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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Human-wildlife conflict has been a persistent and pressing problem in northwest Namibia. Over the past years many different stakeholders have been working together and with communities to mitigate and prevent further issues. Since the publication of the Human-Lion Conflict Management Plan last year, many of the crucial stakeholders have been strengthening their ties and aligning their efforts. This past week has been a stirring example of the type of progress that can be made when we work together. Over six days a group of researchers, IRDNC and MET staff visited the Torra, Puros, Sesfontein, Omatendeka, Ehi-rovipuka, and ≠Khoadi-//Hôas conservancies to provide feedback to communities and receive on-the-ground input into the best ways forward for addressing human-wildlife conflict. There is no substitute for getting community feedback to prioritize the way forward.
Substantive input from the communities focused on the need for early-warning systems concerning lion movements and an emphasis on mobilizing Lion Rangers. There was much thoughtful discussion around the fire each night, spearheaded by project leader Jonas Heita, concerning the role of government in supporting rural communities, and how different stakeholders can build resilient, sustainable systems for addressing human-wildlife conflict in its myriad forms.
Thanks to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism for prioritizing this work and organizing the trip. Thanks to all the conservancies for their thoughts and hospitality.
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.
View of Puros
This past week we were in Puros Conservancy, based out of Tomakas and Puros (town) surveying livestock owners. Our surveys primarily focus on the change in livestock numbers during the ongoing drought and the effects of carnivores, particularly lions, on residents’ livestock.
This past year, Puros was home to a series of human-lion conflict incidents that received some attention beyond the region. (See desertlion.info for more information.) It was a privilege and an important part of this project, to spend time with the farmers in Puros who have lived with challenges of almost daily encounters with lions. While there we had a healthy range of perspectives about the challenges of living with lions and spoke to many locals keenly interested in finding productive ways forward whereby the conservancy, the government, and NGOs can work together to support the goals of each.
Thanks in particular to Japi Uararavi and all the residents of Tomakas for their hospitality and sharing their time with us. Against the backdrop of ongoing human-lion conflict in Kunene it was refreshing to remember the importance of folks sitting together to work through difficult problems.
Puros Game Guard Speike Kasupi
Over the past two days we were based in the Puros Conservancy, at the town of Puros. During that time a productive meeting with the Puros Conservancy Committee provided useful insight into problems conservancy residents are facing from lions. The Committee as a whole contributed useful advice for how to move forward with the project
Puros Conservancy Committee
and showed considerable interest in receiving periodic updates on how members are coping with conflicts with carnivores.
We also met with Peter Uraravi, a headman in the conservancy who keeps livestock at his farm at Tomakas. Mr. Uraravi has long been a noted conservationist in the region and speaks with great force and passion about ensuring that humans and carnivores in Puros are able to co-exist in a sustainable fashion. Mr. Uraravi is supportive of our research and we look forward to joining him for an extended stay at Tomakas in the near future.