By Joseph Kiggundu
World Animal Protection has raised alarm on the plummeting numbers of wild African lions, partly caused by global wildlife trade.
For many years, African countries have been the go-to tourist destinations to experience safaris with key target being spotting the African lion.
According to the World Animal Protection, captive lion industry threatens the survival of lions and has a negative impact on tourism, public health and safety, as Africa’s lion population has almost halved in the past 25 years.
The agency now warns that such scenarios may not resurface in the near future if nothing is done to end the captive lion breeding industry where lions are bred and raised in captivity for commercial purposes, including canned trophy hunting, cub petting, walking with lion experiences and trade in lion bones for traditional medicine.
This was during the World Animal Protection meeting with different stake holders as one way of raising awareness about the increasing loss of Lions in Africa and how to protect them on August 10, 2021 as they commemorate Lions World Day.
“Habitat loss and fragmentation, wildlife trade, bush meat poaching and human-lion conflict continue to threaten lions across Africa, -which are now classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as Vulnerable,” Ms Edith Kabesiime, the wildlife campaigns manager at the World Animal Protection, said after the meeting.
Ms Kabesiime noted that it is encouraging to see some African countries making commitments to shift from the practice of breeding and keeping lions in captivity and using captive lions or their derivatives commercially.
According to the experts, lions suffer at every stage of their life in breeding farms and intensive captive conditions increase the risk of zoonotic disease transmission.
“Countries need to enact animal welfare and environmental policies that protect individual wild animals and allow them the right to a life in the wild. Wild animals are sentient beings, and their intrinsic value should be recognized as an essential component in ensuring the survival of species as well as the protection of the environment,” Ms Kabesiime said.
However, in Uganda, Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), reported that they have carried out two nationwide censuses on Uganda’s lions from 2007 to 2017 which found an increase in the population of lions.
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The census of 2007 to 2010 gave an estimate of about 408 lions while that of 2011 to 2017 showed an increase to 493 lions countrywide.
Last year Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC) received a male lion named Letaba, from South African Lion Park which is a replacement of Kibonge who died last November, aged 18.
On protection of Lions, the UWEC director James Musinguzi disclosed that the Lion Letaba has helped boost wildlife conservation in the country.
“We are using Letaba for wildlife conservation in Uganda, especially the young lions, and this comes at the time where we have less than 400 lions in Uganda,” he said.
Mr Musinguzi added that the drop in lion numbers is attributed to destruction of their habitats, using them as hunting trophies and poisoning by poachers.
According to UWA, tourism has been a top foreign exchange earner to the country contributing almost 10 percent of the GDP.