Collaring in Ombonde Research Area

Male and female desert-adapted lions in Ombonde Research Area.

Partnering with MEFT Directorate of Scientific Services and game capture unit, over the past week the Lion Rangers have been undertaking an intensive collaring program in the Ombonde Research Area. Following the rapid assessment of northwest lions last week, MEFT management identified a high need for better collaring information of lions in Ombonde.

NLT Lion Ranger Nali with newly-collared desert-adapted lion (OPL-1).

Five lions in total were collared over an approximately 36-hour period, though the on-the-ground prep work took much longer. Collaring uncollared lions requires extensive investment of time to identify which lions are in the area and to ensure collars are deployed to the appropriate individuals. Because the Lion Rangers’ work emphasizes limiting human-lion conflict it is important to collar those lions most likely to be human-lion conflict culprits. Though we can never know for certain which lions are most likely to cause conflict, young, dispersing males, and females having to feed large cubs represent a disproportionate number of conflict incidents.

With this collaring exercise we are adding to the existing lion naming system in northwest Namibia. Previously desert-adapted lions being collared were assigned a unique identifier, XPL-#. The ‘X’ stands for the Xhorixas (Khorixas) district, while ‘PL’ stands for Panthera leo, the scientific name for lions. A limited number of lions collared in the Hobatere concession have received HPL-# identifiers. With the new research being undertaken in Ombonde, collared lions there are receiving the OPL-# identifier, in which ‘O’ stands for Ombonde.

The first night of collaring netted an approximately 4.5 year old male, who came in to the bait just after midnight. He was darted by the MEFT vet and fitted with a collar, receiving the identifier OPL-1 (above).

The second night was incredibly busy. Two males came to the bait together, having displaced OPL-1 who was seen walking away. OPL-2 had previously received a collar in the nearby Hobatere Concession. As such, this approximately 8 year old male also has an HPL identifier.

OPL-2 with newly-fitted collar in Ombonde Research Area.

At the same time an additional approximately 4.5 year old uncollared male was immobilized. Though this male appeared to be dominant over the other two, his body condition was somewhat deteriorated, though not dramatically so. Physical inspection by the MEFT vet revealed this male had a recent altercation with a porcupine and was still sporting some quills and puncture wounds, which were mostly healed. The remaining quills were safely removed and puncture wounds treated to ensure infection did not set in.

Desert-adapted lion, OPL-3 during immobilization with MEFT vet.

Once these two males were safely revived and briefly monitored to ensure no ill effects from the immobilization, two females were immobilized and fitted with collars. OPL-4, approximately 8 years of age, and OPL-5, approximately 10 years of age, were both part of a group of 11 lions which had congregated around a spring. Relying on the extensive experience of MEFT’s game capture unit, the whole team was able to safely immobilize these two and separate them from the rest of the lions while keeping everyone, lions and humans, safe throughout the operation. Both females were in excellent body condition and were seen attending to a group of three cubs nearby following immobilization and being fitted with collars.

Immobilized desert-adapted lioness, OPL-4.
Immobilized desert-adapted lioness, OPL-5, being fitted with a collar by MEFT Large Carnivore Coordinator and Lion Ranger Senior Advisor U. Muzuma.

The entire program demonstrated the ability of researchers, Lion Rangers, and various MEFT departments to work seamlessly together for the benefit of local communities and lions. These collars will be central to keeping local farmers informed about lions movements and for providing monitoring feedback to MEFT and local communities. Additionally, we used the program to test a new batch of trail cameras and recorded not only lions, but some other interesting carnivores. More information about collaring activities and trail cameras to follow.

Group of desert-adapted lions. Taken by trail camera.
Leopard in Ombonde Research Area. Taken by trail camera.

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