In Queen Elizabeth National Park, the King of the Jungle living between Kasenyi and Hamukungu and another living near River Nyamugasani in the north western part of the park are in danger of being poisoned.
“Poisoning of the lion is becoming a regular feature,” says Siefert, “it is only a question of when, but two more prides are exposed to poisoning because UWA can not eliminate intrusion of the cattle grazers in the park.”
The Lion may be the king of the jungle but in Uganda he is losing the battle to his would-be prey.
Armed with poison, Basongora herdsmen might drive lions and hyenas out of Queen Elizabeth National Park as they try to stop them from killing their cattle.
Wilson Okaali, the leader of the Basongora, says his tribesmen have no problems with wild animals, not even the lions. The Basongora, according to him, are like someone who is trapped between a rock and hard place. He says keeping wild animals is part of the heritage of the Basongora.
“It is not the intention of the Basongora to go against their heritage. It is the way the park is managed that has caused the local people to become hostile to the wild animals,” Okaali explains.
“We have been staying with wildlife for centuries because unlike many tribes we do not eat wild animals,” he adds.
Okaali noted that when the park was created in 1952, the Basongora were disregarded as “owners” of the land. He also states that despite changes in management of wildlife in Queen Elizabeth National Park, compensation is not provided for those who lose their cattle.
“We do not earn anything from wildlife yet the lions sometimes eat our cattle,” says Okaali. “Those accusing the Basongora are park managers who are employed and paid money for managing the park, but they do not want to listen to the victims of the raids by lions.”
According to local residents, park authorities did not respond to repeated warnings that a pride of lions was moving deeper into the park and approaching Hamukungu, a human enclave within the park. Previously, Basongora herdsmen had strayed into the national park to graze and ended up luring the pride.
The Uganda Wild life Authority executive director Moses Mapesa says lions are wild animals and that it is difficult to restrict them to the park. But it is possible to restrict livestock to the villages without moving into the park.
“The problem is that livestock is all over space. The cattle come to the park and go back to the villages. What happens is that the lions follow,” he says.
The lions, a critically endangered species, are hanging on by a thread. Biologists like Siefert estimate that there are less than 60 lions in Queen Elizabeth national Park as opposed to 100 a decade ago.
The big cats which are African kings, they never die alone. The poison set for lions also kills hyenas because they eat the leftovers from the lions’ meal.
Unlike the lions, the whole population of hyenas can get poisoned, according to Siefert.
He says accurate census for the hyenas in the whole park has not been undertaken, but the population could be declining.
For instance, he says, the hyenas that used to have dens around Mweya and Kabatoro have reduced from 54 to only five within the last two years.
“Though they gave birth recently only two of them are visible,” says Siefert. “They could have been killed by the Basongora’s poison.”
While the lion is one of the big five, which many tourists crave for, the sad reality is that it is disappearing from the landscape, according to Siefert.
“Tourists going out at night complain bitterly that although they see lions and leopards, they rarely get to see a hyena,” he says.
“Night Cultural wildlife tourism is under threat because you can’t take visitors out in the night when the nocturnal animals are not there.
When hyenas become excited they make a howling and clucking noise that sounds very similar to the laughter of an insane person.
However, when a hyena ‘laughs’ it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is happy. The hyena also makes this noise when it is feeling anxious or fearful, for example, when it is being chased by a lion.
The hyena knows that it can’t take on a lion and so the lion gets first choice as to what he eats for dinner. So, the hyena has to wait until the lion has finished and then he is allowed to eat as much as is left over.