The day was Saturday, April the 18th-2015 when Letaba the lion first landed in Uganda. The Uganda Wildlife Education Center (UWEC) would tell of the joy that defined the moment. A then 6-year old Letaba, a donation to Uganda by the Lion Park- South Africa had arrived to help save the Lion numbers from
dwindling. Glee laced every word that came out of UWEC in that it could have been mistaken for the arrival of a human king.
Of his journey here they wrote: “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.”
It was infectious, and tourism, wildlife, and travel enthusiast really should have felt as excited as the UWEC folk were. Even the China-based CGTN would later join in with footage of a healthy Letaba observably at home. “Letaba, a seven-year-old lion has quickly made himself at home in his new zoo in Uganda. Letaba was successfully integrated with the lionesses at Uganda’s Wildlife education center. Conservationists are now hoping the lion will help grow the numbers of the country’s declining lion…” they captioned footage of Letaba.
UWEC further reported that while addressing the visitors that turned up to receive the giant cat, Mr. James Musinguzi, the Executive Director 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 during this conference that the Director of Lion Park saw the need to replace our aging male lion, Kibonge, and offered their support for a male lion,” he said.
Even as we continue to mourn the death of Letaba, we can only hope that his cabs continue the work that he had started. Note that only recently a census was undertaken in Murchison Falls, Kidepo, and Queen Elizabeth national parks found that these big cats have reduced by 33% in Uganda’s game reserves over the last 10 years. They also found that the numbers here were down to 400 600 to 400 with Murchison falls losing the lion share and now down to just 130 animals.
You can therefore imagine how frustrating it was for conservationists to read that Letaba, a 10-year-old lion that would have probably helped sire more cabs had to be put out after a failed attempt to tranquilize him after he was in Mubende district. Many have argued that though it is doing a lot to educate the public, UWEC should have done better by Letaba. If not for anything, it should be because Uganda needed him.