Population Survey Week 4: Southern Expanses

Uncollared desert-adapted lioness near Omakuara waterhole.

After a short weekend break, the Northwest Lion Population Survey resumed. Refreshed teams of Lion Rangers, teaming with MEFT staff and researchers, began executing a plan to cover the desert-adapted lions range all the way to its southern extent of the Ugab River. Having strengthened our methods through three weeks of completed work, the teams set-off with a clearer picture of how to most efficiently and effectively cover the landscape. While the first three weeks focused on areas of extremely low lion population density, we anticipate the coming weeks to yield even more sightings and unexpected encounters with unknown individuals.

Torra

Uncollared lioness near Torra farming area.

Team 1 focused the week on the farming areas of eastern Torra Conservancy adjacent to the Palmwag Concession. Recent human-lion conflict incidents in Torra, caused by uncollared lions, underscore the importance of developing a stronger understanding of groups in this area. The Team focused on the upper Uniab riverbed and waterholes such as Big Spring, Mud Spring and Poacher’s Camp in eastern Torra. A group of four adult lions, including the collared female XPL-142, was identified and photographed in Torra. This group’s proximity to communal farming areas, in combination with recent conflict is necessitating a collaring operation of the remaining group, to take place next week.

Collared lioness in Palmwag Concession

Mountains Above Mbakondja

Male desert-adapted lion in mountains near Mbakondja.

Information from the previous week indicated the possibility of an unknown male lion moving through the mountains above Mbakondja and into Palmwag. Dr. Heydinger took an expert tracking team of Lion Rangers, our so-called “Mountain Team,” into this mountainous and remote area with one specific goal: find this unknown male. Days and days of foot tracking in this rugged area led to the Rangers following the tracks of not one, but two males over the mountains back into Palmwag. When the Rangers finally caught up with these two at the Okamakuara waterhole, they were doubly-surprised. Not only were the males they followed the known individuals XPL-136 and XPL-141, but three females were also at the waterhole, including XPL-83 and two unknown, uncollared females. Drawing upon their collected field information as well as historical collar data from XPL-136 and XPL-141, the team concluded that the single male tracks, estimated between 4-6 weeks old, that had been found during the previous week, actually belonged to XPL-136, who had moved outside his ‘normal’ home range, without XPL-141, the previous month. This was surprising but also reassuring news, in that the team now felt entirely confident no unknown lions were residing in the area.

Mountain zebra carcass at spring near Mbakondja.

Uniab to the Ocean

Lion Rangers (from left) Kavesire Rutavi, Katukaruka Karutjaiva, and Kaidue Uaroua completing a patrol which brought them to the western extent of desert-adapted lion range: the Skeleton Coast and Atlantic Ocean.

Team 3 concluded our work in the Palmwag Concession, focusing on the Uniab riverbed and associated rivers, going from the concession’s eastern boundaries all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Formerly, a group of three female lions, known as the XPL-108 group, frequented the area. This group was found to have moved further south in the Huab catchment. The teams scoured the length of the Uniab, spending time in the harsh environments of Skeleton Coast National Park. Along the way they found groups of elephants and rhino, had close encounters with spotted hyena and leopard, and completed surveys of more than a dozen waterholes.

Elephants near Palmwag Concession waterhole.

Ugab to Doros Crater

Mountainous area in central Kunene.

Team 4, headed by Namibian Lion Trust Director Tammy Hoth, headed for the remote reaches of the Ugab riverbed and Brandberg mountain. Formerly lions frequented this area further south, but a rash of human-lion conflict has led to a decrease in lions in the area. Team 4 nevertheless took on the difficult task of covering this massive and arid landscape to ensure that no unknown groups of lions persisted there. Over ten days they covered more than 400 km by vehicle and 100 km on foot. Though prey numbers in the area were higher than expected, there was not concrete evidence of lions residing permanently.

Uncollared lioness in Palmwag Concession.

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