Big cats at a risk of extinction in Uganda
If you have of recent been on a wildlife safari in any of these national parks, you have noticed that spotting a single cat on a game drive is a big chance if not a blessing. The recent research reveals a drastic decrease in the population of big cats on the game viewing safaris in Uganda’s savannah national parks of Queen Elizabeth national park, Murchison falls national park Kidepo valley national park and Lake Mburo national park. Big cats include lions, cheetahs and leopards, which are carnivorous animals that entirely feed on meat. In the past years, these cats would be spotted hanging and resting in the trees and guides would know where exactly to find them which incidence is of now not guaranteed. Game viewing of the big cats complement other tourism activities in Uganda such as gorilla safaris to Bwindi impenetrable forest and Mgahinga gorilla national park, chimpanzee trekking in Kibale forest national park, bird watching, cultural tours, mountain climbing and forest walks among others which are done in different parts of the country.
The big loss of big cats is attributed to poaching, loss of habitats and human wildlife conflicts. Local people living in the boundaries of national parks have been found killing these cats for their expensive skins in the black market as well as encroaching on the national park to expand land for agriculture and settlement. Much as rumors for the decrease of big cats and other wildlife in savannah parks of Uganda were heard some time back, the loss of these cats was confirmed on the world wildlife day that took place on 3rd March 2018 in kasese district.
The theme for the world wildlife day was “big cats: predators under threat” and the major aim was to discuss on how to create a safe and comfortable environment for the survival and long living of big cats hence promoting sustainable tourism. The major aim of the event was to lay strategies on how to create a safe environment for the survival of Uganda’s big cats.
On this date, a big number of tourism professionals, students from certain schools and researchers took part in game driving but were unfortunate not to see any lion for the whole drive. All participants were left in shock wondering how that could be and concluded that no game drive is satisfactory with out big cats.
As they setoff for game drives, all travelers were so expectant to see wildlife not missing the lions, which are also known as the king of the jungle. However, it was a shock after driving for several hors without a single spot of the lion. Failure to see lions were a big disappointment to many especially those who were doing a game drive for the very first time. Game drive reward travelers with spectacular views of wildlife in the park such as elephants, buffalos, warthogs, antelopes, kobs, leopards, cheetahs, hippos, and many bird species. The best time to do game drives in the early morning and evening hours to catch upon with predators hunting and herbivores grazing before retiring to late afternoon and night rests.
Besides tourism professionals, the world wildlife day was attended by a group of former poachers who confessed their commitment to conservation to fight against the act. The former poaches are local people who would set traps in the park to catch and kill different animals for different purposes. Also the former poachers opened up that much as most big animals in the park such as elephants are hunted for their ivory that is highly demanded in the black market, big cats are largely killed for skins, revenge after destroying people’s domestic animals and pride of the local people against those who manage these national parks. In cases where park mangers are opt born in the area, local people develop grudges and opt to kill these animals as revenge which is surely unfair to these innocent animals.
Also, former poachers disclosed how expensive skins for the big cats are in the black market in away that money earned from selling one skin is enough to sustain a family for two months without working. Skins for big cats are mostly bought by European traders at 80 millions per skin, which they sell at a higher price after processing them into some precious products. Buyers from Europe pay over 80m for one skin, which they later sell at a higher price.
Altogether, Uganda the pearl of Africa shelters nearly 400 lions, which are split in Queen Elizabeth national park, Murchison falls national park and kidepo valley national park. In addition, Uganda hosts over 2000 which inhabit most of the country’s Open Savannah grasslands not forgetting the mighty cheetahs in Kidepo valley national park.
Best place to see the big cat
Much as these cats can be seen in all savannah grasslands all over Uganda, there are best places to see each cat. Lions are best seen in Queen Elizabeth national park, Murchison falls national park and kidepo valley national park. Some lions are also seen in lake Mburo national park and Semliki wildlife reserve though rarely seen. To see cheetahs, travelers must traveler to Kidepo valet national park or else in the northern side of Murchison falls national park.
Cheetahs seem to call most savannah national parks their homes and can therefore be seen in Queen Elizabeth national park, Murchison falls national park, Kidepo valley national; park, lake Mburo national; park and Semuliki valley national park.
What to be done
In order to protect the dying big cats, several strategies were suggested which are also hoped to out an end wildlife conflicts in these savannah national parks hence encourage an increase in the umber of big cats for sustainable tourism.
The plans include building of an electric fence in the boundaries of national parks to separate parkland and local peoples land. The fence is also to prevent wild animals from destroying people’s gardens and domestic animals hence putting an end to human wildlife conflicts one of the problems facing big cats. This suggestion was raised by the mayor of kasese town, Mr Godfrey Kabyanga who assured residents and tourism officials that the building of an electric fence
Include fast traffic the president’s directive of putting up electric fences will help to recover the number of big cats in Uganda’s wild and promote sustainable tourism in the pearl of Africa.
The involvement of local people in tourism was also raised as strategy to attract local people’s support for tourism after knowing the importance of wildlife conservation and tourism. It was realized that the ignorance of local people on the benefits of conservation was the major reasons for the increased human wildlife conflicts in national parks. Park managers were therefore called to involve local people in tourism activities such as porters and local guides which make them part of the team hence positive attitude and support for wildlife and tourism.
Similarly, sharing of tourism revenue with local people was realized vital in wildlife conservation. National parks cover large pieces of land, which local people would have used for agriculture and other activities. It’s therefore hoped that sharing of tourism revenue with local people would change people’s attitudes towards conservation hence limiting on the cases of human encroachment on national park land to expand land for agriculture and settlement. Sharing of revenue create a sense of stake holding among local communities hence their support for tourism and wildlife conservation.
Also, local people adjacent to the national park were advised to do bee keeping in the park boundaries. Since animals fear bees, bee keeping at the park borders is an indirect strategy to stop these animals from crossing over into people’s gardens.
In conclusion therefore, book a wildlife safari to any of the savannah national parks, have a closer look at the big cat, big five and other wildlife in Uganda rewarding you with memorable experiences.