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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!