Reconnaissance in the Mountains

View of the Ombonde river catchment study area.

This past week Dr. John Heydinger and Lion Ranger Field Assistant Jendery Tsaneb recommenced their foot-based exploration of the mountainous terrain surrounding the Ombonde river catchment. In partnership with Namibia’s Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism, the University of Minnesota Lion Center is pioneering a new lion monitoring and conservation project in the area.

The area is inhabited by livestock herders who share the landscape with lions.

The mountainous area has long served as a corridor and link between the lion population of Etosha, and the desert-adapted lions inhabiting the far west all the way to the Skeleton Coast. However, the lions in the area have been unstudied. Their numbers, ecology, behavior, and movements remain something of a scientific mystery. With support from the National Geographic Society Big Cats Initiative, the Lion Ranger program has taken responsibility for uncovering the ecology and population numbers within the area.

This will initially be done through an extensive camera-trapping program, which is being supported by the Community Conservation Fund of Namibia. The methods include identifying key water sources in the area and deploying cameras for a ‘camera-blitz’ during both the dry and wet seasons to better understand lion and other carnivore numbers as well as seasonal use of the water sources. From there, key individuals in the lion population will be fitted with collars to track their movements and also help warn local farmers when lions are encroaching on livestock areas.

End of a long day in northwest Namibia.

However, the first step is to perform an initial assessment of wildlife use of water sources. Because much of the area is roadless this necessitates extensive hiking through the mountains. At more than 2,000 km2 this is an extended process. However, there is no substitute for covering the entire area by foot, particularly as we anticipate monitoring the lions and other carnivores there for years to come. These weeks of foot-based reconnaissance will serve as an invaluable time to explore and better learn about this rugged landscape. This will be invaluable to wildlife conservation efforts for years to come. Watch this virtual space for more updates.

Sunset in Kunene.

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