In the 1960s the population of zebra in Uganda was estimated at 10,000. Their numbers declined to 5,500 in 1982, to 3200 in 1995 and to as low as 2,800 in 2003.
Today, according to the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) the population of zebras in Uganda is now estimated at 11,814, triple the numbers that were encountered a decade ago.
"The numbers of zebras have outgrown the population of the 1960s," said Dr. Andrew Seguya, the acting executive director of UWA. He was speaking at a press conference at the Media Centre in Kampala in which he presented a statement entitled, "UWA to fence off protected areas to prevent wild animal losses."
In a separate interview, Charles Tumwesigye, the Chief Conservation Area Manager attributed the increase to the lack of predation for zebras in Mburo because the lion population had become extinct in the park until recently. Three lions came to the park about five years ago and UWA says the level of predation is still low. On the other hand, poachers do not target zebras, preferring instead buffaloes and hippos.
Zebra are considered one of the most dominant herbivore species, often out competing other ruminants due to their greater spatial distribution and foraging tactics. However such biological characteristics make them more vulnerable to predation and it has been suggested zebra populations are mostly limited by predation rather than the availability of food resources. Within an ecosystem the annual off-take of large numbers of zebra by predators such as lions limits population density numbers and therefore allows other less competitive herbivore species to sustain themselves within the vegetative carrying capacity. Without population regulation through predation species such as the zebra may out-compete other herbivores within a given area leading to inter-specific issues and a reduction in biodiversity.
Apart from zebras, UWA's report cited elephants as one of the species whose population is doing well with a population of 4,393 from 2,400 in year 2003.
"Elephants too are doing well, " said Tumwesigye citing good conservation practices as one of the factors behind the recovery of elephants in Uganda's large parks: Queen Elizabeth, Murchison Falls and Kidepo.
The conservationists however pointed out that conversion of wildlife habitats into farmland is one of the factors that has led to decline of wildlife numbers in Uganda. Climate change, Seguya pointed out is another factor that could be affecting the population of Uganda kobs that has dropped significantly in Queen Elizabeth National Park.
The lion population too has declined by 50% in Queen Elizabeth National Park to invasion by Basongora herdsmen and by fishermen in the fishing villages who now survive by keeping cattle in parts of the park. He said the Basongora vacated the park, but the herdsmen from the fishing villages were poisoning the predators such as lions.
For more information about the situation as regards lions in Uganda click here
Kob in Uganda's Queen Elizabeth NP