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Radio Collars Saving Lions in Queen Elizabeth National Park

Human-wildlife conflict in Uganda has over the years been escalating between communities living in and around protected areas mainly around Queen Elizabeth National Park which is located in South Western part of Uganda.

 

Authorities put this escalation on encroachment by members of the community, clearance of natural habitats and the gripping poverty in the area.

 

These conflicts often stem from the fact that wild animals have been constantly attacking neighboring communities. Farmers here often count losses when their crop gardens are raided by the herbivorous wild animals. Herdsmen also incur losses when their livestock is attacked by the carnivores.

In retaliation, the aggrieved members of community also orchestrate revenge killings through acts such as poisoning while other opt to set up traps.

 

In 2018, a pack of 11 lions was killed near Hamukungu fishing Village, one of the 11 fishing villages in the vicinity of the Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda’s most visited game park. It was confirmed by authorities that all these lions had been poisoned

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This provoked worldwide criticism condemnation from conservationists and people in tourism circles. The incident also heavily highlighted the increasing friction between the people and the animals in this part of the world.

 

According to the latest census by the Uganda Carnivore Program, an organization that is working to protect the lions, Queen Elizabeth National park has about 250 lions which are also the main attraction to this park.

 

Hamukungu Fishing village on the other hand has had an unprecedented spike in its population currently estimated to be at 30,000 people.

 

Apart from fishing, residents here practice animal husbandry with many of them owning lots of cattle, goats and sheep which sometimes veer off to park in the search for pasture.

 

These animals are preferred by the predators because they are easier prey than antelopes, waterbucks, and the kobs that have learnt the art of evasion.

The increased attacks on livestock, undoubtedly are turning the villagers against the lions that are not only a great asset to the country but also the pride of Uganda’s wildlife.

 

Radio Collars on Lions

 

Last month, journalists and I with the support of Space for Giants and the Uganda Wildlife Authority participated in a fact finding mission to understand the methods that have been employed to protect the lions in their natural habitat.

 

Accompanied by 29-year-old Innocent Turyamuha, an experienced ranger who is part of the team that monitors the lions with radio collars. He explained why UWA chooses to use the radio collars to monitor lions.

 

“A radio Collar is a wide band of machine belting fitted with a small radio transmitter and battery. They are electronically configured with a transmitter that emits a signal at a specific frequency that can be tracked when trying to locate a particular collared lion. We dial the appropriate frequency every morning and locate where the lions are,” Turyamuha said.

 

On which animals are chosen to be collared, Turyamuha elaborates that a dominant lioness in a pride is selected and its history is then traced. Once it qualifies, it is darted with a tranquilizer.

 

When it is unconscious, a collar is then fastened around its neck and it is left in their view until it wakes up 2 hour later.

 

“We choose dominant lioness because they make up a social structure of like 10 to 15 lions meaning the rest of the lions depend on her unlike the lions that sometimes wander off alone,” he revealed.

 

Turyamuha added that the veterinary doctors also use the chance to collect biological samples of the blood, urine, saliva, ticks to measure physiological status and to record the DNA of the animals.

 

Why Radio Collars?

 

Lions range a lot and can be very difficult to find. Research shows that their pride territories may be as large as 400 square kilometers.

 

“It’s dangerous when they approach areas of the fishing villages since they are not in the know of their boundaries and when they want food they look for vulnerable individuals, in this case domestic animals like cows and goats,” Turyamuha said.

 

On a drive through the park, we sighted four lions snoozing off in a candelabra euphorbia tree. One of them poured out its golden showers before noticing us while a cub was on the ground finishing up the hunted meal of the day which was an old Buffalo according to our ranger.

 

This was just one kilometer away from the Hamukungu fishing village.

 

“We also collar the lions to monitor their movements, map out their territories, detect when they are sick, know which ones are in danger and protect them from being killed by the natives,” he expounded.

 

When asked if collars bother lions, Turyamuha revealed that it takes them like two days to get used before eventually ignoring them.

 

They make sure the collar is loose enough to be comfortable and snug enough to prevent the wild animals from getting stuck in vegetation.

 

The collar, he says, has been proven to be of no negativity to the life span of a lion or its reproductive health.

“In most cases we get lions that cannot get pregnant any more, are old enough and have proven to be healthily,” he said.

 

Beauty of the park

 

At Queen Elizabeth National Park, warthogs are seen snorting their way into peaceful phase of freedom, the buffaloes here also go on to bathe in the mud as a technique to get rid of the ticks that taunt them in the bright sunshine.

 

The graceful glide of the antelopes and waterbucks also shows the beauty of these herbivores especially as they graze on grassy joyfulness of the Savannah.

 

At only 20,000 shillings Ugandans can do a game drive and for foreign tourists the fee is 40 US Dollars and an extra 50 Dollars if you want the rangers to track the lions especially for research and conservation purposes.

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