This year the Lion Rangers are partnering with and receiving field support from the National Geographic Society. As part of this partnership, John Heydinger has been connecting with classrooms of students in the United States and Canada. Through this partnership, called the Big Cats Classroom Challenge, students research the desert lions of Namibia and the challenges facing communities as they live together with lions. Check out this awesome video put together by Ms. Holden and Ms. Matsuba’s classes at Prescott Elementary in Alberta, Canada. Thanks so much to National Geographic for setting-up this partnership and to the students for their hard work!
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.
Lion Ranger work in rugged northwest Namibia presents an ever-changing array of challenges. Not least of which can be the environment itself. While we were tracking lions in the Hoanib in late November rains fell approximately two hundred kilometers inland. On the morning of 27 November, the Hoanib River unexpectedly came down in flood, almost entirely covering three vehicles, including two being used by the Lion Ranger team. Luckily, no one was injured.
In every cloud there is a silver lining. It was absolutely inspiring to see how the Sesfontein and conservation community came out in force to help retrieve those marooned by the flood and assist in extracting the vehicles. In particular, staff members of the Natural Selection and Fort Sesfontein lodges nearby, Fritz Schenk of Camelthorn Safaris (who supports the Lion Ranger program), and staff from IRDNC provided much needed support. Special thanks go to the Sesfontein community. Over three days a team of thirteen men and women worked entirely without compensation to assist the Lion Rangers and others. This is a special reminder that, though our work can be quite taxing, with the support of local communities and our conservation partners we stand a great chance to conserve northwest Namibia’s wildlife, including the iconic desert lions. Thanks to everyone for their selfless and tireless efforts. Whether it is retrieving stuck vehicles or conserving lions: we cannot do it without you.
Today members of the Namibia Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation, AfriCat North, Desert Lion Conservation, WWF – Namibia, and the University of Minnesota Lion Center met at Wereldsend Environmental Centre in the Palmwag Concession to discuss progress made and ways forward with the new Early-Warning System for human-lion conflict in northwest Namibia. Progress reports from the field came in from AfriCat, focusing on human-lion conflict along the western Etosha fence, and from IRDNC’s Rapid Response Team Leaders and Desert Lion Conservation focusing upon the western subpopulation. Lots of good and crucial information was shared, including seventeen early-warning and satellite collars being fitted to the western subpopulation and widespread fence repair to better maintain space between livestock and the eastern subpopulation. Proactive planning focused on rolling-out the Early-Warning System at even greater capacity over the coming months, with particular focus on ensuring information flow to all relevant stakeholders for timely incident prevention and response. Finally, the assembled group agreed to support the creation of new position, the Northwest Lion Information Manager, who will spearhead on-the-ground and public information dissemination concerning lion movements and conflict prevention. Lots of good work being done out there!
During the week of 11-17 June, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) directed a multi-organizational team including the Tsiseb and Sorris Sorris conservancies, experts from the University of Minnesota Lion Center, and support staff working with Desert Lion Conservation, in responding to a series of ‘problem lion’ incidents around De Rest farm near the Ugab River. In the early-morning hours of 16 June, Ministry officials destroyed a six-and-a-half year-old male lion at the farm. The lion was shot in response to repeated incursions and following days of attempts to alleviate the situation using non-lethal methods.
Early in the week this lion and a pair of lionesses, raided stock at De Rest farm, killing 27 goats and sheep, as well as two donkeys inside a kraal – this loss represents a substantial portion of the household’s livestock. Each of these three lions had been previously fitted with collars by Desert Lion Conservation, a long-time partner with MET in monitoring Namibia’s iconic Desert lion population. In January, the two lionesses were fitted with newly-designed satellite and RFID collars; the male had earlier been fitted with a VHF radio collar. This group of lions is well-known to local MET officials and Desert Lion Conservation, as well as conservancy staff and local tourism operators.
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.
Over the first two weeks of June, conservancies across Kunene are participating in the annual Northwest Game Count. The largest road-based game count in the world, the NW Game Count brings together hundreds of conservationists to take stock of wildlife numbers. The purpose is to ensure that communal conservancies, their support organizations, and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism all the best possible information when it comes to monitoring wildlife and setting quotas.
In each participating conservancy, Conservancy Game Guards join with MET and NGO officials to retrace standardized routes marking a representative sample of conservancy environments and topography. The expertise of all involved is critical to ensuring the counts are thorough, accurate, and standardized across years. Luckily, NW Namibia now has a core of committed conservationists with a deep knowledge of the landscape and wildlife. Of course, we are always learning and each year the NW Game Count brings unexpected surprises.
A big hand for MET, IRDNC, and Namibia Nature Foundation staff for ensuring the count is operating smoothly. Thanks also to the myriad lodges and tourism organizations for volunteering vehicles and staff. Of course, none of this would be possible without the conservancies taking ownership over wildlife and leadership to ensure that species are sustainably conserved.
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.
Joined by photographer and videographer Alexandra Wattamaniuk, we spent a few days working with the Puros Conservancy Lion Rangers. As part of kick-starting the Lion Ranger program and building-out the soon-to-be-live Lion Ranger website, we spent some time with Rangers Kooti Karutjaiva, Colin Kasupi, and Berthus Tjipombo. These three shared their tracking knowledge and spent time talking about why they think the Lion Rangers’ job is so important. The Puros Lion Rangers are responsible for monitoring lions in the conservancy and for mitigating and preventing human-lion conflict. They are an important part of limiting human-lion conflict in the area and in growing the benefits conservancies receive from living with lions.
We are so happy to work with such a great team and thank Alexandra for her hard work.
A pair of lions, originally from further north near the Huab River mouth, now residing in the Ugab River, killed 172 small stock (goats and sheep) which were being kept by the White Lady Lodge near the Brandberg. This is recognized to be a further set-back to human-lion conflict mitigation in Kunene. Of note is that these livestock were being kept in a tourism area in which the conservancy and the operator should have an agreement in place prohibiting the presence of significant numbers of stock. If, as was reported by The Namibian, 600 head of small stock were being kept in this area, it would likely violate the conservancy zonation.
One continually-pressing issue in mitigating and preventing human-lion conflict in Kunene is when well-intentioned folks retard long-term conservation by engaging in ill-informed activities. If the actions of individuals and groups are habituating lions to human contact, it may increase the likelihood that free-ranging lions will turn into ‘problem lions.’ In the case with these lions in the Ugab, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, in the interest of human safety, may take the decision to have the lions destroyed. This would be unfortunate but entirely defensible.