The rapid decline of Lion numbers in both the Southern and Northern sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP) has prompted stakeholders to take firm action in order to reverse the declining trend.
Previously estimated at 140-160 in 2013 by WCS (http://journals.cambridge.org), the number of lions has significantly declined to less than 100 in 2018, exacerbated by the poisoning incident in Hamukungu fishing village where a pride of eleven individuals was killed by the community.
This triggered a spirited online public discussion as well as meetings by Stakeholders started by Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Uganda program to tackle the human-carnivore conflict situation. Thereafter, it was agreed that a lion alliance for Queen Elizabeth Protected Area be established to develop a comprehensive strategy for mitigating human-lion conflict. The first meeting was held on 5th September 2018 at Kasenyi Safari Camp bringing on board Eco-lodge owners, conservation organizations and Uganda Wildlife Authority.
During the meeting, stakeholders identified “champions” and mapped the hot lion conflict zones based on the lion monitoring, and explored opportunities of using lion monitoring data to develop a rapid lion rescue response and community engagement mechanism to prevent lion killings as well as livestock depredation.
Addressing participants during the meeting, the Country Director of WCS, Simon Nampindo underscored the importance of forming an alliance to ensure effective collaboration and fundraising opportunities to support lion conservation in the park. A workable solution must be developed and deployed to stop the lion killings and promote a mutual coexistence of people and lions. All parties agreed to mobilize resources and conduct conservation education and awareness among the communities. “The Oakland Zoo managed by the Conservation Society of California (CSC) has set aside about $20,000 for lion conservation in QENP beginning October 2019,” Simon explained. Simon also noted that the Wildlife Conservation Network who manages the Lion Recovery Fund are eager to to support the alliance in any way possible.
Simon updated participants about a prior rapid assessment of the lion conservation situation in the Southern sector of QENP by the Lion Guardians, from Kenya early July this year which was aimed at initiating the process to develop a comprehensive human-carnivore conflict mitigation plan.
The stakeholders agreed to develop a community-based carnivore conflict mitigationstrategy, stating clearly the key measurable objectives and outputs. This will also include establishing the motivations behind lion killing, developing base-line metrics and protocols to measure impact, tailoring an effective conflict mitigation intervention based on understanding of motivations, develop and maintain other initiatives to increase community participation in environmental issues and continuing to build trust with the communities, and recruiting an Advisory Council of five influential people that the community respects and listens to.
Dr (vet) Margaret Driciru, the Principal Warden in charge of Monitoring and Research in Queen Elizabeth Conservation Area(QECA) presented the state of, and threats to lion conservation in and around QENP.
Margaret highlighted the myriad of threats as lion-livestock conflict, which she said is the major cause of lion deaths, easy access to pesticides such as Carbofurans(Furadan), a toxic carbamate pesticides used in retaliatory killing of lions, widespread snaring inside the park that is responsible for 2-3 lion deaths annually and retaliatory killings responsible for the annual death of 2-3 young male lions attempting to disperse.
Margaret, however, noted that the presence of research teams in the field has significantly reduced illegal activities in the park, but political-economic factors associated with human settlements inside the park are worsening the human-lion conflict,” Driciru added.
Private sector partners in conservation and the tourism sector, particularly eco-lodge owners, tour operators and others shared their experiences and their overarching observation was the dissatisfaction expressed by tourists when they do not see lions on during the game drives inside the park.
Phillip Kiboneka, the proprietor of the Kasenyi Safari Lodge said, “The unique experiences that tourists used to enjoy around the park in early 2000s have significantly reduced. For example, it takes 3-4 days for them to see a lion.” Other stakeholders cited high human population growth, leaders failing to lead by example and limited engagement of local people in tourism activities among others.
Philipo Ormorijei from the Tanzanial Lion Illumination Project (TLIP) demonstrated the an innovative method of keeping lions away from the cattle kraals using solar-powered-flickering-lights that have been successfully tested and is now being used in Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzanina and other lion conservation areas of Kenya to prevent depredation.
As a call for action, participants proposed immediate interventions as: de-snaring the park to reduce the risk of lions being injured or killed; establishing a lion-human conflict response and rescue unit and equip it with the necessary tools (vehicle, vuvuzelas, flashlights, etc; applying appropriate technologies like lion lights) and methods to prevent depredation and reduce human-lion conflict; initiating livelihood interventions like bee keeping, sesame and chilli growing, craft associations for women and engage local communities in tourism activities to enable them appreciate the benefits of conservation; developing a community education and sensitization program through seminars, drama groups, community exchange visits to other parks (including to parks in Kenya, and Tanzania); addressing the local community leadership crisis by identifying key opinion leaders/influential persons from the communities, traditional/cultural, and religious leaders to work with and the Government of Uganda/UWA to enhancing efforts to reduce poaching by increasing law enforcement and staffing
Medium term interventions proposed included: working closely with key partners to increase the park benefits to the frontline communities by creating an education fund to provide scholarships to the girl child, strengthening wildlife clubs in schools – primary, secondary and tertiary institutions; UWA engaging the local governments to meaningfully utilize the revenue sharing money to address critical community needs; improving livestock management through pasture, breeds, and diseases mainly in the northern sector and encouraging adoption of better husbandry practices such as zero grazing and construction of lion-proof kraals; diversifying tourism packages; restoring the prey base with the option presented being reintroducing of appropriate species informed by research; developing a collaborative multi-sectoral program to address human-carnivore conflicts with key constituencies cited as fisheries, agriculture, health, education, local governments, tourism; , water/wetlands and Working with traditional healers and practitioners to stop killing of lions for medicinal purposes. Long-term interventions were also discussed.
This meeting was supported by the Lion Recovery Fund though WCS while Kasenyi Safari Camp Proprietor Phillip Kiboneka offered his Camp for the meeting.
The WCS team led by Dr. Simon Nampindo included IWT and Trafficking Projects Manager, Geoffrey Mwedde, the Lion Research Officer, Mustafa Nsubuga, the Lion Project Community Officer, Benjamin Sunday, the Community Liaison Officer, Caroline Twahebwa, and Corporate Engagement and Communication Manager, Helen Mwiza. The UWA team led by Dr. Margaret Driciru(Vet) included Ronald Tindyebwa the Tourism Warden, Edward Asalu the Chief Park Warden and Robert Mbagaya the Warden Law Enforcement. The Uganda Conservation Programme (UCP) was represented by Dr. Siefert Ludwig (Vet), Kenneth Mugyenyi (Scout) and James Kalyewa (Senior Research Assistant. Other stakeholders included Alex, a Ph.D. student, Julia Lloyd from Makerere University, Kris Debrel from Enjojo Lodge, Michelle and Kevin Stutton of little elephant camp, Patricia Vaughn from Tanzania lion illumination project; Kevin James from Volcanoes safaris and Paul Goldring of Ishasha Wilderness Camp.