It was all joy as Letaba, a 6- Year old lion that was donated to Uganda by the Lion Park- South Africa, touched grounds at Entebbe International Airport on Saturday 18th April, 2015. Letaba went through the normal customs clearance and was immediately handed over to the waiting crew that largely comprised Ministry of Tourism Wildlife and Antiquities officials, UWEC staff, South African Airways- Uganda Representatives, animal enthusiasts, media who drove the king of the jungle to the quarantine facility at Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC) popularly known as Entebbe Zoo.
Addressing the visitors that turned up to receive the giant cat, Mr. James Musinguzi, the Executive Director and Mr. Paul Mafabi, Chairperson UWEC Board thanked the Government of Uganda for facilitating the process, Lion Park- South Africa for the kind donation, export facilitation was undertaken Mike Bester of Bester Birds and Zoo Animals in South Africa and South African Airways for airlifting the Lion to Uganda, Mr. Musinguzi informed the guests that the donation was granted at the Pan African Association of Zoos and Aquarium Conference held at UWEC in May 2014. It was at this conference that the Director of Lion Park saw the need to replace the then aging male lion, Kibonge and offered their institution¡¯s support for a male lion.
Representing the Minister of Tourism Wildlife and Antiquities, Mr. James Lutalo, the commissioner for Wildlife Conservation at the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, thanked the UWEC MANAGEMENT and all parties that were behind this noble conservation and tourism cause for their foresightedness and commitment. Mr. Lutalo briefed the guests that with the good reputation and expertise that UWEC has demonstrated over the years, it has been elevated from an institution governed by a Trust deed to a Statutory Government Agency, set up by an Act of Parliament.
The new law once assented to by the President of Uganda, His Excellency, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, will see UWEC evolve into the Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Centre, with added mandates such as;
- Undertaking breeding of wildlife with focus on rare and endangered species;
- Being a lead agency in conservation education using the facilities both on and off site;
- Acting as a window to and show case Uganda’s tourism and heritage;
- Responsible for wildlife rescue, rehabilitation and release back to the wild;
- Charged with offering wildlife veterinary services;
- Offer leisure and recreational services at the centre.
According to a survey conducted by Wildlife Conservation Society, an estimated lion population of 408 animals in the three main strongholds for lions in Uganda, nearly two hundred fewer lions than estimates made in 2000-2002 (a statistical decrease of more than 30 percent). In Queen Elizabeth Conservation Area, estimated lion numbers have decreased from 206 to 144 over the past decade (a 30 percent drop). In Murchison Falls Conservation Area, the team estimates a nearly 60 percent drop (from 324 to 132 lions in the past decade). Only in Kidepo Valley National Park did the researchers detect an increase in estimated lion numbers (climbing from 58 to 132).
The crisis in lion conservation in Uganda reflects the status of the species across Africa, where lion populations have dropped by 30 percent over the past two decades as a result of illegal killing and the loss of both habitat and prey.
Our lion importation is for Conservation Education, breeding and conservation purpose as well as a response to the need to establish viable and possible emergency candidates that may be banked on for release, if the need arises. This therefore calls for the need to establish viable candidates that may be reintroduced, if the need arises. Letaba, replaces Kibonge (RIP) and will thus help offer a diversified gene with the cub sired by Kibonge and other two lioness; Zara and Biza at UWEC.
After a 30 days quarantine period of Letaba, UWEC will embark on the integration process of the male with the current pride and consequently unveil the new king of the jungle to the general public.
Please be on the lookout for the unveiling event!