Early-Warning Systems Meeting, Wereldsend. – 5 October, 2018.

Photo: Tina Vinjevold

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!

Desert Lions in the Guardian Newspaper – August – September, 2018.

Desert lion. Photo: Tina Vinjevold

On 22 August, 2018, the Guardian newspaper ran an article under the “Radical Conservation” heading entitled, “Can Namibia’s desert lions survive humanity?

This article highlighted recent human-lion conflict issues in northwest Namibia, with particular emphasis on two lion mortalities, one in Anabeb Conservancy and another in the Ugab river which makes up the border of the Sorris Sorris and Tsiseb conservancies. The Namibia Ministry of Environment and Tourism and its partnering organizations feel that the article contains a number of misleading statements by activists working in Namibia, and gives an incomplete picture of lion conservation in northwest Namibia. You can read the Ministry’s response, in-full, below.

Following the article’s publication, the Ministry and its partners reached out to The Guardian to have some of the misinformation corrected. While the newspaper remained committed to its reporting, several substantive changes were made to reflect the situation on-the-ground. Throughout the correction process The Guardian staff displayed the height of professionalism and commitment to hearing the full story. Their efforts are greatly commended.

Human-lion conflict in northwest Namibia remains a pressing issue. The Ministry and its partners are working hard to ensure that substantive progress is made for the benefit of rural farmers and communities in the northwest. Continue reading

Rapid-Response in Ganumub and Okongwe – Early July, 2018.

Beginning in early July, a male lion was making his presence known in the upper Ganamub river area of the Sesfontein Conservancy. While his presence was undoubtedly exciting news for the tourists visiting the new Natural Selection lodge at the Ganamub-Hoanib junction, it was obviously concerning for the many families keeping livestock in the area. Over a week five cattle were killed by the male within 11 kilometers of a settlement. Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation’s (IRDNC) Rapid-Response Team led the Sesfontein Lion Rangers in responding to the incidents. Working for days in the rugged Hoanib and Ganamub rivers the Lion Rangers and Rapid Response teams were able to positively identify the male lion and work with the local communities and Desert Lion Conservation to develop a plan of conflict mitigation. Following the presence of the Rangers and Response teams the lion actually left the area on his own, likely headed downriver towards the Skeleton Coast National Park. This allowed the Lion Rangers and Response team to work directly with Desert Lion Conservation to collar four lions in the Hoanib and nearby Okgonwe areas of the Sesfontein and Puros conservancies. Throughout this process the active engagement of the conservancy leadership and community members was critical.


Lion Ranger and Rapid Response Teams Field Deployment – May – July 2018

From May to July the Lion Rangers and IRDNC Rapid Response teams racked up an incredible amount of ground covered, incidents managed, and community meetings held to ensure that the Human Lion Conflict Management Plan for North West Namibia keeps moving forward.

Over these three months the Rapid Response teams and Lion Rangers responded to 27 human-lion conflict incidents in which more than 100 livestock fell prey to Desert lions. While this is an alarming number of incidents, the Lion Ranger program is confident that incident response is an important part of ensuring that communities are supported in remaining resilient to human-lion conflict. All of the incidents of human-lion conflict took places at previously identified human-lion conflict ‘hotspots’ indicating a preliminary proof of concept for our identification of hotspots.

In addition to the 27 incidents responded to, the Rapid Response teams and Rangers performed 19 vehicle-based patrols. Across all activities they had 51 lion engagements covering all the critical core lion-range conservancies in northwest Namibia.

While these months have been the busiest to-date for the Lion Ranger program, ongoing challenges remain and new ones are being identified. It is of critical importance that more lions are fitted with GPS and RFID collars to provide early warnings of their movements. Desert Lion Conservation is playing the central role in this ongoing work. Settlement patterns remain a challenge. Many farmers inhabit areas favored by lions, bringing the two into conflict. This occurs not because of farmer ignorance or recalcitrance, but because livestock and wildlife both favor areas with readily available water and grazing. Due to the ongoing drought in northwest Namibia grazers are likely to be found in certain areas. Predators naturally follow.

