October 24, 2013
Uganda’s Lion Populations On Slippery Ground
[ Watch the Video: Lions In Uganda On The Verge Of Disappearing ]
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
African lions have long been a powerful symbol of the continent’s untamed wilderness regions, but these majestic cats may not be strong enough to maintain healthy populations. Scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the University of St. Andrews warn that Uganda's African lions are on the verge of disappearing from the country's national parks, in a new study recently published by the journal Oryx.
"African lions are a vital component of these ecosystems," said WCS program manager and study author Edward Okot Omoya. "They play an important role in disease control of antelopes and buffalo by killing the sick animals."
The new study performed a survey using a 'lure count' to estimate the population density and distribution of lions and spotted hyenas in Uganda's three main conservation areas. The method involved broadcasting a buffalo calf distress call via speakers mounted on a vehicle to attract carnivores of all sizes. Previous methods used to count lions have included counting roars, spotting individual cats, and tagging, but these methods are time-consuming, costly and not always accurate.
The lure count method attracted a total of 66 lions, nearly 180 spotted hyenas, and 7 leopards. The broadcasts also attracted smaller predators, such as side-striped jackals, black-backed jackals, white-tailed mongooses, and large spotted genets.
The researchers estimated a lion population of 408 animals in the three main Ugandan lion preservations, almost two hundred fewer lions than estimates made in 2000-2002. In the country’s Queen Elizabeth Conservation Area, estimated lion numbers have dropped from 206 to 144 over the past ten years. In Murchison Falls Conservation Area, the researchers’ estimates have the population falling from 324 to 132 lions in the past decade, a 60 percent drop. In a bit of good news, the Kidepo Valley National Park saw an increase in estimated lion numbers, from 58 to 132.
"Lions are the species tourists most want to see in Uganda's savannas according to research by WCS,” said Andrew Plumptre, WCS's Director for the Albertine Rift. “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.”
The study is also the first to survey the numbers of hyenas from these areas, finding a population estimate of 324 individuals.
"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," said James Deutsch, Executive Director of WCS's Africa Program. "Their loss would permanently alter two of Africa's great ecosystems."