By PATRICK JARAMOGI
KASESE- SHIFTMEDIA– Six dismembered lions believed poisoned were found scattered in the Queen Elizabeth Conservation Area on Friday.
The death of these lions, one of the leading tourist attraction sends bad signals regarding the safety of Uganda’s lions in the various parks.
After Uganda Wildlife Authority released a statement regarding the death of the lions, we dug deeper into the lion poisoning.
The findings are rather shocking, but since UWA has commenced investigations, we shall not pre-empt their findings. But the truth is the increasing demand for lion bones and parts in China, Thailand and Vietnam is fueling lion poaching in most Ugandan parks.
A resident in Kanungu (names withheld) intimated to us how scores of lion bone trade agents camp in nearby trading centers offering hefty packages for lion hearts, liver, and balls. “A dried lion heart goes for USD$ 2500- 3,000 (Ugx9.3m to Shs11m), while the liver goes for between USD$ 2,000 to 2, 500 (Ugx7.4m to shs9.2m). The Lion skeletons are bought at USD 1, 500 to 2,000 depending on demand,” said our source.
He said given the hardship and lack of money, many decide to venture into this deadly but lucrative lion poaching. “Most locals decide to rather try and die than die in poverty. Check the mushrooming houses within the parks, where do you think these monies are coming from?” he said. He said that most young men who succeed, head to the urban areas where purchase boda bodas and start a lucrative life.
Apparently the lion bones, we unearthed are being used as alternative to the depleting Tiger bones for Chinese Traditional medicines.
The source said some leading Chinese investors with multimillion industries connive with Lion bone agents, locals within the parks and unscrupulous Uganda Wildlife Authority Rangers.
“The parks are guarded, but ask yourself, how do you think these poachers gain access to the parks, poison the lions, remove the parts and walk away,” he said. Though he said the UWA rangers are paid between Shs5- 20m, these allegations wouldn’t be proved.
Lion bones are one of the most lucrative animal products sold on the illegal wildlife market.
John Kisembo from Kasese said the demand for lion parts by witchdoctors in Uganda and East Africa, especially Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was another factor for increased lion deaths.
“Witch doctors need lion parts to make potions used to cast out spells. Many politicians who have been visiting shrines ahead of elections, and now those threatened with eviction are asked to bring some lion parts,” he said. These are very worrying trends given the fact that the shrinking habitats, amidst conflict with local people, will only devastate the already depreciating numbers.
Our investigations revealed that the Lion bone trade is very contentious, complex, and has a diverse assortment of role players.
Uganda Wildlife Authority in a statement said it was saddened to announce the death of six lions in Queen Elizabeth National Park. “The carcasses of the lions were found last evening at Ishasha sector with most of their body parts missing. Eight dead vultures were also found at the scene which points to possible poisoning of the lions by unknown people,” said Bashir Hangi the Communications manager.
Hangi said a team of investigators is on the ground and collaborating with police in Kanungu district in handling this matter.
“Given that some of the body parts of the lions are missing, we cannot rule out illegal wildlife trafficking. UWA strongly condemns the illegal killing of wildlife because it does not only impact negatively on our tourism as a country, but also revenue generation which supports conservation and community work in our protected areas,” he said.
Tourism has been a top foreign exchange earner to the country contributing almost 10% of GDP and 23% of the total foreign exports. Nature tourism has been contributing USD 1.6 billion to the economy and also contributes to the wellbeing of communities surrounding the wildlife protected areas. Tourism revenue plays a critical role in improving the livelihoods of communities around the national parks. UWA gives back 20% of gate entry fees to the communities neighbouring through the revenue sharing scheme.
Though in the last five years UWA gave out a total of (USD 1.3m) UGX 4,457,283,992= to the communities neighbouring Queen Elizabeth National Park to enhance their livelihoods, this has not curbed on poaching.
Why are the Queen Elizabeth Lions targeted?
Ugandan Lions are rare due to their tree climbing nature. The lions at Ishasha are synonymous with tree climbing, something that puts them at exposure to risks.
The Queen Elizabeth Conservation Area, which measures 2,400 km2 and comprises the Queen Elizabeth National Park (1,977 km2), the Kyambura wildlife reserve (154 km2), and the Kigezi Wildlife Reserve (269 km2), is famous for its tree-climbing lions.
The latest research has also indicated that reduction in lion prey forces many of these lions to encroach into neighboring communities where they cause havoc by eating livestock of locals.
But in most cases, the locals kill the lions and leave it intact unlike this time around where body parts were found missing, a clear indicator that these are wildlife traffickers.
Our sources in Rubirizi said most of the lion body parts are first dried before they are handed over to the agents who deal with wealthy Chinese and Freight agents.
State House intervenes
A close State House source revealed to us that after the news of lion poisoning reached the fountain of honor, he promised to have this matter resolved once and for all. “The President is very concerned. Heads will roll at UWA. Given the fact that tourism, that is just picking up is again being affected,” he said.
Recently President Museveni directed UWA management to construct electric fences along the parks to prevent animal-human conflict.
A fence was erected in Queen Elizabeth National park to prevent marauding elephants, but the other parts are yet to have these fences. “The President wants to know how these people entered the park and poisoned the lions,” he said.
A 10-km solar-powered electric wire fence was erected in Kyenzaza II Village, Kirugu Sub-county in Rubirizi District following several complaints by residents losing their crops and lives to wild animals from Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Though the cost of erecting an electric fence is an expensive venture according to UWA. A km of such a fence costs USD6,000 (Shs22m)
Now according to our source, UWA management will be summoned to explain what exactly happened and what should be done to avoid similar incidents.