Among the challenges for pastoralists maintaining livestock herds in northwest Namibia, is the varying forms of land-use. While pastoralists keep their herds on mixed-use land, these can abut conservation concessions. For many conservancy members farming in Ehi-rovipuka and ≠Khoadi-//Hôas conservancies, the Hobatere Tourism Concession has long served as a refuge for, and source of, lions and other large carnivores. When lions depart Hobatere for communal farmlands, they run the risk of coming into contact with livestock. This can lead to human-lion conflict, resulting in retaliatory or preventative lion killing by certain pastoralists. An important part of the Lion Rangers’ work is assisting the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT) in keeping tack of lions as they move in and out of Hobatere. At the request of MEFT the Lion Rangers Research Team has been helping monitor lion movements and group dynamics through the use of trail cameras in Hobatere. Over the past month groups of lions, including new cubs (!) were photographed within Hobatere, along with some other important images that are contributing to evidence-based conservation in the area.
Among the most noteworthy images captured are two separate sets of cubs. The lioness known as OPL-6, who was re-collared in Hobatere this past June, gave birth to three cubs recently. While these cubs’ existence has been suspected based on OPL-6’s movements and erratic sightings of small cub spoor over recent months, these trail camera photos are the first definitive proof of the number of cubs. Additionally, we can see that all three appear to be in good health. OPL-10, the lioness sometimes known as Nilali, gave birth to her own set of cubs last October. This was first recognized during a separate re-collaring operation in Hobatere late last year. This group has been periodically seen by MEFT and Hobatere staff during the past year. The group appears to be thriving. Among the interesting specificities of these groups are their particular “fission-fusion” dynamics. Lions are known to form groups that will split (fission) and come together (fusion) at irregular intervals. This has been documented across Africa. As was recorded by Philip Stander in his work Vanishing Kings, the desert-adapted lions of northwest Namibia demonstrate unique fission-fusion patterns among all lions. Spending great amounts of time apart, these lions – both male and female – nevertheless recognize a shared group identity, even after weeks or months spent apart. The fine-grain fission-fusion dynamics of this Hobatere group have been evident in trail camera images: we have seen varying grouping patterns among these two males, three females, and five cubs. Though it must be emphasized that OPL-6’s cubs are always seen together, as are OPL-10’s cubs.
These cubs form an important part of a possible future for lions within Hobatere and neighboring farmlands. Since these groups have been discovered, groups of Lion Rangers have been consistently deployed to field camps adjoining Hobatere to monitor the lions’ movements in and out of the concession. Using GPS/satellite collar movement data, the Lion Rangers Research and Leadership Teams are able to inform the Rangers about pertinent lion movements. This helps efficiently deploy resources to maximize the effectiveness of the Lion Rangers in preventing human-lion conflict.
Additionally, other species of note, including brown hyena, black-footed cat, mountain zebra, black-faced impala, kudu, gemsbok, eland, and elephant were captured on trail cameras deployed in Hobatere. Among the most revelatory photos were those of an elephant recently caught in a poacher’s snare along the Hobatere border. As was recently reported on, this bull elephant was seen bearing the unmistakable marks of a snare on rear left foot in August. At that time MEFT veterinary staff from neighboring Etosha National Park quickly responded and removed the snare. We are happy to report that during recent Hobatere operations the bull was repeatedly seen and appears to have already made an almost complete recovery. Thanks to MEFT’s Dr. Axel Hartmann for removing the snare safely and effectively.
Trail cameras were supported by the Community Conservation Fund of Namibia, who continues to be among the foremost supporters of the Lion Rangers’ work. Watch this virtual space as more information from these trail cameras becomes available.