A lion pride of three mothers and eight cubs was found dead in a fishing village called Hamukungu in Queen Elizabeth National Park April 12, 2018 and has left the tourism industry in despair.
This comes just a month after the country joined the rest of the world to mark the UN World Wildlife Day Celebrations under the national theme: “Creating a safe environment for the survival of big cats”.
“It is true we lost a pride, three mothers and eight young ones, in a fishing village called Hamukungu,” Bashir Hangi Uganda Wildlife Authority Communications Manager confirmed speaking at Daily Monitor local newspaper offices.
He added that the authority suspects that these lions were poisoned, but investigations will establish the actual cause.
“We are suspecting poisoning. The information we have is that they attacked someone’s cow but we are yet to establish who exactly,” Mr Hangi said.
He described the incident as shocking and unexpected given the collaboration that has been ongoing between the authorities and community.
“We celebrated the survival of big cats on March 3 and someone cannot come in April and kill 11 of them, there is no way someone can think that this is resting today or tomorrow” Mr Hangi noted.
Meanwhile, the commissioner Wildlife Conservation in the Ministry Of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Dr Akankwasah Barirega, confirmed that preliminary observations point to poisoning with investigations underway.
“We have commissioned investigations into the matter. We shall use the evidence gathered to prosecute and if convicted decisively punish the perpetrators of this heinous crime,” Dr Barirega said.
He said the investigations are to be carried out by the wildlife crime investigations unit.
“I can confirm that we shall get to the bottom of the situation. Whoever did it will face the long arm and the full wrath of the law,” Dr Barirega assured.
Meanwhile, players in the sector have also expressed shock and disappointment over the incident.
The deputy Executive Director Uganda Tourism Association, Mr Herbert Byaruhanga, described the incident as very unfortunate, noting that it is a big blow to the country’s tourism sector.
“It will affect the tourism sector very much because lions are among the top animals that attract tourists into the area. The government should actually use force to get the people out or do not allow them to graze their animals in the park,” Byaruhanga proposed.
He said another factor which should be looked into is the number of prey animals which he said has tremendously reduced, forcing lions to move long distances in search of what to eat.
Conservationists have expressed concern over the declining number of lions in the country with current estimations putting the lion population at slightly above 400 across the country.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 13/4/2018
KILLING OF 11 LIONS IN QUEEN ELIZABETH NATIONAL PARK
Reference to various social media messages confirmed by the newspaper article by the Daily Monitor dated 13th April 2018, wherein we learned of the heinous killing of eleven lions (three mothers and eight cubs) belonging to the Kogere pride of Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP), which were reportedly poisoned for allegedly eating a cow belonging to a pastoralist living in the Hamukungu fishing village.
On behalf of the Board, management and entire membership of the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO) we condemn this malicious act as devoid of moral character by one serial enemy of tourism. Such acts undermine the efforts by tour operators to market the country and attract visitors to Uganda, and these acts of wickedness disregard the fact that many tourists come to Uganda, mainly for its nature (particularly the wildlife). And close to 80% of the tour operators’ business is dependent on nature which includes wildlife.
This is not only a loss to tourism, a sector contributing more than 10% to our country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and a leader in foreign exchange earnings for Uganda; but an injury to our country and the world at large; and this never would have happened at the worst time than when the national World Wildlife Day celebrations were in the Kasese area a few weeks ago, under the theme, “creating a safe environment for the survival of big cats”.
Quick Information about Lions in Uganda
Lions are the largest and most imposing carnivore in Africa. They are the only true social cats, they have special cultural significance and they sit high on the safari priority list that almost all tourists hope to see on a trip to Uganda. And from our members’ feedback, coming across them with their clients in the Ugandan bush is always a hypnotic experience. They are cats of few mysteries, one of scant species in the wild that can still afford to be visible and at rest; and yet, they are in trouble.
According to the Ministry of Tourism’s Statistical Bulletin Volume 4, Issue 1, Uganda’s lion population stood at a total of 493 individuals in 2014. A 2009 Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) national census of lions showed a decline from an estimated 600 a decade ago to 400 today; WCS estimated about 20-35 individuals in Queen Elizabeth National Park. With such low numbers, we cannot afford to even lose one lion.
While they have a relatively short gestation period, the survival of lions continues to be a warrying topic with the increasingly high mortality of the newborn cubs. Mortality rate for lion cubs including those that are younger than a year in captivity in 2009 was estimated at about 30 percent, compared to a 67 percent mortality rate for cubs in the wild). Lions are facing population decline as the ever growing human population reduces habitable landscapes in which they can live.
According to WCS, the two main threats to lions in QENP are snaring and conflict with pastoralists following predation of livestock or injury to humans. The majority of livestock keepers do not attend to their animals especially at night, which leaves them susceptible to lion predation. This human-lion conflict often triggers the retaliatory poisoning of the cattle carcasses killed by the lions and death of any animal that then feeds on it.
We request the Government of Uganda to support the wildlife crime investigations unit to thoroughly examine the incident; apprehend and punish the culprit, and use him/her as an example to the rest.
We also believe it’s high time the Government of Uganda resettled the communities living inside the national park, or rethought the co-existence plan, borrowing from success stories like Kenya’s Maasai community in the Mara.
We request the Government of Uganda through Uganda Wildlife Authority to realign the profit sharing programs for the national parks, in order to directly benefit the local communities.
We further request for the launch of a nationwide sensitization on the importance of wildlife conservation to the country’s tourism sector and the overall economic sustainability of Uganda. This should start with the communities living in and around the national parks and should spread to all Ugandans of all ages.
The Association of Uganda Tour Operators is Uganda’s leading and only recognized tourism association representing the interests of the country’s registered, professional and most trusted tour companies; now over 22 years since its inception.
Signed by the Board Chair – link
On behalf of the Board, Management and entire Membership of the
ASSOCIATION OF UGANDA TOUR OPERATORS (AUTO)