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.

Pilot Collaring Program – 18 October, 2018

One of the new early-warning collars in action

In partnership with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Namibia), the Northwest Lion Working Group is currently piloting a program to directly compensate conservancies for living with lions! Though the project is still in its nascent stages, there is great hope that this will be a paradigm shift in addressing human-lion conflict within communal land in northwest Namibia.

The collaring program draws together years of desert lion monitoring and ecological data to estimate the cost to a given conservancy for having resident lions. The cost is based upon the amount of wildlife a given lion consumes within a year. Because conservancies have rights over game species, for own-use or trophy hunting based upon an agreed-upon quota, individuals of a given game species have a proxy monetary value. Say a mountain zebra (Equus zebra) is worth $100. Because Desert Lion Conservation has been monitoring lion dietary habits for years, estimates are available for the number of zebra predated by an individual lion each year. If a lion kills twenty mountain zebra within a year, the cost to the conservancy is $2,000 (20 x 100). Because desert lions are not confined to particular conservancies, the amount a conservancy receives is based upon the number of nights a given lion spends in that conservancy (lions being mainly nocturnal). So, if the cost of having a lion is $2,000 annually, and the lion spends 120 nights in the conservancy, that conservancy receives $675.53 (.328767 x 2,000 = 657.53424). The rest of the money would go to the other conservancies where the lion spends other nights.

The funding to remunerate communities for the lions is being sourced from Namibian and international donors and is being spearheaded by WWF-Namibia.

This program is still very much in a testing phase, but represents an important innovation in tying communities to lions through primarily ecological means. On the horizon is a better estimate for the number of individual lions in northwest Namibia and increasing effort to have more of them collared. Stay tuned for updates.

Trial run of collaring program using previously collected data.

Lion Mortality, Sesfontein Conservancy – 14 October, 2018

A different desert lion skull, being preserved in salt.

In late September, Sesfontein Conservancy Rhino Rangers, while on patrol in partnership with the Save the Rhino Trust to combat black rhino (Diceros bicornis bicornis) poaching, discovered the carcass of a male lion near the town of Sesfontein. As is standard practice, Save the Rhino Trust staff informed the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Desert Lion Conservation, and the Lion Rangers who examined the carcass and retrieved the skull for identification – as the body had begun to decompose. While tooth-wear from the skull indicates that the lion was of an advanced age, it is always worrisome to unexpectedly find a lion carcass in the bush. This concern is heightened by suspicion that the lion was poisoned. An investigation by the Lion Rangers and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism was performed. Poisoning of this lion is suspected, though other mortality causes remain possible. There is zero firm evidence to suggest which person may have been responsible.

Human-lion conflict remains a pressing issue in northwest Namibia. The Lion Rangers are working with concerned communities and a diverse array of government and NGO partners to assist communities who struggle living with lions. We thank the Sesfontein community for being willing partners in our work and the Save the Rhino Trust and Rhino Rangers for helping where they are able. Conservation of the lions on communal land will remain a challenge in the years to come – we are always working to move forward having learned from setbacks.

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.

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!

Spotlight on Kunene Conservation: Internet Scout – September, 2018

Kunene Conservation Research was recently spotlighted in the Scout Report, an online publication operated by the Internet Scout Research Group. The Research Group is a service provided by the University of Wisconsin (USA) focusing on “developing better tools and services for finding, filtering, and presenting online information and metadata.” Internet Scout has been operating since 1994 and highlights resources and tools for researchers and educators across the academic and research spectrum. Check it out here.

Thanks so much to the Internet Scout team for spotlighting our work and helping spread the word about community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) and efforts to productively address human-lion conflict in northwest Namibia.

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