During this period our team has expanded. IRDNC Rapid Response Team Leader Cliff Tjikundi has been joined by Linus Mbomboro as a second Rapid Response Team Leader. Mr. Mbomboro is a member of Anabeb Conservancy, has long experience working in wildlife conservation in Kunene, and is trained as a Lion Ranger. Between Mr. Tjikundi and Mr. Mbomboro the Lion Ranger program is making great strides in covering human-lion conflict across northwest Namibia. The statistics and review of activities in this post are distilled from their field reports.

Photos: desertlion.info

De Rest Farm Incident – 11-17 June, 2018

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.

Continue reading

Orupembe and Sanitatas Lion Tracking – 2 June, 2018

Photo from NACSO

On 25 May a report came from Orupembe Conservancy that two lions had killed a pair of donkeys. All human-lion conflicts are cause for concern, however, this was especially disconcerting as it is nearby where a male lion was recently collared, though he was translocated out of the area.

IRDNC Human-Wildlife Conflict Rapid Response Coordinator Cliff Tjikundi, along with Desert Lion Conservation’s Rodney Tjiuaru, and Lion Ranger Linus Mbomboro responded to the reports passed along by the Puros Lion Rangers (Orupembe Conservancy borders Puros to the north). Upon arrival, the team was met by twenty armed members of the Orupembe and Sanitatas conservancies, engaged in tracking the culprit lions. With an array of knives, spears, pangas (machetes), and even an old firearm or two spread among the community members, the situation appeared critical. Quickly the response team was able to secure a meeting with the group, to discuss possible, hopefully peaceful, ways forward. Continue reading

Male Lion in Puros – 16 – 23 May, 2018

For one month, the Puros Lion Rangers, in partnership with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) and IRDNC monitored, tracked, and reported-on the movements of a male lion heading north through the Puros Conservancy. Previously unaccounted for, this young male had been making his presence known by raiding cattle and donkeys along an identified human-lion conflict hotspot corridor. Starting in Ganamub and heading north his movements were closely tracked, though he was often a step-ahead of the Lion Rangers. Moving through the rugged Puros mountains, a combination of vehicle and foot-based patrols followed this male as he made his way towards the village of Puros, on the banks of the Hoaruseb river. What made this lion particularly difficult to track was its unwillingness to return to a kill the following day. Generally, lions will return to finish off a carcass – providing both trackers, and, potentially, angry farmers, a better chance to account for the lion’s whereabouts. Difficulty accounting for this lion was further exacerbated by the (much needed) rains which fell in Kaokoveld during the middle of April. For two weeks the Hoaruseb was in flood, keeping the Lion Rangers from accessing all areas where the lion was thought to be residing.

Continue reading

First Early-Warning Tower Erected – 27 April, 2018

This past week Desert Lion Conservation, in partnership with the Lion Rangers, IRDNC, and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, erected the first Early-Warning System tower at Driefonteine in the Torra Conservancy. Based on pioneering research by Dr. Philip Stander, the Early-Warning System integrates new innovations in GPS-collar technology with critical community-development progress made in the form of the Lion Ranger program. The goal is to provide farmers at human-lion conflict ‘hotspots’ with relevant information about lion movements in their area. Driefonteine has suffered from human-lion conflict incidents for more than twenty years, and was thus identified by both lion monitoring data and community survey information, as a critical location to have an Early-Warning System in operation.

On Friday, 27 April, the Honourable Minister of Environment and Tourism, Mr. Pohamba Penomwenyo Shifeta, visited Driefonteine where Cliff Tjikundi of IRDNC and some of the Lion Rangers presented the working capacities of the Early-Warning System. A crucial knock-on effect of the System is to support strong relationships between Ministry officials and local farmers as they work together to combat human-lion conflict. We thank the Minister for his visit and look forward to continuing to work closely with MET.

Alfues Ouseb, Gisela Ouses, and Nick Steenkamp stand by their new Early-Warning System tower.

Puros Lion Rangers – 1 February, 2018

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.


Lions in Ugab – 17 January, 2018

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.