“Leopard Village”: Community Ecotourism & Resource Center in Muhokya

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Wednesday
Mar292017

Lioness, Juma, poached

We are sad to tell you that lioness Juma is dead after becoming a victim of poaching for traditional local medicine.

We had been consistently getting her radio collar’s signal from near the shores of Lake Edward in the area of Katwe village. There is an abandoned camp nearby that was a favorite hunting area of Juma’s, as prey would pass by to drink at the lake. We didn’t want to disturb her, or alert people to her presence, as we thought perhaps she might be pregnant or already nursing young cubs. So we monitored her from quite a distance. She had the habit of staying close to human habitation when she raised cubs in the past.

We became increasingly worried, however, when there was no change at all in the location of the signal. So one evening we decided to track her closely and found the signal was coming from a fisherman’s hut.

With the help of village leaders and law enforcement, we entered the hut and found Juma’s collar next to a bottle of melted lion fat, which is traditionally used to treat rheumatism. We also found hippo ivory buried in the corner of the hut.

 

We accompanied local community leaders, Katwe police and the Lake Edward Marine Police to arrest the man, who was out fishing on the lake. He was convicted on several counts and is now serving a prison sentence of two years.

This is a sad loss, and just one of the many threats that Uganda's predators face on a daily basis. We have had several human-carnivore conflicts in this part of Katwe – a village of more 10,000 inhabitants located within park boundaries – due to depredation of livestock. However, the cattle owners from this village have always been supportive of our community-based conservation efforts and had never poisoned any large carnivores.

So, it’s particularly distressing that Juma would become a victim of poaching for traditional local medicine that would have brought in less than US$10 to the fisherman. Although we know that lions were historically used for traditional medicine, this is the first time one of our research lions has died as a result of it.

We had been tracking Juma for almost 6 years, and she was ~10 years old at the time of her death. Her territory ranged from Mweya peninsula, through the area between the park’s Katunguru and Main gates, past Katwe and the crater lakes, to Pelican Point and the Nyamugasani River.

Juma was one of several single mother lionesses in this section of the park, and we learned a lot about their often-solitary lives through our years of researching her. We will miss her.

Poaching and the illegal trafficking of wildlife are often symptoms of poverty and high unemployment, which is why community-based conservation and sustainable development programs are so critical to this region. The loss of Juma is difficult, but we will continue our efforts in her memory.

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