Some time back, one of the local dailies ran a story about lions that made me feel frustrated about our efforts as Africans in guarding some of the things that define our heritage. The story in detail was about the five lions that were found dead in Queen Elizabeth National Park in the western district of Kasese. It reported that the lions comprised two adult females and three sub-adult males belonging to a 10-member lion pride that lived along the Kasenyi track of the park. They suspected that the lions had been poisoned by people from the neighbouring communities by use of cow carcasses contaminated with poison.
Research projects done on lions in Uganda indicate that almost two males, and three females, are killed every year. This, therefore, implies that this year’s share of lion death has been fulfilled already by those unscrupulous people in Kasenyi. Now, if the trend increases along with other occurrences, the annual death rate is likely to double. This, to me, if not controlled, will mean extinction of lions.
At that rate, we are bound to have no lions to show to the tourists that flock Uganda for a unique wildlife experience. Worse still, there is cause for worry, as the children of tomorrow might not get to see lions.
According to the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), the total lion population in Uganda could be slightly over 750. They live isolated in groups in only three of Uganda’s 10 national parks. The deteriorating population of lions faces lots of challenges. Human population outbursts have led to human and livestock encroachment on wildlife habitats, leading to predator-livestock or wildlife-human conflicts. The end result has been; livestock losses due to lion predation, killing of lions for medicinal or cultural practices, death of lions by hit and run vehicles, loss of prey animals as they are poached by people or killed by diseases.
UWA indicates that the greatest decline in lion populations was during the civil wars in Uganda between 1970s and the early 1980s, due to lawlessness. Protected areas like Lake Mburo National Park are reported to be devoid of the lion populations that once lived there. They were all killed by the neighbouring pastoral communities.
UWA maintains that it has put a lot of effort in conservation of lions. It has entered into partnership with various stakeholders to uplift the cause. Through its collaboration with institutions like Makerere University, through the Lions Project, NGOs like CARE and other foreign donors, conservation efforts have been put up to improve the survival rate of lions. This they are doing through research, neighbouring community involvement and donor support.
But the efforts by UWA and its counterparts will be fruitless if we cannot take responsibility as Ugandans to protect our own wild life.