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

Prevention, Patrols, and Planning – August, 2018

During the month of August, IRDNC’s Rapid Response Team Leaders Cliff Tjikundi, Linus Mbomboro and the Lion Rangers were incredibly busy! Throughout the month Mr. Tjikundi and Mr. Mbomboro responded to twelve separate lion sightings near homesteads in six separate lion-range conservancies in the Kunene and Erongo regions of Northwest Namibia. In particular, Puros Conservancy lived-up to its billing as a human-lion conflict ‘hotspot.’ Three individual sightings were reported within the conservancy and the Team Leaders and Lion Rangers engaged in eleven separate patrols to keep abreast of lion movements. They also assisted Desert Lion Conservation with a successful translocation from the Tsiseb Conservancy late in the month.

In total the Rapid Response teams covered 7,483 kilometers – that’s further than across Australia.

It wasn’t all lions all the time for the Response Team and Lion Rangers. During August they attended stakeholder meetings focused on the development of the Kunene People’s Contractual Park, a new conservation and land-rights project being spearheaded by IRDNC and its founder Garth Owen-Smith. The teams also assisted the Save the Rhino Trust with anti-poaching patrols which yielded an arrest before a rhino-poaching incident took place!

Rapid Response Team Leader Cliff Tjikundi

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

Stakeholders Meeting, Swakopmund – 22 June, 2018

Today staff from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC), the Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF), Deustche Gesellchaft fur Internationale Zuzammenarbeit (GIZ), and the University of Minnesota Lion Center, met in Swakopmund for a progress report and planning session on human-lion conflict issues facing rural communities in northwest Namibia. This meeting primarily functioned as an update from last September’s Northwest Human-Lion Conflict Management Meeting.

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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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NW Game Count – 2-15 June, 2018

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.

KfW, GIZ, and WWF-Namibia Workshop – 29-31 May, 2018

Over three days we were joined at World’s End by representatives from the German development bank KfW, GIZ – who consults the Namibian government, WWF-Namibia, and staff from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET). The topic of our extended discussion was how to unify approaches to human-wildlife conflict in northwest Namibia, with particular emphasis on integrating the Lion Rangers and early-warning systems. Following on the heels of an extended MET review of infrastructure needs to address human-wildlife conflict, the whole group focused on aligning resources to serve the needs of Kunene communities. Surveys from core lion-range conservancies clarified the scope of the challenge faced by rural communities. Due to the recent drought, many conservancy residents are suffering from decreased livestock herds; oftentimes affecting households at an order of magnitude greater the annual income.

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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

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.