The Decline of Uganda's Lions

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Photo © Julie Larsen Maher / WCS.

Last December, I wrote an article about the disturbing rate at which Africa's lions were losing habitat due to destructive human land use practices.

Now, less than one year later, new research has been published that adds to those concerns and further brings into question the future of lions in Africa. A recent study reveals that during the past ten years, African lions in three of Uganda's major conservation areas have suffered declines of more than 30 percent.

Without conservation intervention and added protection, lions may soon be absent from Uganda's national parks.

Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in New York and the University of St. Andrews in Scotland conducted a survey of lions in three Ugandan national parks—Queen Elizabeth Conservation Area, Murchison Falls Conservation Area, and Kidepo Valley National Park. Of the three parks, only Kidepo Valley National Park showed an increase in lion numbers over the past ten years—from 58 to 132 lions. Lions in the other two conservation areas suffered significant declines.

In Queen Elizabeth Conservation Area, lion numbers decreased from 206 to 144 individuals (a 30 percent decline); in Murchison Falls Conservation Area, lion numbers dropped even more drastically, from 324 to 132 individuals (a near 60 percent decline). The research team estimates that the total lion population in Uganda today consists of 408 lions.

This is almost two hundred fewer lions than were counted in the 2000-2002 survey.

Humans pose the biggest threat to Uganda's lions. There are frequent conflicts between lions and local cattle herders. When lions kill livestock, herders often retaliate by placing poison out for the lions. Despite the conflict with lions over livestock, humans benefit greatly from Uganda's lions.

Conservationists emphasize the importance of tourism in Uganda. If lions go extinct in the country, there will likely be a negative economic impact.

References

Omoya EO, Mudumba T, Buckland ST, Mulondo P, Plumptre AJ. Estimating population sizes of lions and spotted hyaenas in Uganda's savanna parks. Oryx, 1-8. Oct 2013. DOI:10.1017/S0030605313000112