Uganda is one of the world’s leading tourist destinations and most of the attractions for these increasing numbers of tourists are the national parks.
While visiting the national parks, seeing a lion or lioness has always been an exciting moment for most of these tourists. However, there remains fears of extinction of these animals commonly referred to as “Kings of the jungle” as their numbers in Uganda’s protected areas keeps decreasing.
According to the 2021 report entitled; state of wildlife resources in Uganda, by 2020, only four out of 10 national parks in Uganda had lions. The estimates do not reveal how many are male lions and how many are lionesses (female lions). By 2020, the report indicates that Murchison Falls National Park had the highest number with an estimated 250 lions, followed by Kidepo Valley National Park with 70, Queen Elizabeth National Park with 52 and Lake Mburo National Park had one lion. Semuliki which is another protected area to have had lions with at least an estimate of five to 15 in 2015, the only one remaining lion last seen in 2019 could not be located during the 2020 census.
Bashir Hangi, Public Relations Officer, Uganda Wildlife Authority said that the lion population in Uganda has faced a lot of challenges that cause death for many cubs.
There is high infant mortality of lions in Uganda and elsewhere. Lions die more when they are young. In most cases the elders kill cubs that are not of their genes. If a lion falls in love with a lioness which has cubs, it has to kill them because of issues of territory. Also, the cubs don’t see when they are much younger. So, while wandering around, they become prey to other animals, Hangi told this website.
Hangi added that another factor that has led to the reduction in the population of lions is the retaliatory killings by the communities neighbouring national parks.
The lions are also killed by people; some of them want lion parts while there is retaliatory killings, for example when they stray into the community, they are either hunted or poisoned added Hangi.
With fears of the lions getting extinct, the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC) is seeking UGX 10 billion in the budget of 2024/25 financial year to embark on the process of breeding of lions.
UWEC wants to carry out lion breeding in three national parks so that the population is increased. The revelation was made by Mwine Mpaka, Chairperson Parliament’s Committee on Trade and Tourism while presenting the tourism sector budget before the Budget Committee.
Speaking after the Committee meeting, Mwine explained,
Tourism requires UGX 10 billion to start breeding lions through Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC). We now have 15 lions at UWEC which we have been breeding, but the lion population in the country has gone down because of human wildlife conflict. We are now going to start breeding them in the wild in Queen Elizabeth, Kidepo and Murchison Falls National parks.
Mwine defended the expenditure pointing out that the breeding of these lions will take place within the national parks whose environment is different from that in the zoo.
He added that those bred in the zoo get used to seeing human beings yet there is a need to have the lions grow up in a more natural environment.
So the Ministry requires money to set up different facilities within the national parks where we are going to be breeding and releasing them, for example whenever we have enough. We can release five at ago into the wild just to increase the lion population, explained Mpaka.
He added that;
It is basically like a cage within a national park, so they will be monitored and treated to create a conducive environment for them to breed and survive in order to increase the population because we are losing several lions every year due to the human-wildlife conflict, electric fences, poisoning. So we need to bring these lions back to our game parks,
He said that the Government was prompted to come up with this strategy after recording a drop in lion population, pointing out that in 2022, Uganda had about 460 lions, but the number has dropped to about 310 lions but even this number could be much less.
We see that we are losing about 120 lions per year. We are looking at the possibility of releasing 15 lions every two years, he emphasized.
In the 2024/25 national budget framework paper, the Tourism sector has been allocated UGX 248.6 billion.
However, Mwine urged the Committee to ensure that the Tourism sector is availed with additional UGX 625.33 billion, noting that the sector has unfunded priorities to a tune of UGX 309 billion but due to budget constraints, the Tourism Committee considered unfunded priorities to a tune of UGX 96.3 billion as the most critical for the financial year 2024/25.
Among the unfunded priorities include, UGX 4 billion required by Uganda Tourism Board to engage international media like CNN, BBC and National Geographic to produce positive tourism stories in order to counter the recent controversies surrounding the attack on tourists. The money will also be used to promote a good relationship with international media houses.
The sector is also seeking UGX 4 billion to construct a metallic climbing ladder on Rwenzori mountain.
The current ladders are made of wood and they are dangerous and we have already invested Shs7Bn this financial year to develop mountain Rwenzori and we need to spend on these ladders, reported Mpaka.
Mwine also informed the Budget Committee that Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) is in need of UGX 1 billion to showcase Uganda as a tourism destination across all broadcasting channels, while the Missions Abroad are in need of UGX 3.7 billion to promote Uganda’s tourism.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority is seeking UGX 1.5 billion to acquire 1000 guns in order to arm the game rangers.
The Committee report revealed that UWA used to acquire guns from UPDF in the past but this arrangement was stopped by the army, thus the need for UWA to purchase its own guns.