Queen Elizabeth Park Lions Face Extinction
New Vision (Kampala)
9 November 2008
Posted to the web 10 November 2008
By Gerald Tenywa
A LION is supposed to be a strong, fierce animal that defends its den and protects the cubs from any danger. But, this seems not to be the case at Hakabale in Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Two weeks ago, a lioness was found lying motionless inside the park. It could not wake up! Not even to chase the Basongora herdsmen who were grazing nearby. it was dead.
“We found the lioness dead after it was poisoned and we could not find its cubs,” said Obong Okello, the chief park warden.
He says it is possible the cubs either died due to starvation or poison. Okello says a piece of meat sprinkled with purple granules was found in the gut of the carcass. “This confirms that the lioness was poisoned,” he says.
it is suspected the lions might have killed cattle belonging to the Basongora herdsmen and that is why they were poisoned.
“The lions feed on the carcass for many days after killing the animal and is possible poison was put on the carcass,” he says.
Okello said tests show that furadan, an intestinal poison, which is widely used as an agro-chemical countrywide, was the cause of the lioness’ death.
Another carcass of a lion belonging to Hakabale Pride was recovered by park authorities near Busunga in the northern part of Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Basongora herdsmen, who were grazing nearby, were arrested and later released pending further investigations by the Police in Kasese.
Last year, a whole pride of about 10 lions and four hyenas were poisoned by Basongora herdsmen.
The Basongora returning from the Democratic Republic of Congo where they had fled during the Allied Democratic Forces war near the Rwenzori Mountains.
They were later resettled in parts of Kasese on recommendations of a committee set up by President Yoweri Museveni.
But, most of the pastoralist, Okello said still kept many animals against the recommendations of the committee.
Lions headed to extinction
There is fear sweeping through wildlife conservation circles that lions could be wiped out if poisoning is not checked in Queen Elizabeth Park.
In the northern part of the park, the population of the lions has reduced.
“There could be about 20 lions left out of 40 in the park,” said Okello.
In the past, there were many wild animals, which predators could hunt, but today, cows are getting into the park and they easily get caught.
To avenge the death of their animals, the Basongora quietly put poison on the carcass and when the lions return to eat, they eat poisoned meat.
Lions in Lake Mburo National Park were alsodriven into extinction a decade ago by the Bahima herdsmen.
“We cannot conclusively say it is poisoning causing the extinction. There are other factors like disease.”
A census held in 1999 found that 250 lions were living in Queen Elizabeth National Park.
But today, the population is less than half, according to Dr. Margaret Dricuru, an official of the park.
The disappearance of lions will be a blow to the tourism industry.
The state minister for Serapio Rukundo said locals do not value the animals yet they are a source of revenue to the country.
Rukundo was speaking recently during a one-day workshop on human-wildlife conflicts. The workshop was organised by the Advocates Coalition for Environment and Development (ACODE).
It was funded by Care International in Kampala.
ACODE’s lead researcher Ivan Amanigaruhanga, says there is a problem of conservation being imposed on people.
“People should realise the benefits of conservation,” he said. He says people should be sensitised on how important the lions are to their lives especially in eradication of poverty through revenue.
“Colonialists introduced conservation to us when the population was still small. However, today, there is population explosion and the land is becoming small,” he said.
The director for conservation, Sam Mwandha, urged the local people to report to the park authorities whenever an animal attacks their cattle so that the lion can be relocated.
“It is possible to relocate the lions within the park to avoid the problem,” says.
He says laws against grazing inside the park should be enforced.
Will this save the lions from extinction? Okello agrees that with better working relationship conservation cannot fail.
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://bigcatrescue.org