Lions in Murchison Falls National Park – Best place to see lions in Uganda
Lions in Murchison falls national park – African lions are the largest and most imposing carnivores in Africa. They are the only truly social cats and have special cultural significance in most countries on the continent. In Uganda, lions enjoy a reputation as ‘king of the beasts’ and are popular symbols of royalty, strength, and bravery. Lions live in a ‘fission-fusion’ society which is a fairly rare social system similar to Chimpanzee. In Uganda, lions are mainly found in the three largest savannah parks including Murchison Falls National Park
Very little was known about the population dynamics or threats to lions in MFNP until the start of the WCS lion monitoring project in 2009. This was built upon previous work conducted by Uganda Wildlife Authority veterinary doctor Margaret Driciru in 2001. WCS is monitoring lion prides on the northern bank of Murchison Falls National Park, looking at ranging and foraging habits. We have collected this data using GPS and GSM enabled collars since 2010.
128 individuals have been identified on the northern bank to date. A 2013 census of lions and hyenas in the savannah of the southern bank, previously under-sampled, revealed the possibility of the south harboring more lions and hyenas. There are indications that the lion population may not be as small now as it was in the 2009 census.
Reducing illegal traps: Preliminary results of the WCS lion study in Murchison Falls National Park show that most mortality (71%, n=7) in adult lions is a result of human-related incidences, mainly snares and other traps. In two years, five lions were killed in illegal traps (three in wire snares and two in-wheel traps), six lions were seriously injured (two by wheel traps and four by wire snares) and required veterinary intervention (three lost their limbs).
Efforts are on-going to reduce illegal traps in the park. Using GIS and Uganda Wildlife Authority ranger patrol data, snare- prone areas on the northern bank have been identified and zoned according to the type of traps. This was followed by a snare removal exercise in part of the 550 km2wire snares prone area. So far over 2,000 wires snares, 60 spears, and 15 elephant traps have been collected and 38 animals rescued from wire snares.
Working with the Uganda Wildlife Authority community conservation department, WCS trains and enables ex-poachers to retrieve wheel-traps at homes and in the park. We also paid for the destruction and disposal of all wire snares held at Murchison Falls National Park stores in case of theft.
The snare removal exercises need to continue as more than 80% of the snare zone has yet to be surveyed. To do this, WCS and Uganda Wildlife Authority need more resources to pay for the basic supplies the removal team requires to conduct frequent snare removal exercises of the entire wire snare zone. Continued monitoring of the lion population is vital to understand the severity of these threats and their impact on the population.
Ranger training: Uganda Wildlife Authority rangers are being trained to assess the health and demographics of lions from their foot patrols. WCS shares the positions of the collared lions with Uganda Wildlife Authority to help them to respond faster and more accurately to incidences of lions moving into community land. This has positively impacted the human-lion conflict.
Oil discoveries: Commercially viable quantities of oil have been discovered under Murchison Falls National Park, and the process of further exploration and production will increase significantly over the next five years. This has enormous potential to cause further disturbance to the lion population and its prey basis. On-going monitoring of the population will be critical to understand the impacts of oil development and to provide recommendations to the Uganda Wildlife Authority and to the oil companies on strategies to minimize impacts.