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.
By the beginning of May it appeared that the young male had settled into a pattern – it was time for action. Working closely with MET, IRDNC Rapid Response Coordinator Cliff Tjikundi, who himself had spent weeks ‘working’ the lion, recommended that Desert Lion Conservation assist in collaring and translocating the lion away from livestock and the Puros village. This would prove no easy task. In the final days it became clear that this young male was particularly skittish around vehicles, with many of the Rangers suggesting that the interference of other groups, not aligned with MET and Lion Ranger efforts, had been harassing him. Such unchecked harassment exacerbated a difficult situation, extending the time it took to secure the lion, during which it killed an additional two donkeys belonging to Puros residents.
Over a whirlwind final week, the Puros Lion Rangers assisted Dr. Philip Stander of Desert Lion Conservation in tracking the lion to a remote riverbed north of Puros. Following the lead of the Lion Rangers, Dr. Stander was able to dart the male and fit a satellite collar for better monitoring in the future. The team then initiated a translocation of the lion, now revealed to have come quite a distance north, to a secure area within Skeleton Coast National Park. All of this was executed with thorough oversite and close contact with MET, who will be receiving feedback and monitoring information on the collared lion going forward. At last check the young male is doing well and the people of Puros are breathing a sigh of relief.
This case highlights both the importance of teamwork across organizations, and the potential power of community-based natural resource management when it is aligned with government. More than ten dedicated conservationists – MET and IRDNC staff, researchers, Lion Rangers, conservancy game guards, and community members – came together to ensure the success of this endeavor. The Lion Ranger program is still young, but it is populated with a core of smart, capable, dedicated conservationists with a deep passion for their work. This was particularly on-display in the extreme care the Rangers took in ensuring the young male’s health and well-being throughout the translocation process. Without the oversite of the Ministry, the expertise of Dr. Stander, and, most importantly, the knowledge, dedication, hard-work, and follow-through of the Lion Rangers, this story would have likely had a darker ending.
Still, the work continues, as the Lion Rangers will continue to team with MET, IRDNC, and Desert Lion Conservation to monitoring this, and other lions across northwest Namibia.
Check out the newly remodeled Desert Lion Conservation website for more news about this great work.