Over the past two weeks the Lion Rangers, in partnership with MEFT Regional Services and Game Capture staff, collared six lions (one male and three females) along the boundary of Etosha National Park and within the communal areas of northwest Namibia. These operations, requested by MEFT, are an important part of continuing to limit human-lion conflict and secure the desert-adapted lion population.
An important part of monitoring lions in the Kunene Region, and limiting human-lion conflict, is maintaining close tabs on lion movements across the region. Currently, the Lion Rangers and partnering organizations, Desert Lion Conservation and the Namibian Lion Trust, have collars deployed on 47 lions (out of an estimated population of 56-60 individuals) across the region. In addition to serving as an important basis for our ongoing research, these collars are central to our home-grown Early-Warning System, which keeps local farmers and Lion Rangers alerted when lions move into communal farming areas, where they can cause conflict.
Over the past year, MEFT has put considerable resources into collaring as many individuals of the desert-adapted lion population as possible. This includes employing a full-time veterinarian, Dr. Sandra Shikomba, whose primary responsibility is working to limit human-wildlife conflict across Namibia. In the past six months, Dr. Shikomba has helped the Lion Rangers with collaring 17 lions to help limit human-lion conflict. It is always a pleasure to work with Dr. Shikomba, who also takes an active role in teaching the Lion Rangers about large carnivore physiology.
An additional benefit of collaring is collecting certain morphological data for each lion. Lion Ranger Research Director, Dr. John Heydinger is compiling a comprehensive database of vibrissae (whisker spot) patterns for all the desert-adapted lions. Known to be nearly unique to each individual, vibrissae, along with other morphological characteristics, help reliably distinguish individual lions within small-to-medium sized populations, such as the desert-adapted lions. Forthcoming studies are examining relatedness among the desert-adapted lions as evidenced in their vibrissae patterns.
Collaring operations are a lot of work, requiring coordination among team members. The Lion Rangers are pleased to partner with, and work under the direction of MEFT for our collaring operations.