In Uganda a country that can only be described as a microcosm of Africa where you encounter active volcanoes, deserts, amazing jungles, huge lakes and sprawling grassland savannahs I also stumbled onto an almost unbelievable story of survival.
Visitors to the Murchison Falls National Park will be awed, inspired but also saddened by their encounters of the resident lion prides of this truly wild and amazing park in the great lakes region of Eastern Africa.
I first became aware of this on-going battle that epitomises the human animal conflict that silently exists in almost every conservation area around the globe when I heard the story of Clarence. Now an aging male lion “Clarence” has had his share of hardships but defied all odds in what can only be described as one of the most inspiring tales I have come across in Africa.
Clarence in coalition with his brother fondly referred to as Bernie by the guides ruled the park for many years ruthlessly dispatching upcoming rivals, even killing the male of a rival pride in the area before disaster struck the brothers in 2011. Clarence got caught in a poacher’s snare that left him with a life-threatening injury on its hind leg. The kings, of the well-known six-member pride, had been limping in pain following the snare incident that led to a fracture in the limb. The field staff of Uganda wildlife authority (UWA) had observed that the fracture was evident and very serious, as the lower limb was hanging and only held by a small ligament.
UWA took the courageous yet unusual decision to intervene as part of their fight against the on-going losses due to poaching in the park. Dr Atimnedi in an effort to save Clarence performed the first amputation on a wild lion in the park removing the lower part of him leg in a procedure that lasted approximately an hour. This led to the start of an unparalleled survival story of a very unusual pride of lions. This saga led me to take a keen interest in these lions that showed an incredible will to survive and adapt against all odds.
Not only did “Bernie” take over the leadership from his once more dominant brother, he also showed incredible compassion not often documented in male lions, by supporting and hunting for his now vulnerable disabled brother. The females in the pride adjusted to this new very unique dynamic and ensured the survival of the pride.
Other lions in the park suffered a similar fate in the never ending human conflict but showed the same resilience. One female was trapped in a particularly nasty device referred to as a wheel trap and had to undergo an amputation in order to save her life. A second lion from the same pride was caught in a wire snare and was able to free herself and healed but shows signs of impairment due to the injuries.
Both Pamela (the female with the amputated limb) and Wako (snare victim) survived and is still regularly encountered in the park. Sadly Bernie died about four months ago when he was suffocated due to a snare caught around his neck.
The good news came when one of Premier Safari’s tour operators visited the park recently and encountered Clarence “the 3 legged lion of Murchison’s” as he is now known amongst the visitors. Not only was he healthy and moving around with the pride, he was actually mating and ensuring the enduring spirit of this special pride lives on to write the next chapter of this very special groups of lions. We can all learn a lot about hardship and an incredible will to survive from these lions. Against all odds the pride survives proving once again “africa is not for the weak at hart”.
The problem remains in Murchison’s Falls National Park:
Poaching remains a major challenge in Murchison Falls, Uganda's largest national park, according to the Conservation Area Manager.
Some of the poachers are armed, while others use wire snares that either kill the targeted animals or injure other game indiscriminately. The park also accounts for the largest remaining population of Rothschild Giraffe (approximately 75% of the remaining giraffe of this sub-specie can be found in the park)
What is being done?
The Wildlife conservation society together with Uganda Wildlife Authority and other role-players such as Uganda Conservation Foundation and Marasa Africa lodges in Uganda are involved in a concerted effort to conserve and ensure the future of this majestic wildlife area to ensure that future visitors can experience the wildlife of this park.
Most recent campaign:
Marasa Africa, a member of the Madhvani Group of Companies, one of the largest private-sector groups in East Africa, joined Uganda Conservation Foundation in supporting and creating awareness through their marketing efforts of World Lion Day that took place on the 10th of August 2010, a day that was celebrated around the world to call attention to the endangerment of the King of Beasts. On the day, the Marasa properties in Uganda – Chobe Safari Lodge; Paraa Safari Lodge and Mweya Safari Lodge, also donated $1.00 for each room night at their lodges to the UCF to ensure conservation through Action programmes that provide practical support to revitalise and protect natural habitats, biodiversity and also helps protect lions in the national parks from poachers. This will also benefit the vulnerable tree climbing lions in ishasha -guests of the lodges were also informed and invited to donate to the UCF.
With Ugandan marine ranger posts at both Semanya and at Paraa, the UCF is able to specifically target snare-setting lion poachers who come across Lake Albert. UCF director Patrick Shah says “Our continuing program of building land and marine ranger posts in Murchison Falls Conservation Area will further reinforce our efforts and have a direct effect on lion welfare.”
Travel to Uganda:
Below is some links to the role players in Uganda, experience the pearl of Africa with informed experienced partners. Uganda needs to be added to your “bucket list” if it’s not already there. Where else will you meet the largest remaining population of the endangered population of mountain gorillas, followed by a adventurous water safari down the white Nile.
· Marasa Africa lodges in the National parks - www.marasa.net
· Premier Safaris – East Africa Travel provider – www.premiersafaris.com
Conservation support in Uganda
· Uganda Wildlife Authority – http://www.ugandawildlife.org/
· Uganda Conservation Foundation - http://www.ugandacf.org/
· Giraffe conservation Foundation - http://www.giraffeconservation.org/
· Wildlife conservation society - http://www.wcs.org/where-we-work/africa/uganda.aspx