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 a period of three days the Rangers monitored their movements – making extensive use of available collar data during both day and night. This necessitated hours of patrolling during the lengthening (and dark: cloudy) nights. Throughout this period Torra Lion Ranger Erik Gewers worked tirelessly to inform local farmers of lion movements and ensured that all livestock were kraaled each night.
With tourism returning to the Huab, the Group of Four was repeatedly displaced during daylight hours. Careful monitoring allowed us to conclude this was not due to irresponsible behavior by tourists, who generally approached the lions slowly and kept a safe distance. It may be the relative lack of vehicles during the past year, due to COVID-related travel restrictions, has made the lions increasingly wary of vehicles.
Even with available collar data, monitoring lions and preventing conflict at night is difficult under the best of circumstances. Even with multiple vehicles stationed between the lions at De Riet, the group succeeded in taking a dog from the village. With the Early-Warning system in place the Rangers were able to respond and frighten the lions away within moments and retrieve the dog’s carcass. This was obviously a frustrating outcome and will cause us to revisit our methods for nighttime conflict prevention. However, given that it was the first such incident caused by the group, we are optimistic that the response tactics of fireworks, lights, and loud noise were sufficient to dissuade them from future attempts. The group immediately vacated the area and has since been tracked more than 20 kms to the south (above video).
An additional silver lining was the overall optimism of De Riet residents for the program. They consistently reaffirmed their appreciation for the hard work of our teams and recognized that preventing human-lion conflict is difficult, demanding, and time intensive. The open communication between our team and residents has been central in avoiding greater conflict in the area and we believe it is helping put desert-adapted lion conservation on an increasingly sustainable footing.