No Age Limit in Conserving Natural Resources…

Senior Lion Ranger Phineas Kasaona. Photo: NACSO/WWF

Senior Lion Ranger Phineas Kasaona was featured earlier this year in a special story published by the Namibia Association of CBNRM Support Organizations (NACSO) and WWF-Namibia. The story details how Phineas, a long-tenured Conservancy Game Guard, skilled tracker, and dedicated conservationist, continues to pursue his formal training to better serve his community and its wildlife.

We have written about Phineas’ involvement and central role in the Lion Ranger program on numerous occasions. He is a critical member of our team as well as an important and respected teacher in the field. It is so inspiring to see that he is still pursuing his own training after all these years!

Intensive Field Work

Assisting with lion collaring.

The prolonged drought in northwest Namibia continues to challenge the Lion Rangers and Rapid Response Teams. Pastoralists continue to trek in search of available grazing. This mobility is a necessary, and time-tested, survival strategy in the semiarid and arid northern Namib, but it brings together livestock and lions. From May to July high numbers of livestock were lost to predators in key lion-range conservancies, the plurality of these losses (44%, n=55) occurred in and around the Anabeb Conservancy. The outcome of these losses has been the illegal killing of lions which, thanks to the hard work of the Rapid Response Teams and Lion Rangers, has resulted in three individuals being charged. This time of high activity is pushing all team members – Ministry, NGOs, and communities – to work harder to help pastoralists make informed decisions about livestock movements, and to monitor the desert-adapted lions. From May to July the Rapid Response Teams covered an amazing 19,039 kilometers.

Cow killed in Hoanib riverbed.

This included conflict response work, monitoring, and meeting with community members to find long-term, community-centered approaches to limiting human-lion conflict. This great work should also remind us of the diversity of perspectives on human-lion conflict within the communities themselves. All of the Lion Rangers and Rapid Response Team Leaders are native to northwest Namibia and maintain their own herds of cattle, sheep, and goats. This is truly a community-centered effort, that gives us optimism that continued work will continue to yield positive results.

Cattle near the Hoanib River.

Thanks to Rapid Response Coordinator Cliff Tjikundi for all photos and write-up summary.

New Early-Warning Tower, Mbokondja, Anabeb Conservancy – 27 November, 2018.

Another early-warning logger tower has been deployed near the Mbokondja homestead in the Anabeb Conservancy. Over the past year-plus, the Mbokondja area has been a human-lion conflict ‘hotspot.’ In October, Desert Lion Conservation led a team of Lion Rangers and Ministry of Environment and Tourism staff in collaring a group of young adult male and female lions in the area. The erection of the early-warning logger tower completes the preparation phase for ensuring that the community is informed about the movements of their resident lions. The software and hardware for the early-warning towers and collars continues to be tweak and is performing better than ever.

Thanks to the community at Mbokondja for working so closely with the Lion Rangers, in particular Nicholas Kuvare for helping organize the community and doing his part to ensure the desert lions remain a viable presence in the area.

Rapid Response Team Leaders On-the-move – September-October, 2018

Throughout September and October, IRDNC’s Rapid Response Team Leaders, Cliff Tjikundi, Linus Mbomboro, and German Muzuma, covered more than 10,600 kilometers in northwest Namibia, working with local communities to mitigate and prevent human-lion conflict. Over this period they responded to five human-lion conflict incidents, helped place six early-warning and satellite collars on desert lions, assisted with full moon waterhole counts for elephants, and facilitated five community meetings focused on information sharing concerning desert lion conservation efforts – among a variety of other tasks. Particular highlights include the erection of a new early-warning system logger tower at Mbokondja in the Anabeb Conservancy, assisting farmers in retrieving cattle who had strayed into Etosha National Park, and helping repair Etosha’s western boundary fence.

Mr. Tjikundi in particular notes the low number of human-lion conflict incidents during the period. This is a hopeful sign but by no means indicates a decrease in the work load of the response teams. Thanks to Cliff, Linus, and German for their steadfast dedication and hard work.

Four Days in the Field, Mbokondja – 5-9 October, 2018.

Photo: desertlion.info

The past four days have been incredibly productive for the whole Lion Ranger team. Led by Dr. Philip Stander of Desert Lion Conservation, the Lion Rangers assisted in collaring four lions in the Hoanib and Mbokondja areas, while successfully identifying a fifth, sub-adult male. Four newly identified lions were termed XPL-121, XPL-122, XPL-123, and XPL-124 by Dr. Stander. The ‘XPL-###’ naming system is a long-standing one of Dr. Stander’s. The ‘X’ stands for the area: the Xhorixas District, and the ‘PL’ indicate the species, in this case Panthera Leo. This was overseen by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism Large Carnivore Coordinator, Mr. Uakendisa Muzuma, who provided much appreciated thoughts and insight throughout the operations.

Rapid Response Team Leaders Cliff Tjikundi and Linus Mbomboro took the lead in area patrols, assisted by Lion Ranger Rodney Tjiuara and community members. Extensive tracking throughout the Anabeb Conservancy provided an important overview of recent lion movements. These patrols were not in response to critical human-lion conflict threats, but rather in response to information coming from community members that lions were resident within the area. This is an important note of progress: communities are working with the Lion Rangers to proactively address lion presence before they become a human-lion conflict problem. In particular, the community around Mbokondja – never known for their tolerance for lions in the past – has been a fantastic partner in providing lion movement information.

