5 lions poisoned in Queen Elizabeth park

May 20, 2010

FIVE lions and 16 vultures in the Queen Elizabeth National Park in western Uganda have died of suspected poisoning. Park rangers said one of the lionesses was pregnant.

By Michael Karugaba
in Kasese

FIVE lions and 16 vultures in the Queen Elizabeth National Park in western Uganda have died of suspected poisoning, acting warden Nelson Guma said.

The carcasses of three lionesses and two males, formerly part of a pride of about 10, along the Kasenyi track, were discovered about a kilometre from Hamukungu fish landing site on Wednesday. Park rangers said one of the lionesses was pregnant.

Guma expressed the fear that more lions and wild animals like hyenas, which feed on dead animals, could also be dead.

Usually local people complain of the wild animals eating their domestic animals, but Guma said there had been no such case in the recent past.

“It is unfortunate that people with bad hearts poison the lions and end up killing more animals than intended,” he said.

Reports said two people were arrested near the area where the lions were killed. The animals reportedly killed and ate six head of cattle two months ago.
Guma said he would investigate the claims.

Rangers yesterday retrieved the carcasses of the lions from the wilderness for examination. They also recovered two dead head of cattle and two cow skins. A swarm of dead green flies littered the area, indicating possible poisoning.

Dr. Margaret Drachiru, a veterinary doctor at the Uganda Wildlife Authority who took samples for testing, said the animals could have died on Sunday.

She added that the two head of cattle were not killed by the lions, but were slaughtered and placed there to trap the cats.

According to Guma, lions are the biggest tourist attraction in the Queen Elizabeth National Park.

The dead lions were the ones which tourists were sure to see at the park, which is said to hold about 105 lions. The park covers Kyambura and Ishasha sectors.

Experts, using scientific methods, found 214 cats between 1999 and 2004 in Uganda. But crude estimates put the number to about 745 across the country. It is believed that the Queen Elizabeth park and the DR Congo hold up to 905 African lions.

Perceived as a threat to livestock and humans, lions are also hunted for their skins and purported medicinal values. They are poisoned, shot, or speared by locals.

While lion populations in protected areas remain relatively healthy, conservationists say without urgent measures, they may disappear as their habitat is lost to deforestation and encroachers.

For example, in 2006, about 10 lions were killed in the park in areas which were temporarily occupied by the Basongora pastoralists who had been chased from the Virunga National Park in eastern Congo.

Uganda has 10 national parks. Lions are also found in the Murchison Falls in Kidepo Park. Some are said to be in the Semliki area in Toro.

In Lake Mburo National Park, however, the lions have become extinct.

The Uganda Wildlife Authority has put in place various interventions, including sensitising communities around the parks in an attempt to save the big cats.

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