They are called the kings of the jungle, and once they invade a community, the consequences can be dire.
Just last April, suspected herdsmen killed a pride of 11 lions that included eight cubs near Hamukungu fishing village, bordering Queen Elizabeth national park. The same fears returned on December 31 when suspicion rose that a pride of lions had moved out of the park towards Kiyenge village in Lake Katwe sub-county.
Those fears were rested after an investigation by Uganda Carnivore Program (UCP) discovered that the young lions had not left their habitat. But on New Year’s day, a satellite signal from a device fitted on three male lions gave an indication that the big cats were on the move into the villages neighbouring the park along the highway to Bwera.
They had moved for about 2km, raising fears that they could get trapped in the gorge along that route or even get killed by locals, costing Uganda in terms of tourism revenue.
According to Bashir Hangi, the communication manager at Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), the lions were fitted with a satellite collar and hip with a very high frequency (VHF) in 2018 to monitor their movements in a bid to address the lion – human conflict.
“The satellite collars take fixes every two hours and enable our teams to know where the lions are moving,” Hangi said.
Armed with a music system, recorded sounds of prey animals including warthogs, hyenas and buffalo calf plus legs of a dead buffalo, a team comprising of UWA veterinarians and rangers plus staff of Uganda Carnivore Program (UCP) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), last week set out on a mission to capture and repatriate the lions to the national park.
After the WCS and UCP teams successfully tracked the beasts’ exact location, the UWA team laid their trap, using the buffalo leg as bait, and from the music system, they played the recorded sounds of the prey animals.
“These calls lured out the lions to the set bait from where a darting vehicle was positioned nearby. All the three big male lions arrived at the stage and struggled to take off the bait that was securely fastened. Veterinary doctors already stationed in the area darted the three lions,” Hangi said.
The veterinarians darted the lions with an anaesthetic drug to weaken the beasts for their safe translocation. They later injected the lions with a tranquilizer before loading them on waiting trucks for transportation back to the park under close watch of the veterinary doctors.
The operation, which began at about 5:30pm on January 3 ended at 12:10am on January 4 when the lions were released at Kasenyi plains, 20km away.
“The operation was conducted in the evening because that is the time when carnivorous animals go out to hunt, and there are fewer disturbances,” Hangi said.
UWA executive director Sam Mwandha commended the rescue team for commitment, professionalism and hard work.
“This is the true conservation spirit; we have conservation heroes who put their lives at risk to save wildlife and also protect the communities”, said Mwandha.
Mwandha said UWA will continue to embrace technology that enables quicker tracking of animals so that they can be easily prevented from straying into the communities.