That is voice and words of my great friend Kwezi as he rushed forward with open arms embracing me after my long absence. This point marks the culmination of a 300 km drive, an 18-hour flight, and 5 months spent diligently working in East Lansing, Michigan preparing for my field work. Despite my long journey, I am back in the exact spot where I initiated my career in wildlife conservation all those many years ago: Murchison Falls National Park (MFNP).
In addition to being my good friend, Kwezi is a senior UWA range guide. He is a seasoned veteran in these parts eminently knowledgeable on all things MFNP. Kwezi heard a rumor that I would be returning to MFNP today. He was tipped off by lab mate and co-wildlife conservation conspirator Arthur Muneza. Arthur has been in MFNP working with Giraffe Conservation Foundation and UWA on Operation Twiga as detailed in our Notes from the Field. When Kwezi got wind of my return he did not sit idle. Instead, he found all sorts of our friends and organized them at the ferry crossing to meet me as I came into the park. To say that I was overcome by this welcome would be an understatement.
But why am I here, you may ask? I am here to quantify the effect of various disturbances on the ecology of lions. Murchison Falls is the largest national park in Uganda and the only protected area in Africa with active oil mining ongoing. Before the onset of the oil works inside MFNP, I was embedded in this beautiful park studying lions to understand key threats to their survival. The results of my study lead to the establishment of a snare removal program, called the ‘Snares to Wares’ initiative. Illegal snares are widely used by poachers, many of them are children recruited into this industry because they lack other opportunities, in MFNP to capture mammals for bush meat. In this way, small metal wire rings are placed along game trails and concealed where they indiscriminately capture and maim any unsuspecting animal that walks past, including lions. That is how Butcherman, the former alpha male lion of the Delta pride, impressively managed to guard over his territory for more than 3 years with just three legs. Imagine a lion being capable of defeating rival males when missing the better part of one of his hind legs?
One of the other responsibilities that I feel is the need to share with the broader MSU community the pressing and important research that we are conducting in RECaP. You should know that Spartan Nation is strong in Uganda. “Go Green, Go White” works just as well in Breslin Arena as it does in this region as the Uganda Wildlife Authority uniforms share our school colors. Over these next two weeks and beyond, I will give you a window into what it is like to conduct research in East Africa searching for the large carnivores that stalk this landscape in the twilight. I will document how in RECaP we are using technological innovations to study carnivores and their prey with ever-more impressive detail. And I will provide you with photos of MFNP with its flowing savannah hills, thicketed combretum bushes, and lush impenetrable forests.
The joy of being back home in MFNP is overwhelming for me! And the first thing that I need to do, as Kwezi told me earlier today, is pay respect to my friend George Atubo. We know where George is: he is at his village home enjoying retirement. The next job will be a bit harder. We need to track down that missing three-legged lion Butcherman whose popularity is only eclipsed by his rival Cecil. We don’t know where Butcherman is or what has become of him. We can only hope that he too is enjoying his own type of retirement from the strenuous life of an alpha male. Stay tuned as we search for this impressive animal. We are glad to have you aboard!