The final week of the western portion of the NW Lion Population Survey saw all four teams turning their attention towards the eastern part of the Kunene lion’s range. To cross from west to east means surmounting the African escarpment, moving from the coastal area into highlands. As such, each team spent extensive time climbing mountainous terrain, often in temperatures exceeding 38 degrees C (101 F). As we close the western portion of the survey we are happy to see the desert-adapted lion population is weathering the drought and diminished prey numbers. With new groups of cubs and many females pregnant we believe the future bodes well.
Teams 1 and 4 began working their ways towards each other, covering the large and difficult terrain of the Klip River. Two groups of lions, one group of five individuals, and one group of six, generally confine their movements to this core wildlife area within Torra and ≠Khoadi-//Hoas conservancies. Mountainous, nearly roadless, and at this time of year exceptionally dry, the Klip River is well-known as a refuge for wildlife surrounded by farming areas. In the past lions have come out of Klip River to cause conflict on neighboring farms. For Team 4, more than two weeks of extensive foot-based tracking paid off: a group of five lions Klip River lions were photographed. While Team 1 focused on NPL-42, they were also able to photograph the female OPL-16, along with her uncollared sister and four yearling cubs! This is an exciting development. If the group can survive in this rugged area they could serve as a new core for growing lion numbers in Klip River.
Team 2, our so-called “Mountain Team,” headed for one of the most mountainous areas of central Kunene: the Etendeka Concession. Based on research being conducted by Heydinger and Muzuma, the Etendeka Concession has seen an increase in lions over the past two years. Intensive collaring programs ensure these lions are generally well-accounted for, but the area always yields surprises. The team was further assisted in finding lions by the fact that OPL-15, a collared female, killed a giraffe early in the week on the Etendeka plateau. This attracted other lions to the area, including the females OPL-4 and OPL-5, and the males OPL-7 and OPL-8, who originated in the Hobatere Concession but have since made Etendeka and neighboring Omatendeka Conservancy the core of their home-range. Far from farming areas, these lions spend their times traversing mountain passes, moving between waterholes and hunting mountain zebra.
The Farms of Khoadi-Hoas
Human-lion conflict has been a challenge for the farmers of ≠Khoadi-//Hoas Conservancy over the past 18 months, particularly in the farming communities of Persianer and Anker. Team 3 spent the final week of the western portion of the NW Lion Population Survey covering this farming area and working alongside farmers to raise awareness of how to limit human-lion conflict. Throughout the survey this team has been particularly focused on incorporating local farmers into their work and disseminating information about the Lion Ranger program and the NW Lion Population Survey. This is a critical part of ensuring the sustainability of the lion population in the area. Where communities have rights to manage their wildlife it is the communities that lead in conservation efforts. As community members and farmers themselves, the Lion Rangers are well-suited to lead these outreach efforts.