On April 8, 2022, Uganda Peoples Defence Forces soldiers shot and killed a stray juvenile lion that had spent days murdering and eating people’s livestock in many communities in the western Uganda region of Kagadi (UPDF).
The lion was shot during a combined operation combining Uganda police, the Uganda Police Force (UPF), and the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), the country’s conservation agency.
The lion had killed an unspecified amount of livestock, including goats, cattle, and pigs, according to a statement from UWA, and had been seen by numerous persons.
The people overpowered security and skinned and shared the lion’s meat. What the people did with the meat is still unknown.
George Owoyesigire, the Acting Commissioner in charge of wildlife conservation at the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, told The Independent on April 13 that the treatment of the dead lion left many conservationists worried.
“The culture of eating cat meat has never been recorded anywhere in Uganda. So this incident worries us,” he told The Independent.
“Some think the people took home the meat to eat it while others think the meat could have been kept for other purposes, especially rituals. It is an isolated case but we still need to investigate it,” he told The Independent.
Dr. Gladys Kalema Zikusoka, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Conservation Through Public Health, a local non-profit that promotes harmonious coexistence between wildlife and the communities that neighbour protected areas, also told The Independent that she found the Kagadi incident “shocking”.
“I know that lions kill people’s livestock which often makes them angry, but even in Queen Elizabeth National Park where there has been a lot of confrontation between the lions and frontline communities, I have never seen anything like it.”
“Obviously, the Kagadi people don’t know the number of wildlife diseases they could pick up from eating lion’s meat,” Dr. Zikusoka said.
On the fateful day the lion was sighted, UWA staff stationed 30 kilometres away, at the UWA satellite outpost near Muhoro town, moved quickly to rescue the carnivore and possibly take it back into a protected area. But upon reaching the village, they found an already-charged community, armed with machetes, spears and clubs, were searching for the lion. The lion had mauled three men to near death that day.
“The lion was already stressed and enraged by the presence and noise of a huge crowd that was following the lion with the intention to kill it,” a statement from UWA published on April 9 reads in part.
Even when the people were asked by security to give way and let the UWA staff and police handle the problem animal, more crowds gathered due to the noise and alarm that was being raised.
One soldier sighted the lion and tried to shoot it but it unleashed one giant leap towards him and injured him. Fearing the worst, another soldier shot and killed the lion to save his colleague.
The crowd immediately overpowered security and skinned the lion and shared its meat. UWA pleas to hand over the carcass fell on deaf ears. UWA said in a statement that it only managed to secure the skin and the head from the carcass which were taken to police for record purposes and further investigations.
ASP Moses Muziima Kiconco, the District Police Commander for Kagadi, said the lion had terrorized the community for several days. John Musherure, who said his three goats had been devoured by the lion, told The Independent that the community had already decided to kill the lion.
‘‘The lion ate my three goats and it is good that the soldiers were able to kill it. Such animals should be protected in national parks and the government is supposed to compensate us,’’ he said.
One of the injured victims identified as Nabasa Tumusiime was rushed to Kagadi Hospital in critical condition. The victim’s wife, Tushemerirwe Katusiime, said the lion ripped off his arms and flesh from his thighs.
James Niwagaba, a resident of Kubushera village in Mpeefu where the lion was killed, says that they are now living in fear of more invasions of lions.
Straying of lions is not common in Kagadi District, according to local residents. Edward Asalu, the Chief Warden of Kibale National Park, which is the closest game park to this community, told The Independent that how the lion ended up in Kagadi remains a puzzle to them. He however suggested that it could have come from the smaller wildlife reserves near the park.
“Lions have never been encountered in Kabwoya Wildlife Reserve but there have been sightings of these cats in Tooro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve. They keep appearing and disappearing. It is still a puzzle for us but we think this lion most probably came from this wildlife reserve,” Asalu said.
This particular lion death comes about a year after six lions were killed in Queen Elizabeth National Park in southwestern Uganda in March 2021. Humans have slain 18 lions in the last three years. Stretched over to 2008, the number of lions killed is 25, according to reports by various wildlife conservation agencies.
Lions are currently listed “vulnerable” on the International Union of Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) “Red List” of threatened species. For a species that conservationists say is fast declining, the April 8 incident left local conservationists both sympathetic and pensive.
After Mountain Gorillas, lions are the most sought-after species by tourists visiting Uganda’s national parks and they are mainly found in the three largest savannah parks; Murchison Falls National Park in the northwest, Kidepo Valley National Park in the northeast and Queen Elizabeth National Park in southwestern Uganda.
Conservationists say the decline in lion numbers is mainly due to the conflict with pastoralists over the lion predation of livestock or injury to humans. But loss of habitat, illegal trade in lion parts, and climate change are said to be the main drivers of their declining numbers.
In response to questions of whether the lion killing in Kagadi showed UWA still needed to do work to educate frontline communities on how to live with wildlife in their midst, UWA officials said the incident had nothing to do with a lack of awareness about the importance of wildlife.
“It is not lack of education and sensitization but a reaction to a loss; we react differently in such situations,” Bashir Hangi, UWA’s communications manager told The Independent.
“People’s reaction after losing their livestock is understandable and nothing out of the ordinary. However, I agree that we need to do more sensitisation countrywide so that people report cases of problem animals immediately for us to respond.”
For Zikusoka, what the incident showed is that it is high time local governments helped the specialised conservation agencies like UWA and the National Forestry Authority (NFA) to create more awareness.
“UWA and the NFA cannot be everywhere but local government is everywhere. So, let the District’s Natural Resources Officers, and Environmental Officers, and indigenous community- based organisations help these agencies to educate the public about such issues,” she said.
UWA officials said they have embarked on a sensitization campaign in the villages where the lion was sighted. The officials say they intend to continue sensitising people on how best they can report stray animals for proper handling.
This article by Ronald Musoke was first published by The Independent on 28 April 2022. Lead Image: (Martin van den Heuvel).
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