By Gerald Tenywa
More cheetahs have been sighted in Kidepo National Park in Uganda, says John Masereka, the conservation area manager.
Previously there were fears that the cheetahs, which are among the rarest wild animals, were near extinction. In Uganda, they found only in the Karamoja sub-region.
The increased sightings have given hope to wildlife conservation that the situation is not as bad as it was thought, with the cheetah numbers in Uganda currently estimated at 20.
"It is becoming common to encounter cheetahs. Last month [December], tourists encountered six cheetahs. This is part of the brightest moments for visitors intending to see the big cats at Kidepo," said Masereka.
Cheetahs are among the key tourist attraction but they are also categorized among the endangered species, which are listed under Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild flora and fauna (CITES).
In essence, this means that if nothing is done to protect them or their habitat, they will become extinct.
Masereka said conservation efforts in protected areas such as Kidepo will help to secure the park and nearby landscapes such as the animals corridors for wildlife to thrive.
Aggrey Rwetsiba, a senior monitoring officer at the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) said the cheetah population is still small but it is growing and the prospects have never been brighter than now.
The cheetahs are elusive animals that belong to the cat family and frequent sighting is expected to boost the popularity of Kidepo as a true part of the remaining wilderness globally.
Covering 1,440 square kilometres, Kidepo is sitting in north eastern Uganda, sharing a border with Kenya and South Sudan. It was gazetted 50 years ago after Uganda's independence.
UWA's conservation programme at Kidepo has been boosted by the Africa Wildlife Foundation, which is being supported by USAID to implement a four-year programme that is expected to invest more in wildlife conservation within and outside Kidepo.
Others include UNDP, which is also implementing a four-year programme on conservation of critical landscapes in north eastern Uganda.
Cheetahs return to Kidepo