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The Last of the Lion Kings

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

Lions are facing a catastrophic decline, with their population in Africa dropping by a staggering 42% in the last 20 years.

They have disappeared from 94% of their historic range, and with fewer than 25,000 lions left in Africa, they could face extinction this century. The fragmentation of lion habitats across Africa means their populations are disconnected, reducing genetic diversity, and providing an additional barrier to the recovery of this iconic species.

Key threats

Matt Armstrong-Ford

Poaching of lions for body parts for the international illegal wildlife trade is on the rise and this includes death by poisoning.

In Murchison Falls, in Uganda, there have been three significant poisoning incidents in the last few years and in each case, the lions were killed as well as several vultures who also fed on the poisoned livestock carcasses. In cases like this, poison can enter the food chain, potentially killing hundreds of animals. The poachers have been apprehended in each of these incidents, and our ground-based conservation partners, Uganda Conservation Foundation, have held wildlife management courses with rangers to help them look out for signs of this cruel act. However, poisoning still remains a huge threat alongside the use of indiscriminate snares and wheel traps that are intended to capture smaller animals for illegal bushmeat, but which frequently kill lions. 

Human-wildlife conflict is another key issue as these big cats are sometimes killed by local communities when they stray outside the protected areas to prey on livestock – an inevitable consequence of habitat loss.

Anti-poaching initiatives in Uganda

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF) is supporting a programme to investigate and protect lion populations in two of Uganda’s key wildlife areas. Sadly, they face multiple threats across Africa and the situation in Uganda is no different. There are now estimated to be less than 200 lions left in Uganda. Together with our ground-based conservation partners, we are working tirelessly to arrest this alarming decline and have the ambitious goal of doubling lion populations across Uganda.

Spanning 5,000 sq km, Murchison Falls National Park is the largest of three lion strongholds in Uganda, the other two being Queen Elizabeth and the Kidepo Valley National Parks. The incredible work of our teams on the ground to protect lions and other species within the area has been integral to the recovery of these parks. 

In recent years, the foundation of park management was established across the whole of Murchison Falls to provide our partners in conservation with a fighting chance to tackle the poaching crisis, both now and long term. New ranger stations have been built in critically important lion ranges, a marine unit has been established, and radio communications are now being used across the park. Radio towers link back to an operations room that coordinates the protection of the park, increasing communications and operational coverage from less than 10% to approximately 85%.

Most crucially, ranger and scout patrols across the protected area provide a permanent deterrent to potential poachers. Teams monitor lion areas daily to protect populations. Scouts and rangers also remove approximately 2,000 snares a month, saving the lives of many lions and other animals. Protecting the species that lions prey upon is also key to their survival and populations of the Ugandan kob (a large antelope) and Rothschild giraffes have bounced back from 40,000 to 150,000, and 400 to 2,000 respectively. 

Uganda Conservation Foundation

Research and protection programmes

Our support also extends to the collaring of lions, an incredibly important tool for their protection.  Satellite collars are linked to EarthRanger technology which allows the monitoring of lions in real time and the deployment of a ranger response unit in the case of potential incidents.  

Equally important is ensuring that the communities who co-exist with lions are able to benefit from their protection. DSWF funds much needed training and apprenticeship opportunities for young people living close by to the Murchison Falls protected area. The alternative income this provides helps young people support their vulnerable families and increases their access to health, food and education. By working directly with the communities who are known to heavily poach in the protected area, we are attempting to break the cycle between the older and younger generations by providing alternative livelihoods.

Despite recent progress, there is still a long way to go if we are to turn the tide on extinction. Protecting Murchison Falls and the lions that live there remains an enormous challenge and tragically, poaching is on the rise. The national park only has one third of the rangers necessary to provide adequate protection and rising fuel prices have further exacerbated this challenge by increasing the cost of patrols and the cost of living for local people. This is why your support is so important in helping the vulnerable lion populations of Uganda to recover.

If you can, please donate now to our urgent lion appeal. Between the 29th November and the 6th December, the first £15,000 of donations will be matched pound for pound. That’s TWICE the impact! 

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