The holidays are an especially important time for the Lion Rangers. While the rest of Namibia is able to retreat to their family’s homestead, or vacation at Torra Bay, the Lion Rangers are hard at work to limit human-lion conflict. Because people, and therefore livestock, are on-the-move in such large numbers during the festive season, the Lion Rangers re-double their efforts. Particularly with the lack of rains in Kunene this year, many families are trekking with their goats, sheep, and cattle to ‘drought farms’, or dry season livestock posts where grazing is typically only used in drier times. This brings livestock and lions into potential conflict in a variety of hard-to-reach areas.
Patrols into these far-flung areas can bring many unexpected surprises. Far in the hills near the Ombonde river the Rangers examined the carcass of a 4-5 year old lioness. Given the recent spate of illegal activity in the area, poaching was suspected. However, in consultation with Dr. Maaike de Schepper, and based on intensive tracking in the area near the carcass, human interference was quickly ruled out. Indeed, the carcass had been reported recently by local farmers (while the Rangers were already in the field), who were concerned at what they had found. Dr. de Scheeper made the assessment that the lioness had died of natural causes, potentially as the result of an anaphylactic reaction. The Rangers performed repeated patrols in the area, and found evidence that the lionesses’ pride-mates had come back to the location of the carcass during ensuing nights to investigate . It is an unfortunate loss for the pride.
Patrols in the Sesfontein Conservancy concentrated on the mountains near Ganamub and within the dry Hoanib riverbed. Senior Lion Ranger Steven Kasaona led the Sesfontein and TOSCO Rangers through the mountains in search of a group of two females (periodically joined by a subadult male), who often cross between the Ganamub farming area and upper Hoanib. With the area still wanting for rains, even the springbok have taken to the mountains in search of available grazing. The lionesses followed them into places only reachable by foot. The Sesfontein Rangers know the area well and are used to navigating the rocky, and occasionally treacherous, terrain. When the lionesses did descend into the Hoanib, the Rangers, partnering with the Rapid Response teams of IRDNC, performed vehicle patrols down the Hoanib. While traveling by bakkie is certainly speedier than by foot, it can bring other hazards. More than once the Rangers had to ‘assist’ the vehicles through deep sand. The hard work of the Sesfontein team paid off, as the lions and livestock stayed far apart during December.
Monitoring patrols can quickly turn into anti-poaching patrols when Lion Rangers pick up the signs of illegal activity. Near the White Mountain area, a team of Rangers from Orupupa, Omatendeka, and Ehi-rovipuka conservancies found evidence of illegal snaring. After alerting the government’s anti-poaching unit, the Ranger’s on-the-ground skills facilitated the arrest of two suspected poachers (see below). The Lion Rangers applaud the tireless efforts of Namibia’s national police over these past months in quickly responding to and investigating suspected illegal activities within the communal areas.
Heading in to 2022 the Lion Rangers will continue to be hard at work ensuring the safe and peaceable coexistence of humans and lions on communal lands in northwest Namibia. On tap for the new year includes further Ranger training, focusing on protocols for assisting law enforcement, population survey methods in preparation for the first-ever northwest lion population survey, and further technical training in the use of the SMART app monitoring system.
Thanks to all our program supporters for helping make 2021 the best year yet for the Lion Rangers program.