The Uganda Wildlife Authority has confirmed the death of 11 lions at Hamkungu fishing village in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Kasese District.
According to UWA, the pride that comprised of, three adult lionesses and eight cubs could have been poisoned by a local in the area.
“It is a sad day for us as an institution and we regret that we lost 11 lions at Queen Elizabeth National Park. We suspect that they fed on poisoned meat,” Bashir Hangi, the communications manager for UWA said.
According to Hangi, UWA is working with security agencies to investigate the matter and bring criminals to book. He condemned the act.
“As a country we are benefiting mostly from nature tourism, so when someone comes and kills 11 lions, that person is an enemy of the country,” he added.
The death of the pride spells a huge blow to Uganda and East Africa at large which has been experiencing a drastic decline of lions.
In 2007, Uganda lost nine lions to poisoning, while in February 2018, Tanzania lost six lions due to revenge poisoning at Ruaha National Park, which is the biggest in East Africa.
Surveys indicate that the biggest threat to lions lives in East Africa is attacks from the community especially through poisoning and from trophy hunters, and poachers.
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. Murchison Falls National Park (MFNP) had the biggest decline from about 320 to 130 within a decade.
In Queen Elizabeth itself, the number of lions per square kilometer declined from 6 lions per 100 km2to 4 lions per 100km2in the last 10 years. The two main threats to lions in QENP are snaring and conflict with pastoralists following predation of livestock or injury to humans.
While in Lake Mburo, it is reported that the country’s asset (lions) are extinct.
A WCS assessment in 2006 showed that each individual lion in Queen Elizabeth National Park generated about $13,500 USD (Shs48m) per year for the national economy in terms of the revenue it brought into the country. An influencing factor was that tourists are willing to stay longer just to see lions.
Ecologically, lions play an important role in maintaining ecosystem health and balance by predating on herbivores, often targeting sick individuals and thereby keeping disease down,and disposing of carcasses. This makes lions important to Uganda’s economy and ecology.