Eleven lions from an endangered species have been found poisoned to death at a national park in Uganda.
The animals, three lionesses and eight cubs, are thought to be victims of villagers who blame wildlife for killing one of their cows.
Remains of the animals were found at the Queen Elizabeth National Park, according to the Uganda Wildlife Authority which is investigating the incident.
Spokesman Gessa Simplicious said the remains were being examined forensically along with evidence gathered at the scene.
He said: “We know that we have a very unfortunate incident, where our lions from Queen Elizabeth National Park were discovered dead.
“Now we know that these lions have been healthy and we suspect that they were poisoned by communities around, neighbouring the national park.”
There are more than 200 lions at the park, including a group of rare tree-climbing beasts.
Mr Simplicious said: “It’s a big loss, a very big loss. It comes at a time when we have just celebrated World Wildlife Day in Kasese. We were actually celebrating the big cats.
“These big cats have become endangered because their population has, over time, gone down.”
Tensions between wildlife conservationists and farmers have been simmering for years.
Ugandan wildlife officials have been calling for communities within the park’s boundaries to be evicted.
Mr Simplicious said the death of the lions would have a negative impact on the country’s tourism industry, which relies heavily on Uganda’s rich wildlife attracting millions of visitors every year.
Ephraim Kamuntu, Uganda’s tourism and wildlife minister, said: “We condemn in the strongest terms possible such an act of deliberately killing animals.
“It is unfortunate that such an economically vibrant resource is maliciously being exterminated by selfish Individuals that are negative towards the development of the communities and the country at large.”