Ugandan National Park loses nearly 60% of lions in 10 years

A recent wildlife survey has highlighted that lions in some of Uganda’s conservation areas are dropping in number. In some areas the losses could be as great as 60% over the last 10 years. It is estimated that just 408 lions remain in the 3 top strongholds for lions in the country.

African lions are a vital component of these ecosystems,” said WCS conservationist Edward Okot Omoya, the lead author of the study. “They play an important role in disease control of antelopes and buffalo by killing the sick animals.”

The survey was carried out by researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the University of St Andrews. The researchers used a ‘lure count’ for the survey where a call from a distressed buffalo was played over loudspeakers. The count was undertaken between November 2008 and November 2009. It has just been published in the Oryx journal.

The lure call surveys attracted a total of 66 lions, 176 spotted hyenas, and seven leopards. The broadcasts also attracted a host of smaller predators, including side-striped jackals, black-backed jackals, white-tailed mongooses, and large spotted genets.

The surveys were carried out in three conservation parks in Uganda which are considered to be the strongholds for the lion in the country. The parks were  Queen Elizabeth Conservation Area,  Murchison Falls Conservation Area and the Kidepo Valley National Park.

The numbers of the count were compared with a similar count in 2002 and the total numbers of lions estimated in 2009 was put at 408 compared to 588 in 2002. Murchison Falls was particularly hard hit with falling lion populations.

Queen Elizabeth Conservation Area saw its lion population fall from 206 to 144 lions over the last 10 years – a drop of nearly 30%.

Murchison Falls Conservation Area has seen a drop from 324 lions to just 132 – a fall of nearly 60% in the last 10 years.

Kidepo Valley National Park was able to beat the downward trend with a rising lion population from 58 to 132.

Lions are the species tourists most want to see in Uganda’s savannas according to research by WCS. Surveys of tourists have shown that they would be 50% less likely to visit the parks in Uganda if they couldn’t see lions, and if they did visit they would want to pay less for the experience. As an industry that generates more foreign currency in the country than any other business this could have significant consequences for Uganda” reported Dr. Andrew Plumptre, WCS’s Director for the Albertine Rift.

Conservation areas such as Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Falls, which formerly contained the highest biomass of mammals on Earth, depend on the delicate balance between predators and prey,” said Dr. James Deutsch, Executive Director of WCS’s Africa Program. “Their loss would permanently alter two of Africa’s great ecosystems.”

The loss of lions in Uganda appears to be predominately from cattle herders laying out poisoned bait in retaliations for losses to their livestock.

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