Lions in Etosha: A Brief History

Lions have long inhabited Namibia’s Etosha National Park. Over the past half-century their numbers have fluctuated greatly. Gail Thomson, of the Namibian Chamber of the Environment‘s publication Conservation Namibia, recently published a blogpost distilling much of the history of lions in Etosha. This post recaps a recent paper co-authored by Lion Rangers’ Research Director John Heydinger, along with Craig Packer and Paul Funston, which was published in 2022 by the Namibian Journal of Environment. You can view the whole paper here. Thanks to the Namibian Chamber of Environment for highlighting this research.

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 7: Eastern Conservancies

OPL-38 with zebra carcass, December 2022.

We begin the eastern portion of the Northwest Lion Population Survey focusing on the conservancies of ≠Khoadi-//Hoas, Omatendeka, and Orupupa. For these remaining weeks, three teams are responsible for different areas along the escarpment and bordering Etosha National Park. In recent years this has been the main area of human-lion conflict in the northwest, as well as containing the majority of lions in Kunene. During this first week we observed and photographed lions across the area – the groups appear to be thriving.

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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 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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Population Survey Week 2: The Hoanib

Group of three desert-adapted lions near Ganamub riverbed, Sesfontein Conservancy.

The Northwest Lion Population Survey continues with all teams focusing on the ephemeral Hoanib riverbed and adjacent landscape in Sesfontein Conservancy and the Palmwag Concession. Long considered a source of the desert-adapted lions, the Hoanib subpopulation is one of the best known in Kunene. However, questions remain about unknown and uncollared individuals in the area. Additionally, because the Population Survey is aiming at near-comprehensive coverage of the landscape, the Lion Rangers and MEFT are also using it as an opportunity to better understand lion spatial ecology and movement corridors.

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Population Survey Week 1: Coast and Mountains

Desert-adapted lioness, XPL-150, photographed by Team 1.

The Lion Rangers and Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism staff, in partnership with the Namibia Lion Trust and IRDNC are completing the first week of the Northwest Lion Population Survey. Focusing on the core wildlife areas of the Puros Conservancy, this first week emphasizes some of the most remote areas lions are known to frequent in Kunene. Its not an easy way to start, with so much mountainous territory to cover, but it is important that desert-adapted lion landscape is covered comprehensively.

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Northwest Lion Population Survey

Desert-adapted lioness, XPL-114, overlooking the Hoanib riverbed.

The first-ever Northwest Namibia Lion Population Survey is underway! Overseen by MEFT, and bringing together researchers, government practitioners, and community Lion Rangers, the primary goal is developing a baseline population estimate, through repeatable methods, to serve as the foundation for evidence-based lion management. Northwest Namibia is among the few areas worldwide where human land-use and positive lion conservation outcomes align, a baseline population survey is critical to securing and managing the lion population going forward. The survey contributes to community-centered lion conservation, as well as insights for regional and pan-African lion conservation.

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