updated 7/27/2007 10:26:43 AM ET 2007-07-27T14:26:43

Cattlemen who have been temporarily resettled in Uganda's popular Queen Elizabeth National Park are poisoning lions and hyenas to protect their herds, damaging the park's ability to attract tourists, authorities said Thursday

The herders are awaiting government resettlement, authorities said.

"We have seen a big decline in large predators in the areas these people are occupying," said Tom Okello, the park's chief warden.

Hyenas in the park's northern section fell from 50 to 10 in just 18 months, he said.

Okello also estimated that 11 lions had been killed in the past 15 months, although he said they are difficult to track. No leopards had been seen in the northern part of the park for six months, he added.

The herders have occupied a 115-square-mile area since March 2006, when they were moved from Congo's Virunga National Park. While Uganda arranges to resettle them, they have temporary rights to graze their 40,000 cattle in the park.

Queen Elizabeth National Park is the country's most popular safari destination, attracting up to 45,000 visitors each year. Its 765 square miles are known for outstanding natural beauty and two of Uganda's largest lakes — Lake George and Lake Albert.

"This situation is a very big concern for us," said Lilian Nsubuga of Uganda's Wildlife Authority. "The biggest draw for tourists is big cats. We are already receiving complaints that they are not being seen.

"This will seriously affect the popularity of the national park and eventually might affect the popularity of Uganda as a tourist destination."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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