Government stakeholders, represented by the Ministry of Wildlife, Tourism and Antiquities (MTWA), Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) and the Resident District Commissioner of Kanungu District, together will local community leaders in the Ishasha Sector of the Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP) have agreed to strengthen their working relationship to protect lions and other animals in the park.
This followed a fact-finding meeting, convened, over the weekend by the Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Rtd, Col. Tom Butime at Enjojo Lodge, to understand among others, circumstances, surrounding the gruesome killing of 6 tree-climbing lions, on the 19th of March 2021.
The meeting was attended by the UWA Executive Director, Sam Mwandha; the UTB Chief Executive Officer, Lilly Ajarova; the Kanungu District RDC, Shafik Ssekandi, Kanungu LC 5 Chairperson, Canon Josephine Kasya, as well as representatives from the police and UPDF as well as local community leaders.
Four men suspected to have been involved in the killings are currently in police custody in Kampala. They were arrested by a joint security operation of UWA, Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), and the Uganda Police, helped by the local community who identified the suspects.
The meeting resolved to reinforce the working relationship between the UWA rangers, UPDF, Police, and the local councils to make sure, the security of the national park is stronger. They also committed to create awareness through sensitization within the communities to ensure that they appreciate the need to protect the wild animals as well as understand how to address their conflicts to UWA.
The meeting also resolved to do more investigations into the circumstances surrounding the grisly killing to identify all the players involved.
Addressing the meeting, Col. Rtd. Butime emphasized that Wildlife poaching is a criminal offence that remains punishable by the courts of law.
He went on to assure, domestic and foreign tourists that despite the loss of the 6 lions, Uganda still had plenty of lions in QENP and other national parks.
“Let this not discourage you from exploring our national parks that are also full of other animals aside from the lions like over 5000 elephants, 2000 buffalos, 800 giraffes, birds, and many more,” he said.
Mr. Sam Mwandha, the ED, UWA appreciated especially the security agencies and local community members who worked with the UWA rangers to have the suspects arrested. He also thanked all the stakeholders for coming together to work out an even stronger mechanism to ensure the safety of both the animals and that of the livelihoods of the communities.
“Arresting the suspects involved in the killing of the lions required collaboration between ourselves, the UPDF, the police, the local council leaders and that, we have agreed that we will strengthen. We will also work together to create awareness among the communities to ensure that they appreciate the need for not getting into the park, not killing the wildlife, and then raising their issues with us so that we can be able to address them as Uganda Wildlife Authority,” he said, adding: “Then obviously doing more investigations and more intelligence to get to the bottom of this because, yes, we’ve arrested six people so far and yes, we know that they killed the lions, but what was behind it all? What are the linkages? Who are they working with? We need to get into that and that will continue to be worked on until we conclude.”
He also said, there was a need to ensure that the revenue that UWA shares with the communities is appropriately used and that the communities benefit from the money.
Mr. Ssekandi the Kanungu District RDC told the meeting that so far, it had been established through confessions that the killers, who are residents in communities neighbouring the park, had been offered between UGX40,000 to UGX 80,000 for each lion’s head by the buyers.
“The caught culprits did confirm to killing the 6 Lions and explained that they first poisoned them before mutilating them into pieces. Body parts were discovered in the suspects’ houses while other body parts such as 2 heads and 1 leg were found hidden within the park,” he said adding that the intestines had been cut out to extract lion far for spiritual purposes.
“Investigations are still ongoing, and the Kanungu District leaders are optimistic that all people involved in this act will be caught,” he said adding, that by the time the suspects were arrested, they had not yet received their payment from the yet-to-be-identified buyers.
The RDC also said that although unrelated to the killing of the 6 lions, human-wildlife conflict is rife, characterized by animals destroying their crops as well as preying on their domestic animals like goats.
Ms. Lilly Ajarova, the UTB CEO, reiterated the need by communities to conserve and protect the animals and other species that contribute to the Tourism Sector.
“As an agency philosophically driven by tourism sustainability, we are in a joint effort with the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife, and Antiquities, Tourism Agencies, Local Leaders as well as the Tourism Police in getting to the bottom of the matter at hand and seek justice for the dead lions and curb the criminals of the offence who will be sentenced accordingly,” she said.
She said the death of the lions at this particular time when the tourism sector was reeling from the effects of Covid-19 was regrettable.
“The UNWTO declared 2020 as the worst year in tourism history, with arrivals declining by 1 billion visitors translating into a 74% decline. With 2021 showing optimism, we need to preserve and conserve our tourist attractions to be able to regain what we lost in 2020 and get the sector back to its glory days,” she told the meeting.
“UTB has been doing different Destination Uganda campaigns both domestic and foreign to reboot tourism in the country with The Pearl of Africa Tourism Expo being the ongoing and is set to happen from the 27th to the 29th of April. She urged people to endeavour to attend as it will connect business to business as well as business to consumers,” she added.