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The Queen Elizabeth Park lion massacre

Declining lion numbers

Lions are currently listed as “vulnerable” on the “red list” of threatened animal species compiled by the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN).  The loss of habitat, poor regulation of illegal trade, and climate change are said to be the main drivers in their declining numbers. Their parts are traded in international rackets supplying alternative medicine and jewelry markets.

According to conservation agency, the Africa Wildlife Foundation, the lion population is on the decline in Africa’s wild. In just two decades, populations decreased by 43% and it is estimated that as few as 23,000 remain across Africa.  About 100 years ago, there were 200,000 lions.

A 2017 census of Uganda’s lion population put the number at 493, according to another conservation agency, Wild Aid, with nearly half of these living in Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Ahead of last year’s Lion’s Day celebrations, marked on Aug.10, conservationists on the continent called on African governments to strengthen the protection of the iconic carnivores to stem the threats to their survival linked to poaching, habitat loss and diseases.

Edith Kabesiime, the wildlife campaign manager at World Animal Protection, said that African lions were facing human and nature-induced threats hence the need to prioritize their protection.

“We have witnessed the population of lions in Africa decline in the last decade. There is a need to raise awareness on the plight of lions even as we celebrate them as Africa’s iconic species.”

The shrinking of prey base for African lions linked to massive hunting by local communities has also increased their risk of death through starvation.

Kabesiime said that a ban on international trade in lion’s products coupled with enforcement of laws to deter poaching will help reverse their declining numbers in Africa.

Kabesiime said although lions exist in 26 African countries, the continent has lost about 90% of the carnivores from its original number amid rapid urbanization.

Asked if indeed the communities understand the importance of wildlife in their midst, the UWA publicist Hangi told The Independent that most people in the communities do but in any given community you will always have rogue elements.

“A criminal minded person will always have a criminal mind,” he said, “They will always look at selfish interests and the lure of quick cash.”

Before the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism was Uganda’s leading foreign exchange earner, contributing about US$ 1.6 billion per year on average, according to Bank of Uganda statistics. And Uganda’s tourism sector is mainly nature-based.

Tourism revenue plays a critical role in improving the livelihoods of communities around the national parks as UWA gives 20% of gate entry fees to neighbouring communities through the revenue sharing scheme. In the last five years, a Shs4.45 billion was shared with communities neighbouring Queen Elizabeth National Park.

The revenue sharing scheme is meant to strengthen partnerships between local communities, local governments and management of wildlife areas leading to sustainable management of wildlife resources in protected areas.

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