Jacob, a seven-year-old male lion was caught in a trap that severed his left hind leg. Fortunately, he had been fitted with a satellite collar that enabled Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) together with Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) rangers in the Southern sector — popularly known as Ishasha Sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP) — to locate and save him from losing his life.
In 2018, eleven lions in Ishasha sector, Kyambura Wildlife Reserve and the Northern Sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda were fitted with satellite collars embedded with a Global Positioning System (GPS) to enable WCS to monitor their movements in real time and minimize fatalities caused by poaching and human-wildlife conflict. Jacob was one of the lions that received a collar.
Jacob belongs to a small population of 100 rare tree-climbing lions popular in QENP. These are the most sought-after tourist attraction species after mountain gorillas, making Uganda a popular destination. However, lions face enormous threats, including retaliatory killing in response to livestock depredation, poaching for their body parts such as teeth, tails and fat for cultural and traditional practices and possibly for illegal trade. These parts are used as a source of medicine by traditional practitioners, and are treated as a source of power, charm and luck by communities for businesses and wealth acquisition.
While a few lions break free from poachers’ traps, their hope is often short-lived. This is due to the injuries they sustain that weaken and make them vulnerable to large prey or aggression from other males of their own that come to take over their prides or territory. Such was the case of Jacob when he crossed the Ugandan border to Virunga National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during a hunting experience, and accidentally stepped into a poacher’s trap that snapped off his hind leg.
Monitoring and tracking radio signals transmitted by Jacob’s collar
In June 2020, remote transmission of coordinates from Jacob’s collar captured his movement to Virunga National Park in DRC. The area falls within Jacob’s home range — supporting his normal activities of hunting, mating and possibly in the future, caring for his young. While the rangers continued to receive coordinates from Jacob’s collar, they could not undertake a rescue mission even after coordinates from his collar showed limited movement for three months. According to the rangers, no action could be taken to rescue Jacob without a formal transboundary collaboration mechanism between UWA and Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) of DR Congo to allow them to cross the international border easily. To their relief, in August 2020, a slow-moving Jacob was sighted crossing into Uganda. The relieved team of rangers and WCS field staff immediately set out with a hand-held receiver connected to a directional antenna to track him, and picked up the radio signal transmitted by Jacob’s collar. They found Jacob gravely injured and exhausted.