AboutZoos, Since 2008


African lion los­ing ground in Uganda’s paradise

pub­lished 02 Novem­ber 2013 | mod­i­fied 03 Novem­ber 2014

Con­ser­va­tion­ists from the Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Soci­ety and the Uni­ver­sity of St. Andrews warn that Uganda’s African lions — a main­stay of the country’s tourism indus­try and a sym­bol of Africa — are on the verge of dis­ap­pear­ing from the country’s national parks.

African lion tree UgandaAccord­ing to the results of a recent sur­vey, African lions in Uganda have decreased by more than 30 per­cent over the past 10 years in some areas of the coun­try, mostly the result of poi­son­ing by local cat­tle herders, retal­i­a­tions for live­stock pre­da­tion, and other human-​related con­flicts. The down­ward trend in lion num­bers has con­ser­va­tion­ists con­cerned about the species’ long-​term chances in the coun­try, often described as the “Pearl of Africa” for its nat­ural wonders.

African lions are a vital com­po­nent of these ecosys­tems. They play an impor­tant role in dis­ease con­trol of antelopes and buf­falo by killing the sick animals
Edward Okot Omoya, lead author, WCS conservationist »

The paper, in press and to be pub­lished in the upcom­ing issue of the jour­nal Oryx, describes the results of a “lure count” analy­sis sur­vey to esti­mate the den­sity and pop­u­la­tion dis­tri­b­u­tion of lions and spot­ted hye­nas in Uganda’s three major con­ser­va­tion areas, con­ducted by researchers between Novem­ber 2008 and Novem­ber 2009. The researchers used a buf­falo calf dis­tress call (broad­cast via speak­ers mounted on a vehi­cle roof rack) to attract both medium and large car­ni­vores to the “call sta­tions” as a means of cal­cu­lat­ing a cur­rent pop­u­la­tion esti­mate for the study loca­tions. Pre­vi­ous sur­vey meth­ods used to count lions have included count­ing roars, iden­ti­fy­ing indi­vid­ual cats, and mark-​recapture meth­ods, but the meth­ods are time-​consuming and expensive.

Over­all, the call sta­tion sur­veys attracted a total of 66 lions, 176 spot­ted hye­nas, and seven leop­ards. The broad­casts also attracted a host of smaller preda­tors, includ­ing side-​striped jack­als, black-​backed jack­als, white-​tailed mon­gooses, and large spot­ted genets.

Using the data of ani­mals observed, the analy­sis gen­er­ated an esti­mated lion pop­u­la­tion of 408 ani­mals in the three main strong­holds for lions in Uganda, nearly two hun­dred fewer lions than esti­mates made in 20002002 (a sta­tis­ti­cal decrease of more than 30 per­cent). In Queen Eliz­a­beth Con­ser­va­tion Area, esti­mated lion num­bers have decreased from 206 to 144 over the past decade (a 30 per­cent drop). In Murchi­son Falls Con­ser­va­tion Area, the team esti­mates a nearly 60 per­cent drop (from 324 to 132 lions in the past decade). Only in Kidepo Val­ley National Park did the researchers detect an increase in esti­mated lion num­bers (climb­ing from 58 to 132).

”Lions are the species tourists most want to see in Uganda’s savan­nas accord­ing to research by WCS. Sur­veys of tourists have shown that they would be 50% less likely to visit the parks in Uganda if they couldn’t see lions, and if they did visit they would want to pay less for the expe­ri­ence. As an indus­try that gen­er­ates more for­eign cur­rency in the coun­try than any other busi­ness this could have sig­nif­i­cant con­se­quences for Uganda” reported Dr. Andrew Plumptre, WCS’s Direc­tor for the Alber­tine Rift.

The study also rep­re­sents the first sur­vey of hyena num­bers from these areas, gen­er­at­ing a pop­u­la­tion esti­mate of 324 hye­nas (the researchers sus­pect — but can­not prove— hye­nas to be in decline as well).

Con­ser­va­tion areas such as Queen Eliz­a­beth and Murchi­son Falls, which for­merly con­tained the high­est bio­mass of mam­mals on Earth, depend on the del­i­cate bal­ance between preda­tors and prey. Their loss would per­ma­nently alter two of Africa’s great ecosystems.
(Dr. James Deutsch, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of WCS’s Africa Program)

The cri­sis in lion con­ser­va­tion in Uganda reflects the sta­tus of the species across Africa, where lion pop­u­la­tions have dropped by 30 per­cent over the past two decades as a result of ille­gal killing and the loss of both habi­tat and prey. The most recent esti­mate of Africa’s total lion pop­u­la­tion is approx­i­mately 32,000 ani­mals. A group study led by WCS esti­mated that 42 per­cent of major lion pop­u­la­tions are in decline. The species is nearly extinct in West and Cen­tral Africa. The species is listed as “Vul­ner­a­ble” by the IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species, but there is a cur­rent pro­posal to list the species as “Endan­gered” under the U.S. Endan­gered Species Act because of the con­tin­u­ing global declines.

The Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Society’s Bronx Zoo exhibits African lions in its African Plains habi­tat, a nat­u­ral­is­tic exhibit space that exhibits both preda­tor and prey species sep­a­rated only by moats. The Bronx Zoo’s lions are part of the Species Sur­vival Plan (SSP), a breed­ing coop­er­a­tive admin­is­tered by the Asso­ci­a­tion of Zoos and Aquar­i­ums designed to enhance the genetic via­bil­ity and diver­sity of ani­mal pop­u­la­tions in accred­ited zoos.

(Source: WCS press release, 24.10.2013)

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Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.

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