Each year, the second half of May is set-aside by conservationists in northwest Namibia for the annual Northwest Game Count. The focus of this operation is to inform conservancies and Namibia’s Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism of wildlife numbers for the purposes of adaptive resource management. The NW Game Count is the largest and longest-running road-based game count in the world, the Lion Rangers are always pleased to participate.
The game count takes place on communal and government-managed lands and is comprised of four distinct sub-areas: conservancies south of the veterinary control fence, conservancies north of the fence, the tourism concession areas of Etendeka, Hobatere, and Palmwag, and Skeleton Coast National Park. Conducted annually, the game count covers nearly seven million hectares and is undertaken as a joint exercise between conservancy members and staff, as well as NGOs, all overseen by MEFT.
The Lion Rangers’ Leadership Team was honored to attend and present at the recent Namibia National Human-Wildlife Conflict Conference, hosted by Namibia’s Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT), which took place in Windhoek from 10-12 May. This three-day, first-of-its-kind conference highlighted the challenges faced by rural communities living alongside wildlife.
Research not only supports greater understanding of lions, but, when appropriately applied, can also help mitigate and prevent human-lion conflict. In partnership with the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior researchers Dr. Genevieve Finerty and Dr. Natalia Borrego, the Lion Rangers are embarking on an exciting new research program examining fine-grain lion movements and behavior.
Over the past month staff from Namibia’s Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT), in partnership with the Lion Rangers, have been partnering on an intensive kraal-building program in the Anabeb Conservancy farming areas of Okomimuno and Etundu Rohaa. Predator-proof kraals, which have been shown to dramatically limit livestock losses to lions and other predators, are an important part of our Early-Warning System. When all else fails, when geofence alerts do not reach farmers due to lack of network, and Rapid Response Teams are deployed elsewhere, farmers in hotspot areas can rely on sturdy kraals to keep their livestock safe. Since early 2021, MEFT, the Lion Rangers, and program partners, have built 97 predator-proof kraals across core lion-range.
The Lion Rangers are responsible for monitoring the movements of lions across northwest Namibia. This population is dynamic and includes occasional influxes of lions from neighboring Etosha National Park. Over the recent weeks, the Lion Rangers of Orupupa, Omatendeka, and Ehi-rovipuka, have been partnering with staff from the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT) to monitor a group of four lions that have come from Etosha to the communal lands. These four lions, one adult female and three subadults (two males, one female) were formerly residents of Etosha’s Dolomite area. Starting in late January they have expanded their home range to include the mountainous communal areas bordering the park.
During the past week all 49 Lion Rangers and the Leadership Team came together for our annual training. Building on the success of last year’s Law Enforcement and SMART training, this year we focused on Lion Ranger life outcomes as well as skills development.
Lions have long inhabited Namibia’s Etosha National Park. Over the past half-century their numbers have fluctuated greatly. Gail Thomson, of the Namibian Chamber of the Environment‘s publication Conservation Namibia, recently published a blogpost distilling much of the history of lions in Etosha. This post recaps a recent paper co-authored by Lion Rangers’ Research Director John Heydinger, along with Craig Packer and Paul Funston, which was published in 2022 by the Namibian Journal of Environment. You can view the whole paper here. Thanks to the Namibian Chamber of Environment for highlighting this research.
A recent paper, co-authored by conservationists at the Namibian Chamber of Environment, examines human-wildlife conflict at a national level. This interesting mapping and analysis shines a light on some of the unique challenges of human-lion conflict – in particular the need for locally-based approaches to mitigate, manage, and prevent human-lion conflict. The exercise sought to identify whether certain environmental variables could meaningfully predict when and where human-lion conflict would take place. In the results Tavolaro et al. write “no predictor variable was found to have a significant effect on number of annual reports of livestock depredation by lion[.]” They continue in the discussion, “[n]one of the predictors for livestock depredation [for all carnivore species] were statistically significant, which could be because impacts are so pervasive and widespread across such diverse landscapes and farm management systems…that no variable or set of variables can explain the spatial variability patterns…This suggests that drivers of livestock depredation need to be explored at a finer scale (i.e., regional or conservancy level) for an improved understanding and subsequent mitigation.”
These findings underscore the importance of a locally-based approach to limiting human-lion conflict. With no predictable environmental patterns to draw-upon, lion movements, livestock movements, and human-lion conflict require eyes and boots on-the-ground. This is the approach of the Lion Rangers program.
How lions are perceived by the communities living alongside them is critical to implementing successful lion conservation. In a recently released article, “Seeing Lions in a Different Light,” John Heydinger provides insight into the challenges conservancy farmers face living alongside lions. This short article, which can be found in the Namibia Chamber of Environment‘s annual publication, Conservation and the Environment in Namibia, is based on intensive social surveys among conservancy members within the core range of Namibia’s desert-adapted lions. Most revealing, conservancy members contextualize lion numbers and human-lion conflict in certain ways, linked to the region’s history and environmental politics. A more thorough treatment of the topic is currently being published by Cambridge University Press. A draft is available here, on the Lion Rangers site.
Environment and History has just published an article by Lion Rangers Program founder Dr. John Heydinger on the history of livestock ownership in northwest Namibia. This and other research emanating from the Lion Rangers program undergirds our historically-informed perspective . This includes our commitment to addressing human-lion conflict and lion conservation in northwest Namibia as a series of challenges taking place within a human landscape. Please read and circulate any and all of our research to those who may find it interesting.