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How does the Uganda Carnivore Program protect endangered large predators and wildlife?

Nicola Shepherd By Nicola Shepherd
04 May 2021
Uganda Carnivore Project lion conservation pixabay 2705582_1920.jpg

I have just returned from a safari in Uganda where I had the absolute privilege of spending some time with the eminent Dr Ludwig Siefert of the Uganda Carnivore project who, along with his team, provides veterinary care and conservation advice to assist and protect the wildlife of Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda.

A more self-effacing, humble, likeable, grounded individual you will not meet, especially with the level of qualifications he holds. Ludwig is one of the most knowledgeable, experienced wildlife veterinarians I have met on the African continent.

Dr Siefert specializes in carnivorous species but he is called upon by the wildlife departments in Uganda to consult about a wide range of matters. He also operates on and provides veterinary care for all manner of species within the Park. In particular, he is an advocate of preventative medicine.

The Uganda Carnivore Program is based in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda and is dedicated to the monitoring, research and conservation of predators in Uganda. Their main area of operation is currently in the northern sector of the QENP where they work to protect wildlife, treat injured or unwell wildlife and alleviate human-wildlife conflict so that the wildlife and the surrounding communities can live in harmony.


How can we all help to protect lion and predator populations in Uganda?

The sad reality is that people living in close proximity to lions don’t have the luxury of simply avoiding them. Lions, meanwhile, will target livestock when they’re hungry enough, or just out of feline curiosity. They will also attack humans if feeling threatened.

Africans living with lions can’t always call wildlife authorities when one strays from a reserve and attacks. So they naturally take matters into their own hands, which unfortunately often ends up with not one, but multiple dead lions, especially when inexpensive poison is involved. It’s an issue that the Uganda Wildlife Authority and the Uganda Carnivore Program are constantly working to resolve.

Radio-tagging helps the team track and monitor the movements of individual lions, accurately mapping their home ranges and social relations and identifying risk determinants to assist in the prevention of conflicts with people.


For a donation, it is possible to spend time in the field with Dr Siefert as a part of your safari to Uganda. Spend time learning about and seeing the carnivores he works so tirelessly to protect, monitor them as a part of his ongoing work, or, if required for his conservation efforts, you may have the opportunity to personally be involved in collaring a predator such as a lion or leopard.

I plead that you consider this as a part of your holiday or vacation, as not only will it be one of the highlights of your life, but the Ugandan Carnivore Programme is desperately in need of funds. It needs around EUR 80,000 per year to function effectively in the parks of Uganda. Indeed if we all contributed collectively to save Uganda’s carnivores, we can achieve this figure and make such a difference!

What role does the Uganda Carnivore Program play?

Queen Elizabeth National Park is a small park of 1978 sq kms. The northern sector of the park is an amalgam of savanna and grassy wetlands set against the picturesque backdrop of the snow-capped Rwenzori mountains, providing a wonderful location for a wildlife safari. It is perfect hunting grounds for the Uganda’s lions.


The main threats to big predators (and many wildlife species) in Africa are caused by humans. Sadly the populations of lions, leopards, hyenas and many other iconic species have declined significantly over the years due to the growing needs and impact of human populations. The lions’ main prey species in QENP, buffalo and kob, are unstable due to poaching by humans, which is just one of the pressures humans are placing on wildlife here.

Expanding human settlements lead to habitat loss; agriculture development and ungulate grazing further exacerbate the issue by reducing prey populations and fragmenting the species geographically. Furthermore, when wildlife preys on livestock or destroys crops, human populations often respond with retaliation killings of wildlife.

In 2015 there were 69 lion in Queen Elizabeth National Park. Today, there are around 41. The week before I visited Dr Siefert, six lion were killed by members of a local community to use their bones and fat for witchcraft. Mercifully, the four people convicted will receive life sentences which will reverberate amongst the local communities and hopefully send a message at large.


With community pressure burgeoning, education is all-important. The Uganda Carnivore Program aims to educate the community both about the value of wildlife in itself, but also for all those who rely upon wildlife to support their own jobs. Wildlife tourism is the largest form of revenue for Uganda and the income supports local people that work as wildlife rangers, as hospitality staff at lodges and hotels, guides and all the people involved in the industry.

