Collaring in Hobatere Concession

Heydinger assisting with collaring in Hobatere.

Human-lion conflict challenges within the Ehi-rovipuka and ≠Khoadi-//Hôas conservancies bordering the Hobatere tourism concession necessitated a short-notice operation by the Lion Rangers in partnership with the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT). In the past few months male lions have been causing problems for communal farmers along the Hobatere fence line. With support from MEFT veterinary services and the Community Conservation Fund of Namibia, a team of Rangers and MEFT staff spent an intensive three days in Hobatere. What they found there was somewhat surprising.

Male desert-adapted lion, west of Hobatere Concession.

Intensive tracking revealed two previously unencountered male lions, estimated to be approximately six years old, who appeared to have taken up residence within Hobatere. These two males, likely dispersers from Etosha National Park, provide new insight into a recent spate of unexpected male lion movements, seemingly originating in Hobatere, but with downstream effects further west. It is inferred that sometime in the past two months, these two uncollared and unknown males departed Etosha National Park, and likely outcompeted previously resident males in Hobatere. This would provide some explanation as to why male lions across central-western Kunene have been moving into what appear to be new home ranges, including dispersers from Hobatere causing some level of human-lion conflict in nearby farming areas. To learn more about these two males, the decision was taken by MEFT staff to prioritize fitting these two males with satellite collars.

During the operation, it was discovered that these two males were also residing alongside a collared female. This turned out to be OPL-6, who had been previously collared in Hobatere in May 2021, but whose collar had ceased to function. Following a long two nights both males were successfully and safely collared, as was OPL-6 recollared. One of the greatest challenges of the operation was waiting at the bait into the night as the relatively cold temperatures of the Kunene winter set in. However, the Rangers persevered and all of the lions’ new satellite collars are functioning well. These are critical to monitoring lion movements within Hobatere, and, importantly, alerting the Rangers and neighboring communities should these lions depart the concession for communal lands.

Vibrissae (whisker) patterns of desert-adapted lioness.

In addition to fitting lions with collars, this operation also begins the groundwork for a forthcoming population survey. Because lions have near-unique vibrissae patterns, individuals can be positively identified when clear photos of the patterns are taken. In the coming months the Lion Rangers and MEFT will be undertaking the first-ever comprehensive Northwest Lion Population Survey: watch this virtual space for further information.

The Hobatere operation was a great success, in no small part to Dr. HO Reuter, who partnered with the Lion Rangers for the first time in overseeing the safe immobilization and wellbeing of the lions during these collarings. It was a pleasure to work with Dr. Reuter.

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