KAMPALA, Uganda, Oct. 24 (UPI) -- Uganda's lions, central to the country's tourism industry and a symbol of Africa, are disappearing from the country's national parks, conservationists say.
Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of St. Andrews in Scotland said African lions in some areas of Uganda have decreased by more than 30 percent over the past 10 years, mostly the result of poisoning by local cattle herders, retaliation for livestock predation and other human-related conflicts.
Writing in the journal Oryx, they expressed concerned for the species' long-term chances in the country.
"African lions are a vital component of these ecosystems," WCS conservationist Edward Okot Omoya, the lead author of the study, said. "They play an important role in disease control of antelopes and buffalo by killing the sick animals."
In the study, lion numbers were surveyed in Uganda's three major conservation areas between November 2008 and November 2009.
The survey yielded an estimated lion population of 408 animals in the three main strongholds for lions in Uganda, nearly 200 fewer lions than estimated in 2000-2002.
The country's tourist industry could suffer, the researchers said, as lions are the species tourists most want to see in Uganda's savannas.
Surveys of tourists have shown they would be 50 percent less likely to visit the parks in Uganda if they couldn't see lions, the WCS said.