Lions and humans are in conflict in the wild parks of Uganda
Last October, I gazed out at the expanse of Queen Elizabeth Park, in Uganda, close to the comfy Mweya Safari Lodge where we were staying. The landscape was beautiful, peaceful…and kind of empty. Though we had seen a large and lovely herd of elephants the evening before, on this fine, clear morning, the habitat was clearly missing one of the most important parts of the eco-system: predators. All we could find were tracks.
We gazed down at the enormous cat foot prints, still clearly cut into the mud, and looked to Dr. Ludwig Siefert, a Makerere University lecturer, lion ecologist and our guide for the day. He explained the situation to us: The footprints belonged to a lovely female lioness who was clearly recently here, and tragically was no longer. This lioness, like many other predators in the area, had met a painful death by poison.
Later that day, we came across 3 juvenile lions, scruffy and likely to be hungry; they had lost their chief bread winner.
Our night drive also proved surprisingly empty. Dr. Siefert and his team sent hyena calls into the starry night, only to receive a quiet response. Eventually we saw four hyenas. Great news, except that our teen trip in July had observed thirty of them. It seemed likely that many hyenas were killed in the three months that had passed since then. This is not what we expected when we came to Uganda.
But we could guess what had happened to all these predators. Local Basongora herdsmen, or pastoralists, choose to graze their cattle inside the park, although they have access to lush pasture outside the park. The lions, searching for food, find cattle grazing in their habitat and naturally do what a lion does: have lunch. The Basongora solution for lions, leopards and hyenas that prey on their livelihood: put poison on carcasses and leave them as bait. The poison often includes furadan, an agro-chemical which causes a painful and not so quick death.
Death of magnificent predators is not the only issue with the practice. Eventually the hotels, restaurants and tour companies will face a loss of tourists.
The planet faces many cases of human-wildlife conflict, especially as the human population grows, habitats shrink and humans and animals are forced to live even closer to each other. Yet there are quite a few inspiring examples of solutions that honor the fact that all parties, human and non-human, must be granted health, space and means to eat. Other African countries are finding solutions to similar problems. When all parties work together, there are indeed solutions.
It is our hope that the ecologists, pastoralists, park rangers and predators find one in Queen Elizabeth Park. We sure would like to return.
To contact Dr. Siefert and support his work: firstname.lastname@example.org.