Population Survey Week 2: The Hoanib

Group of three desert-adapted lions near Ganamub riverbed, Sesfontein Conservancy.

The Northwest Lion Population Survey continues with all teams focusing on the ephemeral Hoanib riverbed and adjacent landscape in Sesfontein Conservancy and the Palmwag Concession. Long considered a source of the desert-adapted lions, the Hoanib subpopulation is one of the best known in Kunene. However, questions remain about unknown and uncollared individuals in the area. Additionally, because the Population Survey is aiming at near-comprehensive coverage of the landscape, the Lion Rangers and MEFT are also using it as an opportunity to better understand lion spatial ecology and movement corridors.

Hoanib Floodplain

Desert-adapted lion, XPL-114, near Hoanib.

Teams 1 and 3 once again combined to cover the massive Hoanib floodplain area, where coastal-roaming lions are known to frequent. Well-known lions such as XPL-114, aka “Charley” are well-documented for moving through the Hoanib Floodplain, from the coast up to the Hoanib-Obias junction. Not satisfied with simply finding collared lions, the teams also traversed the coastal landscape from the Amspoort area through a variety of Hoanib washes, including the Sarugab and Hunkap. All tracks identified were positively linked to known lions groups.

Ganamub Mountains

Collared desert-adapted lioness during Population Survey.

Team 2 focused on the area from where the Hunkap meets the Hoanib through the Ganamub wash. Farmers from Sesfontein settle along the Ganamub river during drought – they helped provide important insight into lion movements in the area. While the team focused on tracking in the mountains above this portion of the Hoanib, Team Leader John Heydinger focused on getting whisker pattern photos of a group consisting of two collared females, known as XPL-103 and XPL-113, and an uncollared male. They were found moving through the mountains, and even tracked by Orupupa Lion Ranger Olga Karizemi through a mountain pass. Photos of the group were eventually captured with the help of Doro !Nawas Lion Ranger Zelda Dandu, near a settlement area, but these lions are not known to be conflict-causing.

Team 2, (from left) Zelda Dandu, Jackson Kavetu, Rodney Tjavara, Olga Karizemi, Pienaar Kasupi, and Jendery Tsaneb, in the mountains above Hoanib.
Mountain pass where Olga Karizemi tracked Hoanib lions.

Elephant Song and Okahako

Team 4 Lion Rangers, Lesely Xamseb and Kooti Karutjaiva

Team 4, led by MEFT regional warden Amon Uraravi, focused on the Hoanib riverbed surrounding the Elephant Song area. In the past this has been something of a human-lion conflict hotspot, when farmers have brought their livestock to graze close to the river during the dry season. Currently there are no livestock near the lower parts of the Hoanib. Team 4 spent extensive time also tracking the XPL-103 group through the mountains of Okahako. Our locally-developed Early-Warning System was crucial for teams staying in contact and coordinating their efforts around lion movements in these areas with no cellular network. Later in the week the team completed extensive foot-based tracking in the Oruvao area of Sesfontein Conservancy. Lion movements headed further south were discovered and this played into planning for the next week.

Team 4 tracking at waterhole in Okahako

Thanks to the staff of Wilderness Hoanib Camp and Natural Selection Obias Camp for their assistance during the week.

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