Northwest Game Count

Giraffe in Torra Conservancy. Photo: A Wattamaniuk

Each year, the second half of May is set-aside by conservationists in northwest Namibia for the annual Northwest Game Count.  The focus of this operation is to inform conservancies and Namibia’s Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism of wildlife numbers for the purposes of adaptive resource management. The NW Game Count is the largest and longest-running road-based game count in the world, the Lion Rangers are always pleased to participate.

The game count takes place on communal and government-managed lands and is comprised of four distinct sub-areas: conservancies south of the veterinary control fence, conservancies north of the fence, the tourism concession areas of Etendeka, Hobatere, and Palmwag, and Skeleton Coast National Park. Conducted annually, the game count covers nearly seven million hectares and is undertaken as a joint exercise between conservancy members and staff, as well as NGOs, all overseen by MEFT.

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Human-Wildlife Conflict Conference

Hon. Pohamba Shifeta addresses the conference.

The Lion Rangers’ Leadership Team was honored to attend and present at the recent Namibia National Human-Wildlife Conflict Conference, hosted by Namibia’s Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT), which took place in Windhoek from 10-12 May. This three-day, first-of-its-kind conference highlighted the challenges faced by rural communities living alongside wildlife.

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Human-Lion Conflict: the importance of locally-based approaches

Desert-adapted lioness near Ganamub river, November 2022.

A recent paper, co-authored by conservationists at the Namibian Chamber of Environment, examines human-wildlife conflict at a national level. This interesting mapping and analysis shines a light on some of the unique challenges of human-lion conflict – in particular the need for locally-based approaches to mitigate, manage, and prevent human-lion conflict. The exercise sought to identify whether certain environmental variables could meaningfully predict when and where human-lion conflict would take place. In the results Tavolaro et al. write “no predictor variable was found to have a significant effect on number of annual reports of livestock depredation by lion[.]” They continue in the discussion, “[n]one of the predictors for livestock depredation [for all carnivore species] were statistically significant, which could be because impacts are so pervasive and widespread across such diverse landscapes and farm management systems…that no variable or set of variables can explain the spatial variability patterns…This suggests that drivers of livestock depredation need to be explored at a finer scale (i.e., regional or conservancy level) for an improved understanding and subsequent mitigation.”

These findings underscore the importance of a locally-based approach to limiting human-lion conflict. With no predictable environmental patterns to draw-upon, lion movements, livestock movements, and human-lion conflict require eyes and boots on-the-ground. This is the approach of the Lion Rangers program.

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Population Survey: Finishing Up

NPL-34 and NPL-35 with two uncollared lions, Anabeb Conservancy, December 2022.

After nearly sixty days in the field, the Northwest Lion Population Survey completed this past week. Teams of Lion Rangers and MEFT staff have been working incredibly hard and it has paid off. More than 22,000 sq km have been covered by foot and vehicle. Every known lion in Kunene was observed and photographed, as well as some unexpected encounters. Lion Rangers from across the different conservancies partnered together, with many showing-off their tracking skills in areas they have not previously visited. Preliminary results indicate that the lion population of northwest Namibia is fairing well, even in the face of diminished prey numbers. Individuals and groups appear healthy, many lions were observed at recent kills, and we are heartened by the number of young cubs and conspicuously pregnant females. In the coming months lead researchers Uakendisa Muzuma and Dr. John Heydinger will be performing analysis and write-up of survey results, to be submitted to MEFT management. Watch this space for more information.

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Population Survey Week 8: Thick Bush

Video of desert-adapted cubs and lionesses, Etendeka Concession, December 2022.

Teams from the Northwest Lion Population Survey continued working to identify as many lions as possible across the Kunene Region. During week 8 our teams focused on the farming areas of eastern Anabeb Conservancy, where groups of lions have been splitting and re-forming recently. Further east Lion Rangers performed extensive foot patrols across the vast spaces of Ehi-rovipuka and Omatendeka conservancies. While no known lions were thought to be in these areas, our approach focused on landscape coverage to minimize the likelihood of unknown and unnoticed individuals. Over the Christmas and New Years holidays to Lion Rangers and MEFT staff worked tirelessly to complete this operation, with some great initial results. Particularly within Anabeb numerous collared and uncollared lions were observed and photographed.

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Population Survey Week 6: Approaching the Escarpment

Desert-adapted lions in Etendeka Concession.

The final week of the western portion of the NW Lion Population Survey saw all four teams turning their attention towards the eastern part of the Kunene lion’s range. To cross from west to east means surmounting the African escarpment, moving from the coastal area into highlands. As such, each team spent extensive time climbing mountainous terrain, often in temperatures exceeding 38 degrees C (101 F). As we close the western portion of the survey we are happy to see the desert-adapted lion population is weathering the drought and diminished prey numbers. With new groups of cubs and many females pregnant we believe the future bodes well.

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Population Survey Week 5: Torra and the Huab

Desert-adapted lioness, XPL-108, near Huab riverbed, Torra Conservancy.

Having completed the Palmwag Concession, Puros, Sesfontein, and Anabeb conservancies, the NW Lion Population Survey is beginning to focus further south within the so-called “western” area of the desert-adapted lions’ range; being the areas below and to the west of the African escarpment. These areas maintain the lowest recorded free-ranging sustainable lion densities in Africa, making survey work very challenging indeed. Our technical teams have already begun refining methods for the rest of this survey, as well as future surveys as we continue to monitor the lions in the region. The week’s activities were punctuated by collaring three problem-causing lions and teams surveying all the way to Huab river mouth.

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Population Survey Week 4: Southern Expanses

Uncollared desert-adapted lioness near Omakuara waterhole.

After a short weekend break, the Northwest Lion Population Survey resumed. Refreshed teams of Lion Rangers, teaming with MEFT staff and researchers, began executing a plan to cover the desert-adapted lions range all the way to its southern extent of the Ugab River. Having strengthened our methods through three weeks of completed work, the teams set-off with a clearer picture of how to most efficiently and effectively cover the landscape. While the first three weeks focused on areas of extremely low lion population density, we anticipate the coming weeks to yield even more sightings and unexpected encounters with unknown individuals.

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Population Survey Week 3: Northern Palmwag

Male desert-adapted lion, Palmwag Concession.

The Northwest Lion Population Survey continues into its third week. The Palmwag Concession is an important source of desert-adapted lions in Kunene. From this core many lions disperse to adjacent communal areas. Intensively monitored by Namibia’s Save the Rhino Trust, to combat rhino-poaching activities, the springs of Palmwag are well-known and SRT trackers serve as an important locus of information concerning lions’ movements. Though the Concession itself has few major rivers, notably the Aub, Barab and Uniab, the springs help maintain a robust population of prey species.

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