We have writtenabout 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!
Low rainfall and sparse prey distribution mean that the desert-adapted lions of the northern Namib have been on the move. In the recent weeks three prides in particular have been highly-mobile. The Agab pride has been favoring the mountainous etendeka area in the eastern Palmwag Concession, not far from the Lion Ranger base at Wereldsend.
The Huab pride has been moving between the coast and near Brandberg. Led by two experienced lionesses, this group is avoiding conflict with livestock in the rugged area.
A lioness of the Obab pride (Xpl-45) gave birth in May and has been raising her cubs along the shores of the Skeleton Coast. The rest of the Obab pride is covering a large range, providing further evidence of the extensive home-range of the desert-adapted lions and unique fission-fusion dynamics of the population.
Halfway through 2019 and the Lion Rangers could hardly be busier. The year has already been full of a great many challenges – as well as some notable achievements. Time in the field continues to increase, as pastoralists take their livestock further afield in search of suitable grazing. Of course, this means wildlife is on the move and the lions are not far behind. The Lion Rangers and Rapid Response Teams continue to grow: we are training another set of communal conservancy Lion Rangers and IRDNC has added another human-wildlife conflict Rapid Response Team Leader. Collaring in partnership with Dr. Philip Stander of Desert Lion Conservation is ongoing. A particularly gracious thank you to Dr. Stander for all his time training the Rangers. For the rest of the year we will continue to work hard in the field, strengthen relationships with communities affected by the desert-adapted lions, and work with the Namibia Ministry of Environment and Tourism to forge sustainable solutions to human-lion conflict. You can learn more about our work in our Mid Year Report.
All of the work of the Lion Rangers and Rapid Response Teams would be impossible without the generous support of so many different individuals and organizations. Field-work, research, and community-outreach across the rugged Kunene Region is always challenging and frequently a costly proposition. Our entire team is incredibly economical with expenses and is so grateful for those who have stepped-up to support a future for communities and the desert-adapted lions. In particular we want to recognize the contributions by the Lion Recovery Fund to the Rapid Response Teams, the National Geographic Society for training and Lion Ranger field deployment, TOSCO for help across a variety of arenas, the Namibia Chamber of the Environment for kraal materials, Oliver Adolph and Family for catalyzing support of vehicles and operations, and Camelthorn Safaris for operations and field logistics support.
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.
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.
Thanks to Rapid Response Coordinator Cliff Tjikundi for all photos and write-up summary.
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.
The Lion Rangers were working in the Hoanib River this week to check in on an adult female and a maturing younger female (XPL-69 and 79). Working with our tourism partners at Natural Selection and Kunene Conservnacy Safaris, the Lion Rangers were able to safely approach and check-in on these two lionesses. Even though the ongoing drought has depressed wildlife numbers, the two appear to be quite strong and healthy – even killing a young Gemsbok (Oryx gazelle) one evening. Clearly these two have become habituated to tourism vehicles. However, it is important to remember that approaching lions, even in a vehicle, is always a potentially dangerous situation and should be done with trained personnel. There is quite a bit of traffic and the Hoanib and everyone has to do their part to ensure the area’s wildlife remain comfortable.
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.