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Uganda Wildlife Authority protecting lions, communities and tourism

Experiential tourism was introduced in Uganda to allow visitors to actively participate in monitoring animals that live in the park using tracking devices.

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The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) successfully conducted an operation on January 3, 2019 and rescued three male lions in Kiyenge Village, Kabirizi Parish, Lake Katwe Sub-county, Kasese District. The exercise was led by a team of 16 experts led by Dr. Ludwig Siefert of the Uganda Carnivore Program.

In a statement by Bashir Hangi, Communications Manager, UWA, the operation was aimed at capturing the lions that had strayed outside Queen Elizabeth National Park and translocating them back to the park so that they don’t cause any danger to the neighboring community.

“The lions were fitted with a satellite collar and Hip with a Very High Frequency (VHF) in 2018 to monitor their movement in a bid to address the lion-human conflict that is rife at the interface. The satellite collars take fixes every two hours and enable our teams to know at any one day where the lions are moving,” the statement read.

The rescue team was comprised of UWA rangers and staff of the Uganda Carnivore program (UCP) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) who tracked the lions using the VHF signals to know their exact location.

The lions were lured with a bait of buffalo legs, and recorded sounds of prey animals including warthogs, hyenas, and buffalo calf were played. These calls lured out the lions to the set bait from where a darting vehicle was positioned nearby. All the 3 big male lions arrived at the stage and struggled to take off the bait that was securely fastened. Veterinary doctors already stationed in the area darted the three lions (application of anesthesia using special guns called dart guns) at intervals of ten minutes and the sleeping lions were loaded and transported back to the national park under the close watch of veterinary doctors who kept monitoring vital signs throughout the journey to ensure the lions’ eyes were closed, they were breathing, and they were well positioned.

The lions were released on Friday at Kasenyi plains, a distance of around 20 km away, from their natural area.

The Executive Director of UWA, Mr. Sam Mwandha, commended the rescue team for its commitment, professionalism, and hard work. “This is the true conservation spirit; we have conservation heroes who put their lives at risk to save wildlife and also protect the communities,” said Mr. Mwandha.

Mr. Mwandha said that UWA will continue to embrace technology which enables quicker tracking of animals for purposes of monitoring the movements so that they can be easily prevented from going outside the parks and disturbing the communities. He added that with increased use of technology, such operations will continue being undertaken as one of the ways of minimizing human wildlife conflicts – a major problem in cattle keeping communities surrounding protected areas.

According to David Bakeine, a conservationist and safari guide: “The three adult lions aged about 10 years are nomadic in nature, and one of the reasons they are going out of the park could be to expand on their territories in search for females.

“The significant fall in prey numbers such as those of Uganda Kobs, as evidenced by reduced field sightings, cannot be ruled out. There’s urgent need by UWA to intensify park restoration programs, rid the park of invasive plant species, for the prey numbers to thrive and contain the predators ‘lions’ within the confines of the park.”

To ameliorate the problem, experiential tourism was introduced to allow visitors to actively participate in monitoring some of the mammals that live in the park using tracking devices. Of the revenues accrued by the park fee, US$10 goes directly to the communities. This has not been without its criticism with researchers meeting overwhelming demand from visitors whose visit to the park is incomplete without the sighting of lions.

Sadly, in April last year, this did not prevent a pride of three mothers and eight cubs from being poisoned by suspected cattle keepers from the neighboring Hamukungu fishing village which caused national outrage.

With the success of the recent rescue mission and intense monitoring, such incidences should hopefully be reduced or eliminated altogether – a cause for celebration to herald in the new year.

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