It has been a challenging few months in terms of managing human-lion coexistence near the village of Hamukungu.
The core territory of Anna, a 17 year-old lioness, her two adult daughters, and their 6 cubs, is near Hamukungu. The coalition of three males – Rudi, Papa, and Omukama, also frequently visit this area.
It has been very hot and dry in this area of the park. Some prey animals have been heading to Lake George, where there is water and green grass, while many have been moving out of the area completely.
The lions are following them to the lake. This puts them very close to Hamukungu, a fishing village within park borders, situated along Lake George. There are also many cattle owners in this village.
With little natural prey available, the lions might also attack cattle in order to survive. This puts them at risk of poisoning by the livestock owners. This has happened in Hamukungu in the past and is even mentioned in the November 2011 National Geographic article on the Albertine Rift. The gentleman described in the article as being a "lion killer" in the past is one of the two elders we have been working closely with the past two years in this village. We have noticed a definite change in his attitude since working with him on conflict issues. We greatly appreciate his tolerance and the leadership he has shown in collaborating with us.
Of course the situation is also very scary for the villagers of Hamukungu as well.
The past several weeks, we have been closely monitoring – almost daily – the pride’s movements near the village and have been warning the livestock owners of the presence of the lions.
There has been at least one recent lion attack on a cow while it was grazing during the day. A few weeks after that, we received word from the villagers that 2 male lions had attacked an enclosure at night and killed a cow. It had been quite a while since lions last attacked an enclosure here.
We met with two of the village leaders to discuss the situation. They requested 20 sets of solar lights similar to those we gave the 2 leaders last year. This would be enough for all the livestock owners. In exchange for receiving the lighting, the leaders said the livestock owners would agree to strengthen their enclosures in other ways in order to make them more predator proof.
We have also given them our spare camera, along with a notebook and pencils, so they can begin to document these types of incidences themselves.
In addition, we gave the family who lost the cow in the night attack a small compensatory payment to help offset the loss of her cow. Cows cost about 1M Uganda shillings (~US$385 / €288), which is a significant amount of money to a rural Ugandan, aside from the cultural importance of cattle. There have been mixed results in the use of compensation funds elsewhere in Africa – in some places, it is successful in reducing retaliatory attacks on carnivores, and in other places, it is not. We feel giving a small amount to this family is an important gesture here in this particular case.
Finally, we have begun preliminary discussions and plans about building a communal livestock enclosure for the poorer cattle owners in this village. We believe this might be more cost effective than each family building their own stronger, predator-proof kraal. More planning and analysis is required.
The Hamukungu cattle owners have shown exceptional tolerance the last few months, so we want to continue to do what we can to support them. We thank the many tourists this summer who have made donations to assist the villagers who have been negatively impacted by the lions. And we also thank the tour operators and lodge owners who connect us with their guests and offer them the opportunity to learn more about carnivore conservation.
We will continue our monitoring patrols as well as our meetings with the villagers.