During the holidays the Lion Rangers were hard at work. While assisting with the construction of the new Ombonde Research and Monitoring Camp, the Lion Rangers from Ehi-rovipuka, Omatendeka, and Orupupa conservancies rotated through intensive foot-based patrols spanning the central Ombonde catchment – the heart of our monitoring project in the area.
Patrols began shortly after sunrise each morning, with Lion Ranger program Field Assistant Jendery Tsaneb leading a small group of Rangers through the riverbeds and mountains. Each day the goal was to perform a circular patrol encompassing waterholes, riverbeds, and other points of interest – such as farms or livestock posts – in one general direction, either directly from the camp, or walking back towards the camp having been dropped by a vehicle. This rugged area was previously largely unsurveyed for evidence of lion and other carnivores. The primary objective of these patrols was to identify where trail cameras will be deployed in our forthcoming lion population estimate study. The secondary purpose was for the Rangers to have a better sense of carnivore and livestock movements. Finally, Tsaneb was instructing the Rangers on proper data-collection techniques while implementing a standardized daily patrol protocol, so data collection and monitoring can become increasingly standardized.
Knowing where lions are moving through the area is an important part of implementing a new monitoring and population study program. A better understanding of lion numbers, demographics, and how different individuals and groups are using the area will enable the Lion Rangers and their partners to make better-informed decisions concerning lion management and will help them act as better environmental stewards when it comes to limiting human-lion conflict.
Performing foot-based patrol does not mean limiting activities just to lions and other carnivores. While moving through the conservancy areas the Rangers are also helping monitor other wildlife related issues, such as game in the area or evidence of illegal hunting. The Rangers removed multiple snares and other implements used for illegal bushmeat hunting. Once their location is noted and they have been collected, the snares are handed-in to the conservancy office where management takes over responsibility for working with government to enforce environmental regulations.
Patrols typically continued until mid-afternoon and covered 23-28 km – no mean feat when walking through the rugged, arid area. Throughout the work the Lion Ranger team met to discuss what was being seen in the field, as well to refine methods and draw-up plans for where cameras will be deployed in the coming months. One of the main is to begin collecting foot-based patrol data from across the more than 2,000 km2 landscape. Getting all the Rangers and partners on the same page in terms of programs goals, methods, and anticipated outcomes requires extensive conversation and collaboration in community-centered programs such as this one.
In the coming months the Lion Rangers will continue working in the area to develop better patrol and monitoring techniques and continue working with local farmers to limit human-lion conflict. They will also continue to work alongside conservancy partners and other stakeholders to disseminate accurate information about lions and other resident carnivores.