An important part of continuous monitoring of the desert-adapted lions is ensuring GPS/satellite collars stay up to date. Collars become damaged and batteries run low, necessitating upkeep and replacement. In partnership with the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism, and with support from GEF and WWF-Namibia, the Lion Rangers have been actively re-collaring lions around the Ombonde Research Area over the past week. The purpose of these activities are both to continue ongoing research of the desert-adapted lions, as well as ensuring proactive management of human-lion conflict, which remains the number one cause of mortality for non-cub lions in northwest Namibia.
Over five days small, highly-mobile teams of Lion Rangers and researchers Uakendisa Muzuma and John Heydinger moved through the mountains of Omatendeka and Anabeb conservancies to find and identify lions whose collars were no longer working and groups requiring collars to improve monitoring. Four individuals, two males and two females, were fitted with new GPS/satellite collars. These operations emphasized lions thought to be potential sources of human-lion conflict. Along the way we were able to monitor a handful of other desert-adapted lions, to check on their condition and better understand their interesting group dynamics.
Once the groups were identified and known to be relatively settled, the lions were darted and fitted with the new collars. Subsequent monitoring of collars shows the lions are moving through the mountains, primarily between key waterholes where prey species – mountain zebra and giraffe – are known to frequent. Dr. Diethardt Rodenwalt assisted the operation and oversaw the safe immobilization of five individuals over a thirty-six hour period. All lions were seen to be in good condition. They appear to the thriving in the rugged environment.
Of interest was the male OPL-8 who when immobilized it was discovered had a severely broken left upper canine (see above). While this break has left much of the root exposed, there appear to be no serious ill effects as the male was in good condition and able to maintain his role as a dominant member of the pride.
During each immobilization whisker pattern photos were taken. These will serve as baseline information for the forthcoming Northwest Lion Population Survey, which is being designed and implemented by the Lion Rangers Research Team and Desert Lion Conservation under the oversite of MEFT. This survey will be the first ever of the desert-adapted lions and will serve as an important baseline for population monitoring going forward.