The conservation fraternity in Uganda is mourning the loss of a pride of lions at Hamkungu fishing village, an enclave of Queen Elizabeth National Park.
This comes just a month after the country joined the rest of the world to mark the UN World Wildlife Day Celebrations under the national theme: “Creating a safe environment for the survival of big cats”.
Speaking to the Daily Monitor, the Uganda Wildlife Authority communications manager, Mr Bashir Hangi, confirmed the incident.
“It is true we lost a pride, three mothers and eight young ones, in a fishing village called Hamukungu,” Mr Hangi said.
He added that the authority suspects that these lions were poisoned, but investigations will establish the actual cause.
“We are suspecting poisoning. The information we have is that they attacked someone’s cow but we are yet to establish who exactly,” Mr Hangi said.
He described the incident as shocking and unexpected given the collaboration that has been ongoing between the authorities and community.
“We celebrated the survival of big cats on March 3 and someone cannot come in April and kill 11 of them, there is no way someone can think that this is resting today or tomorrow” Mr Hangi noted.
Meanwhile, the commissioner Wildlife Conservation in the Ministry Of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Dr Akankwasah Barirega, confirmed that preliminary observations point to poisoning with investigations underway.
“We have commissioned investigations into the matter. We shall use the evidence gathered to prosecute and if convicted decisively punish the perpetrators of this heinous crime,” Dr Barirega said.
He said the investigations are to be carried out by the wildlife crime investigations unit.
“I can confirm that we shall get to the bottom of the situation. Whoever did it will face the long arm and the full wrath of the law,” Dr Barirega assured.
Meanwhile, players in the sector have also expressed shock and disappointment over the incident.
The deputy Executive Director Uganda Tourism Association, Mr Herbert Byaruhanga, described the incident as very unfortunate, noting that it is a big blow to the country’s tourism sector.
“It will affect the tourism sector very much because lions are among the top animals that attract tourists into the area. The government should actually use force to get the people out or do not allow them to graze their animals in the park,” Byaruhanga proposed.
He said another factor which should be looked into is the number of prey animals which he said has tremendously reduced, forcing lions to move long distances in search of what to eat.
Conservationists have expressed concern over the declining number of lions in the country with current estimations putting the lion population at slightly above 400 across the country.