Finally, the Lion Rangers were able to erect a logger tower near the Mbokondja homestead. Logger towers are a technological innovation developed specifically for collecting data on the northwest lion population in northwest Namibia. This new system is an important part of better understanding the lion population here, as well as proactively providing information about lion movements to the local communities.

Site visits: Ombonde, Khowareb, and Hoanib Rivers – 17-21 June, 2018

Over the past week the Lion Rangers were joined by Garth Owen-Smith and Craig Packer for site visits to the Ombonde, Khowareb, and Hoanib rivers in the Etendeka Concession, and Anabeb and Sesfontein conservancies. The site visits had a host of purposes, chief of which was to have a better sense of lion movements throughout the area.

Garth Owen-Smith, who has been instrumental in the development of community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) in northwest Namibia guided our small group through the various catchments. A veritable fount of information on the region, Owen-Smith provided insight from his deep experience to help us better understand the long-term trends effecting northwest lion conservation. In particular, Owen-Smith’s longstanding close relationships with the local communities allowed us to better understand the long legacy of local antipathy towards lions, but also the strong identification of rural residents with wildlife and the need for conservation. Owen-Smith remains a key supporter of the work of the Lion Ranger program.

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Ministry Human-wildlife Conflict Mediation Scoping – 8-13 April, 2018

Human-wildlife conflict has been a persistent and pressing problem in northwest Namibia. Over the past years many different stakeholders have been working together and with communities to mitigate and prevent further issues. Since the publication of the Human-Lion Conflict Management Plan last year, many of the crucial stakeholders have been strengthening their ties and aligning their efforts. This past week has been a stirring example of the type of progress that can be made when we work together. Over six days a group of researchers, IRDNC and MET staff visited the Torra, Puros, Sesfontein, Omatendeka, Ehi-rovipuka, and ≠Khoadi-//Hôas conservancies to provide feedback to communities and receive on-the-ground input into the best ways forward for addressing human-wildlife conflict. There is no substitute for getting community feedback to prioritize the way forward.

Substantive input from the communities focused on the need for early-warning systems concerning lion movements and an emphasis on mobilizing Lion Rangers. There was much thoughtful discussion around the fire each night, spearheaded by project leader Jonas Heita, concerning the role of government in supporting rural communities, and how different stakeholders can build resilient, sustainable systems for addressing human-wildlife conflict in its myriad forms.

Thanks to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism for prioritizing this work and organizing the trip. Thanks to all the conservancies for their thoughts and hospitality.

 

Human-lion Conflict Meeting, Anabeb Conservancy – 27 March, 2018

Today, representatives from IRDNC and the Lion Rangers met with members of the Anabeb committee and conservancy staff. A very positive discussion focused on how community conservation can be supported going forward. While human-lion conflict continues to be a pressing difficulty in the Conservancy, field staff are working diligently to monitor carnivore populations and limit conflict.

Our productive conversation highlighted the need for better information-sharing and continued capacity development for conservancy staff. Of course, the hard-won field experience of Game Guards and Lion Rangers has a lot to teach us as well. Today’s meeting was just another step forward in creating meaningful, sustainable solutions to human-lion conflict. Living alongside lions remains a challenge, but the community joins us in agreeing that evidence-based management which is community-centered is a strong way forward.

Thanks to Chairman Titus Rungundo and all the staff of the Anabeb Conservancy for hosting us.

Lion Ranger Training, World’s End and Mbokondja – 4-11 March, 2018

This past week, twelve Lion Rangers, three field coordinators, two researchers, and three staff members gathered to formally inaugurate and begin operations of the Lion Ranger Program. Our week of training consisted of ‘classroom’ work to brush-up on lion ecology, an overview of lion conservation across Africa, and an examination of the background and ways forward concerning human-lion conflict in the region. The Rangers themselves were invaluable contributors to all information sharing and provided a wealth of field experience drawing upon their years serving as Conservancy Game Guards. While we recognize that lion conservation and limiting human-lion conflict in Kunene is a journey, not a destination, all agreed that the program, still so young, is making great strides. Continue reading

(Back) at Mbokondja – 22 February, 2018

When it rains, it pours. Having recently addressed a difficult ‘problem’ lion situation at the Mbokondja farms, Anabeb’s Lion Rangers are once again busy with another adult male lion in the same area. Over the past week we were deployed, along with Anabeb Lion Ranger Linus Mbomboro, to Mbokondja for three days and nights of patrol and tracking to ensure that the area’s new resident was not endangering livestock or people. This yielded lots of lion sign, but not a clear sighting of the lion by either the Rangers or locals. This is a good indication that, while the male is moving around the area, he may feel uncomfortable being near homesteads during the day, and unable to predate livestock during the night. Great news!

By the end of our time the male was tracked into the mountains heading into the Palmwag Concession, where he appears to have met another, younger, lion. The pair appear to have set-off together. (Cliff Tjikundi, the Human-Wildlife Rapid Response Team Leader for IRDNC is currently patrolling the Mbokondja area.)

We take the past week as positive evidence of progress in implementing the Lion Rangers as effective agents in preventing human-lion conflict. The community members were appreciative and showed a clear willingness to work alongside the Rangers – we were even joined by Mr Karutjaiva who joined us for more than 10 km of lion tracking one morning.

Thanks to the community at Mbokondja for making us welcome, Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism officials for their assistance, and the Namibian Police for sharing their quarters with us.