Now that the lions are back, can we stop destroying our heritage?

Family picture of three lions. Taken in Masai Mara national park, southwest Kenya.

Family picture of three lions. Taken in Masai Mara national park, southwest Kenya.

Intara Zigarutse mu Rwanda!

Close to two decades after I witnessed the poisoning of an entire pride by herdsmen, and a years since the lions roar reverberating through Akagera Park’s rolling hills, seven lions, five females and two young males, will take their place at the top of the food chain once again.

It’s been a long journey to get to this point. Forget the lions, a while ago the entire park was close to extinction. There were some among us who wanted to turn the park into a cattle-grazing zone. Thankfully, that nefarious idea was put to bed.

The park has undergone quite a transformation since its dark days. It’s been fenced, its murrum roads have been widened and the thorn brushes on the sides pruned. Poaching has reduced and the communities living around the park have embraced it. The animal population has stabilized; so much so that the park management has started worrying that the large number of herbivores will soon start stressing the park’s ecological balance. The establishment of the Ruzizi Tented Lodge has finally given high-end visitors accommodation option within the park’s borders (the dilapidated Akagera Game Lodge has seen much better days).

The return of the lions is simply the icing on the cake after all the progress made throughout the last few year. It’s been a long slog. There have been moments where the return of the lions seemed like a pipedream. Now that they are here, we should all celebrate their return.

I guess it is like that Joni Mitchell song, ‘Big Yellow Taxi’. A line in the song goes, ‘don’t it always seem to go… that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’. We didn’t treasure what we had (lions) until they were gone. Then we scrambled around, cap in hand, begging different African countries to spare a cat or two. There is a reason they say ‘prevention is better than cure’. Cure is expensive, time consuming and unguaranteed.

While we celebrate the lions’ return, we must ask ourselves, what other natural resources are we quietly losing? Resources that we will regret losing forever? There are a couple of ancient acacia trees around Kigali that I find beyond majestic and that I worry about. One such tree is right in front of the Simba supermarket branch opposite the Parliamentary buildings, Kimihurura. I fret that one day, I will wake up to find it cut down and replaced by a ‘modern’ palm tree.

What a huge loss! The famous Hotel Ibis patio is gone forever.

What a huge loss! The famous Hotel Ibis patio and its Jacaranda trees are gone forever.

Think that I’m worrying about nothing? Then riddle me this, whatever happened to the lovely Jacaranda trees in Kiyovu? Remember them? They used to produce the most delightful purple flowers. They were chopped down, with barely any public discussion. And replaced by, guess what, PALM TREES. I won’t even mention the avocado trees. It is my belief that in a few years (or even decades) from now, we shall look back, scratch our heads and ask ourselves why we rushed to tear down the vestiges of our past and replace them willy-nilly with the things we call ‘modern’.

This isn’t only an issue when it comes to our natural resources.

When I first went to Butare (Huye) as a young university student in 2002, it still had a very pre-independence feel to it. I found it quite quaint to be honest. This was the one major town in the country that felt like a living, breathing history book. Sitting on the patios of the two biggest hotels, Hotel Faucon and Hotel Ibis, one could visualize Mwami Mutara III Rudahigwa and his entourage majestically walking in and smashing the racist colour bar (the hotels were previously ‘White Only’ establishments). Today, only Faucon survives in its original splendor. Ibis has become just another hotel. Oh, and the lovely jacaranda trees in front of it? Gone as well.

What lessons should we have learnt from our lion’s demise and return? My prayer is that we have learnt that its much easier to take something for granted and then destroy it than bringing it back from the brink of extinction. Let us conserve what we still have. Our grandchildren will thank us.

The New Times published this post

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