“The whole country and the international community are mourning the loss of our lions because they were international icons for their capacity to climb trees,” Kamuntu said.
Tourism, wildlife and antiquities minister, Professor Ephraim Kamuntu led a moment of silence at Hamukungu fish landing village, Kasese district, on Friday in honour of the 11 lions that were found dead near the village Wednesday.
This was at a community meeting held at Hamukungu fishing village, Lake Katwe sub-county, where the minister also prayed for the lions, which he said had committed no crime.
According to the minister, the carcasses of a pride of lions that consisted of 3 adult lionesses and 8 cubs were found in Queen Elizabeth national park, about 100 metres from Hamukungu fishing village in Kasese district.
"May their souls rest in eternal peace," said Kamuntu, who looked and sounded grieved.
"The whole country and the international community are mourning the loss of our lions because they were international icons for their capacity to climb trees," he said.
Minister Kamuntu explained that the loss of the lions were a huge blow to tourism because nowhere else can climbing lions be found expect in Queen Elizabeth national park.
"So when you kill the main tourist attraction, you are killing the source of revenue which is used to provide you with services," Kamuntu said as several Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) officials, who had accompanied him, remained silent throughout.
The officials included Uganda Wildlife Authority Executive Director, Sam Mwandha, the Queen Elizabeth Conservation Area Chief Warden, Edward Esalu, the UWA Operations Director, Charles Tumwesigye and Ivan Batuma, a UWA Board member.
"Should more wild life animals, especially lions, be killed, government will take very harsh action against them," Kamuntu warned.
He said preliminary findings from the samples from the carcasses, the soils and the dead flies from the scene pointed to poisoning, challenging the residents to help expose the suspects.
He warned further, "Unless you help us to produce the culprits, you will all remain suspect. "I want you to help us find the culprit(s). Until then, you are all suspects."
Recalling that that herdsmen had earlier killed lions in 2007 (13) and 2010 (about 9), Kamuntu said government might be tempted to chase the cattle away.
Law in offing
He, however, announced that government was finalsing a law that is expected to address the comfits between wildlife animas and communities surrounding protected areas, including compensation for bodily harm and the destruction of crops or domestic animals.
The Queen Elizabeth Conservation Area Chief Warden, Edward Esalu, estimated the entire lion population in the park between 40 and 55.
Speaking after the meeting, the new UWA executive director, Sam Mwandha, told New Vision that Uganda has only about 400 lions.
"So the death of the eleven lions here is a he loss because it means we have lost about 10% of the entire lion population," Mwandha said.
He said was going to use the existing and upcoming legal framework to address the challenges currently facing wildlife conservation including the destruction of wild animals and the invasive plants, which are an additional threat.
What residents said
Several leaders and elders in the area condemned the killing of the lions, noting that some of the residents were "related" to the lions and other wild animals because they animals were their totems, a relationship that has enabled them to co-exist for centuries.
"I am particularly shocked at this loss because the20% revenue sharing from the park has helped me to provide services including schools, health facilities for my people," he said.
Baluku, however, faulted the community conservation rangers for their laxity, noting that they are hardly on the ground in his sub-county.
"For instance, for six months, we have not seen any community conservation ranger, so information flow is very poor," Baluku said.
One of the area leaders, Muzamilu Bisanga, asked government to be more affirmative in allocating the revenue that accrues from the 20% UWA gate collections to enable the communities living gazetted areas to diversify their livelihoods.
"If our locals are also employed in UWA, mobilisation for conservation will be easier," Muzamilu also said.