhinos to thrive.

For the nation that witnessed the brutal bloodshed of a genocide that killed close to one million ethnic Tutsis, the return of these animals symbolically signals a return to normality, Stejskal added.

The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, who combined have 94 rhinos across its 22 member organizations, were also keen to support this transition in the African state.

As such the organization has decided to donate the animals to the Kigali government who will transfer on Monday Manny, an eight-year-old male, and two females, three-year-old Jasiri and nine-year-old Jasmine (who is already a mother) to the woodland and swamps of the Akagera National Park.

The other male, Mandela, who has traveled from the Danish Ree Safari Park, and Olmuti, a female form Flamingo Land in England have also been chosen for the environmental mission because their gene pull was very well represented across the European rhino population.

The mammals that have been selected could also reproduce amongst themselves because there is a chance that for a period they will not come into contact to animals in the wild.

"It's extremely important that they get other rhinos that could in future potentially breed with the rhinos that are in southern Africa now and in this way enhance the genetic variability of possibly a new sustainable population in Rwanda," the expert concluded. EFE-EPA

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