For over a month, the lions in Kidepo Valley National Park have shown signs of weakness, emaciated bodies and are not naturally hyper like their counterparts in other parks, leaving conservationists puzzled.
Reports indicate that the strange illness has affected almost all the lions within the park. Officials from Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) are not sure of the nature of the disease or what could have caused it.
Charles Tumwesigye, the deputy director in charge of conservation at UWA, says they have been observing the strangeness in the lions for a while. He says as precautionary measures, the authority teamed up with officials from the Uganda Conservation Foundation to find the root cause.
“For now, they have picked samples from the lions, the samples are going to be analysed to see if there is any kind of sickness that they could be having before we can make any conclusions on the status of the lions.
We have a feeling that, it could be partly starvation because we don’t seem to have very many prey animals for the lions in Kidepo. In Kidepo, we seem to have the larger mammals; the buffaloes and its not easy for a lion to kill a buffalo. So, one argument has been, that they could be starving, but the other argument is that they could actually be sick”, he said.
Tumwesigye says though the lions are closely controlled under the Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), they are applying for special permits to fly the samples out of the country.
“We require special permits to take samples outside the country - both the import and export permits. Sometimes getting those permits especially if you want an import permit from the US may take some time. So we are looking at within the next three months we should be able to get the results.”
Later in the year, UWA will translocate about 100 antelopes from Murchison Falls National Park to Kidepo to sort out the problem of starvation.
“The lions are not dying incidentally. So we shouldn’t worry much. [But] it is a worry because they look sickly and emaciated but they are not dying. So we are not so much worried that we are losing that population.", Tumwesigye added.
Kidepo has a total of 132 lions, making it one of the parks with most populated parks in the country. Reports also show that over years, it is the only national park that has seen increasing population of the lions. Uganda has about 400 lions left in the wild. CITES lists the lions in appendix one, making them as one of the most endangered species alongside elephants.