Trail Cameras in Ombonde

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In partnership with the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT), the Lion Rangers have been performing an intensive camera-trapping project in the Ombonde research area. Building off the success of the MEFT-led rapid assessment of the desert-adapted lion population in May, This intensive camera-trapping project is laying the groundwork for a planned population survey of the northwest lions, to take place in mid-2022.

Above are just a few of the interesting and exciting photos captured on the trail cameras in the past few months.

Trail cameras are an important method for assessing wildlife populations, particularly in hard-to-access areas, where wildlife may be wary of people. Estimates of carnivore abundance and occupancy are an important part of conserving large carnivores, particularly in unfenced protected areas, such as northwest Namibian conservancies. Because lions and other large carnivore numbers are currently thought to be in decline in northwest Namibia – primarily due to the effects of drought – it is an important part of the Lion Rangers’ work to use any and all methods to asses the relative health of the lion population. The rapid assessment in May provided convincing evidence that individuals in the population are not at immediate risk due to lack of available prey, particularly in the Ombonde area. For the population to be effectively monitored over the coming years, baseline understandings of numbers and distribution are required. Trail cameras provide a cost- and time-effective method for developing the first part of our population baseline. Along with collar data, this information will contribute to setting the methods for the population survey.

Mountain zebra in Ombonde area.

In addition to providing information about lion numbers, trail cameras provide interesting insights into the overlap among different carnivores. We are currently developing a study examining the spatial and temporal overlap of lions with other large carnivores, such as leopard, cheetah, spotted, and brown hyena in the area. This may help us better understand to what extent lion movements affect the presence or absence of other carnivores. One interesting insight thus far, has been the presence of brown hyena – showing up more frequently than any other large carnivore, save lions.

Brown hyena, Ombonde research area.

Adaptive management is considered an appropriate approach to dealing with complex systems with moving targets – such as conserving desert-adapted lions on communal land. However, the best management of free-ranging wildlife, whether adaptive or otherwise, must be evidenced-based. Field science methods such as the structured use of trail cameras require thoughtful design and careful execution – this begins long before cameras are deployed in the landscape. Once data are incoming, they must be categorized and analyzed using appropriate statistical tests before robust conclusions can be derived. While it is tempting to rely on individual observation (“anec-data”), particularly when one is concerned about the viability of a wild population, this can overlook such things as observer bias or inadequate coverage of an area. The research projects of the Lion Rangers and their partners emphasize methods grounded in accepted practices of conservation biology and other related field sciences. Though this can seem a drawn-out process, it helps provide MEFT and the communal conservancies with the best possible information to make decisions about their lions and other wildlife. Watch this space for further updates on our trail cameras and other ongoing research projects.

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