Translocation Away from Trouble

NPL-27; photo taken from trail camera.

The rainy season has brought new challenges to the lions and Lion Rangers in northwest Namibia. As game have dispersed across the area, lions have followed prey species, bringing them into different areas and into contact with livestock and farmers. One particular challenge has concerned a male lion, NPL-27, first collared by the Namibian Lion Trust (NLT) in 2019. This male had been spending the majority of his time around the Okavariona-Otjiapa waterhole complex during 2021, as was made evident in numerous photos taken from our trail cameras. However, as the rainy season began other males moved into the area, seemingly pushing NPL-27 out and towards potential human-lion conflict.

(Warning: graphic content in link)

In early June NPL-27 killed two goats further north in Omatendeka Conservancy. This conflict was attended to by the Lion Rangers, led by NLT Team Leader Jackson Kavetu, who worked with area farmers to keep their remaining stock safe. From their NPL-27 headed towards a farming area in ≠Khoadi-//Hôas Conservancy that has suffered from high levels of human-lion conflict in recent years. When two cattle failed to return from their normal grazing area, the Lion Rangers were alerted and found NPL-27 was responsible.

Cow killed by NPL-27, June 2022.

Alert to ongoing conflict, Namibia Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT) staff within the Directorate of Scientific Services mobilized resources and a multi-stakeholder group, including Lion Rangers from nearby conservancies, Namibian Lion Trust, and TOSCO, as well as MEFT Regional Services and Game Capture staff, with support from MEFT and WWF-Namibia to support the work of vet HO Reuter. The operation was overseen by MEFT Large Carnivore Coordinator and Lion Ranger Leadership member Uakendisa Muzuma.

Tracking the male lion into the mountains, the broad-based team was able to bait him into a narrow canyon that could be accessed by 4×4 vehicles. The plan being to translocate the lion into the core wildlife area of Omatendeka Conservancy, as was agreed to by conservancy representatives. After a long (and chilly) night of calling the lion into the bait, Dr. Reuter was able to safely dart the male before sunrise.

Once immobilized, the male lion was loaded into an MEFT Game Capture enclosure, so he could be safely transported during the more than three hour drive. Periodically the entire team would stop and Dr. Reuter would monitor NPL-27’s vital signs, which remained stable throughout the operation.

NPL-27 loaded into transport enclosure.

By mid-morning the lion was released, along with the remaining bait used at immobilization, safely in the mountains, far from communal farming areas. He was monitored by the Rangers, MEFT staff, and Dr. Reuter until he was revived and seen to be eating and responding well to the operation.

MEFT Regional Staff and NPL-27 at release site.

But translocation is only the start. A successful translocation necessitates follow-up monitoring to ensure the area is suitable for the lion, and that he remains nearby. While NPL-27 is fitted with an active satellite collar, there is no substitute for on-the-ground information. For example, since NPL-27 was thought to have left his core home-range due to the incursion of other male lions, what other lions were present at the release site. In addition to monitoring area lions remotely, the Rangers and their partners recognize that other, uncollared lions, are present in the area. To answer questions related to NPL-27’s likely movements, a team of conservancy, TOSCO, and NLT Lion Rangers, along with MEFT staff have been performing intensive foot-based patrols in the area. Led by NLT Ranger Unity Katjirumbu, these patrols have been covering the area surrounding the release site, as well as neighboring farming areas, to ensure close tabs are being kept, not only only lion, but also livestock movements.

Lion Rangers and National Police on monitoring and anti-poaching patrol near translocation release site.

Thanks to the Community Conservation Fund of Namibia, TOSCO, and MEFT for availing the needed resources for this important operation.

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