Orupembe and Sanitatas Lion Tracking – 2 June, 2018

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.

Community members and response team discuss action plan.

The following days focused on information sharing and joint patrols, with the community farmers and response team working-together. What began as a very negative situation was quickly transformed. While tracking in the rocky and rugged Kaokoveld is an imposing challenge, the knowledge of the farmers and skills of the response team allowed the whole group to better understand what occurred. Over a period of two nights, one donkey carcass was found with a pair of lion tracks nearby – though it could not be definitively stated that the lions killed the donkey. Given the timing and the incoming data from the newly in-place satellite collar from the recently translocated male, it appears that an additional pair of lions is moving through the mountains and rivercourses in Orupembe – certainly a surprise! Through discussions with additional area farmers, it appears that the second killed donkey was not likely prey to lions – no lion spoor were found in the vicinity. It appears that, once the residents learned of lions about, rumor took hold. Though further tracks were seen over the ensuing days, all parties agreed the tracks were at least two weeks. The trail had gone cold.

Tracking along the Orupembe-Sanitatas border.

After four days of joint team and community member patrols, all agreed with due satisfaction that the suspected lion had left the area. The time spent sharing conversations and meals with the community reminded the response team that many farmers maintain a soft spot for lions, but feelings of powerlessness and fear can creep in when conflict is not responded to. The farmers insist they are willing to live with lions, but want assurances that someone will respond and assist when there are problems. Taking-up arms against lions is seen by the farmers as a safety precaution – oftentimes it is children who are solely responsible for minding livestock in the field. More than livelihoods, the Orupembe and Sanitatas farmers want to ensure the safety of their families. Having worked with the Lion Rangers the farmers even requested to receive a similar type of training, so they can better understand and live alongside lions!

Due to the recent drought suitable grazing and prey species are lacking in Kaokoveld. The farmers of Orupembe and Sanitatas recognize this, and know that lion conflict may continue. Nevertheless, they promised that retaliatory killings will not be considered an option, as long as the Lion Rangers are willing to assist and keep lines of communication open. All parties agreed that mechanisms for lion and farmer co-existence are possible and needed. The community has agreed to do its part while efforts are being made to support their ability to flourish as farmers living with lions.

We thank the communities of Orupembe and Sanitatas for their openness, hospitality, and willingness to work together. The days spent their were an invigorating reminder that working with communities can be a moving experience – it’s the only way to ensure sustainable conservation.

Extracted from C. Tjikundi’s reports.

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