Over the past week, a technical team composed of the Lion Rangers’ Leadership Team, in partnership with IRDNC Coordinators and WWF-Namibia Program Staff, met with core lion-range conservancies in Kunene. The agenda is developing an innovative new program to pay communities for living sustainably alongside lions. This program is called Wildlife Credits and will be an important part of demonstrating to communities the commitment of the international conservation community to recognizing the work of Africans conserving lions.
Wildlife Credits is an innovative form of paying communities for conservation performance. Unlike the majority of past conservation programs, where donations come as money or equipment with the promise of performance, Wildlife Credits supports existing work where, in this case, communities are already conserving their wildlife. It is an incentive-based performance system to reinforce the importance of wildlife conservation, while recognizing that conservation must be economically competitive. Within Namibia this program is being spearheaded by NACSO and CCFN.
Continued human-lion conflict (HLC) and a lack of available prey in the area over recent weeks led the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT) to take the difficult decision to remove the remaining members of the Huab group. Over a period of four days the Lion Rangers assisted MEFT and staff from N/a’anku sê private reserve with assessing, tracking, and removing the lions from the area. As is always the case with Specially-Protected Species (Nature Conservation Act 4/1975), such a decision ultimately lies with government. The Lion Rangers are humbled to be trusted to assist with such important operations.
Over the past weekend Rapid Response Team and Research Teams were in the area of the Huab responding to the close proximity of the ‘Group of Four’ to De Riet. While this group resides nearby, the lack of available prey west of the escarpment, following the good rains inland, is drawing our attention to them and other groups in the far west.
Over the past five days the Lion Rangers and program partners have been intensively monitoring four separate groups in Torra Conservancy and Ombonde research area.
On Friday, the group of XPL-105, composed of three adult females, killed an ostrich, fewer than 100m south of the road to Torra Bay – right along one of our team’s morning running routes! The three females easily dispatched the ostrich and had little problem keeping the pied crows and lappet-faced vultures at bay. Follow-up tracking the next day enabled us to recreate how the ostrich was stalked in a riverbed, then taken down and dragged under a nearby tree. After feeding on the carcass into the evening the three females moved into the Springbok River, coming within 6km of Driefontein farm. However, as one Driefontein farmer noted, “I know these lions. They are disciplined and do not cause problems.”
In recent weeks different groups of desert-adapted lions have moved close to two different settlement areas. Along the banks of the Huab riverbed a group of three subadult females and one male have been moving west of the village of De Riet. This group was recently collared in the same area.
In Puros Conservancy a pair of females has been moving up and down the Hoaruseb riverbed, even once coming into conflict with the community’s cattle, which are grazing in the riverbed because grass is not available elsewhere. The IRDNC Rapid Response teams have been working with the Puros Lion Rangers under the direction of Dr. Stander of Desert Lion Conservation to address this challenge. Updates on this group’s movements have been provided by Desert Lion Conservation throughout the month of January.
Rainfall further east is bringing prey further up the Huab riverbed, towards the settlements of De Riet in Torra Conservancy and Rennevoote along the Torra-Doro !Nawas Conservancy border. Over the past week the Lion Rangers and IRDNC Rapid Response Teams have been working alongside staff from the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism to keeps tabs on lions in the area. With the low density of prey there was some concern that the lions may be struggling to find food. However, extensive video and photographic evidence was reviewed and leading scientists and field practitioners agreed the lions are doing well considering the season and relative lack of rainfall, and thus prey.
The Covid-19 pandemic has touched all parts the globe, including limiting incomes to northwest Namibia conservancy residents. Beginning in March, staff at tourist accommodations and working for touring companies were sent home, with little certainty about when they will return to work. This dramatic and unexpected hit to local incomes immediately began affecting livelihoods and eroding people’s savings. Many parents rely on schools to provide their children with meals during the school year – the closure of schools is exacerbating food insecurity.
Conservation of wildlife cannot take place when people cannot meet their basic needs. Alongside IRDNC staff, and with support from TOSCO, and Oliver Adolph and Family, the Lion Rangers have been helping to distribute food relief in the southern Kunene Region. This past week Lead Field Assistant Jendery Tsaneb helped spearhead relief to affect farmers and community members. Packages of mealie paap, pasta, soup packets, oil, sugar, and tea were loaded on to trucks and delivered to meet the greatest needs.
The work of the Lion Rangers and IRDNC Human-Wildlife Conflict Rapid Response Teams continues. Over the past week, Lead Field Assistant Jendery Tsaneb has been directing a small team in the Torra Conservancy, to help prevent human-lion conflict.
Beginning in November, IRDNC put into place an important drought relief program in NW Namibia. With money raised directly from the organization’s supporters, IRDNC staff have been making their way through conservancies hit hardest by drought to engage in a cattle buying program. The goal of the program is to get conservancy farmers to destock during this time of limited grazing so that grasses may rebound in coming years. This will allow for improved grazing, not just for livestock, but for wildlife as well, with important effects on prey and predators across the region. Hats off to IRDNC and its supporters for implementing this important program: it really shows the depth of support for communal farmers during this incredibly difficult time.