Unfortunately, despite this income most tourism revenue is channeled to the more visible species such as the primates; gorillas and chimpanzees – gorilla and chimp trekking is very popular with tourists - so there is little official budget outside of this. With eleven enclave villages with a population of 40,000 people within the park and another approximately 90,000 on the borders, trying to protect the park’s predators is not easy. Ludwig does not have enough hours in the day!


Dr Siefert works incredibly hard. Ludwig himself performs everything from seasonal training for university students (both at the university and in the field) to conservation education for local communities, livestock husbandry and sanitation, species restoration, forensic work, predator monitoring, snare removals, wildlife rescue operations, vaccination and even routine vehicle maintenance. Ludwig averages around four hours’ sleep a night!

He has been doing this for many years and is very passionate about finding a dedicated and enthusiastic team of rangers and wildlife vets which can take his place and carry his work forward in the future. His are not easy shoes to fill and time is running out. He also would like to find and (and fund) sufficient rangers to protect the wildlife with regular patrols and community action.

They try to promote good relations in communities, including human wildlife-conflict cases, where farmers are reimbursed for livestock taken by lions. Rewards are also given to members of the local community for reporting poachers and poaching to the police. When I was there, Dr Siefert and I picked up a sample of bush meat brought in by a poacher for Dr Siefert to identify and write a forensic report.


When and Why was the Uganda Carnivore Program established?

The Program began as the Uganda Large Predator Project in the 1990s, of which Dr Siefert was a founding member. Uganda’s director of the Institute of Ecology was concerned about the canine distemper epidemic decimating predators in Tanzania and set up the project to protect Uganda’s wildlife from the virus. It was found that Uganda’s lions were indeed dying but instead from poisoning.

The project continued to provide ongoing monitoring and conservation of the wildlife in Uganda’s National Parks and started to expand into community partnerships and conservation, becoming the Uganda Carnivore Program.

Today the Program’s team includes just Dr Siefert himself and James Kalyewa, the Senior Research Assistant whom has been working with Dr Siefert for over 16 years, and Kenneth Mugyenyi the Community Scout, responsible for arranging all the community outreach activities and responding to human-wildlife conflict events.


How did Dr Ludwig Siefert become involved in conservation in Uganda?

Dr Siefert is the son of a successful, commercial farmer in Germany. He studied veterinary medicine and tropical human and veterinary medicine (‘One Health’) in Munich, before proceeding to a post-graduate certification in Tropical Veterinary Medicine in Berlin.

He qualified with flying colours before travelling around the world with a group of fellow graduates, practicing their medicine en route and gaining invaluable experience. Returning to academia he then studied Tropical Animal Productions at Goettingen for his master’s degree.

On completion he was head-hunted for the job of wildlife veterinarian for the Uganda Wildlife Department in the early 1990’s. He accepted the position and the rest is history, as they say. He is still an honorary senior lecturer at the Makerere University, lecturing in epidemiology, preventative medicine and public health. He was also the founding member of its wildlife and animal resources department.


Ludwig’s hope is that his wildlife training school at the university of Makerere will become a centre of excellence for this field of science. His other life-long dream, of course, is that Uganda’s National Parks operate harmoniously and cohesively with the local communities in a symbiotic relationship, benefiting both community and wildlife alike.

 “If wild lands and lions are lost because of our carelessness and greed, then Africa will lose her identity, and with her loss, all of us will lose our collective memory of where we originated from. Hearing and feeling lions’ roar next to you in the dark switches on that ancient, ambivalent gene of flight or fight…it still exists–the short history of civilization couldn’t eliminate it. That experience, fairly shared with tourists, but more so with local community members, finally after the assimilation of attitudinal change, is the reward despite all the many frustrations that come with it.” — Dr. Ludwig Siefert, Uganda Carnivore Program”

Please do consider making a donation to the Uganda Carnivore project or visiting them as a part of your next safari to Africa. I would be delighted to discuss this worthwhile charity further so please do contact me for more information. Or, if you would just like to dream for now, you can do so at our Video Library.