No Age Limit in Conserving Natural Resources…

Senior Lion Ranger Phineas Kasaona. Photo: NACSO/WWF

Senior Lion Ranger Phineas Kasaona was featured earlier this year in a special story published by the Namibia Association of CBNRM Support Organizations (NACSO) and WWF-Namibia. The story details how Phineas, a long-tenured Conservancy Game Guard, skilled tracker, and dedicated conservationist, continues to pursue his formal training to better serve his community and its wildlife.

We have written about Phineas’ involvement and central role in the Lion Ranger program on numerous occasions. He is a critical member of our team as well as an important and respected teacher in the field. It is so inspiring to see that he is still pursuing his own training after all these years!

Field Set-Up Along the Escarpment

During the past week some of the Lion Rangers, led by Sr. Lion Ranger Phineas Kasaona, performed reconnaissance work within the Anabeb, Ehirovipuka, and Omatendeka conservancies along the escarpment. These highland areas have been spared some of the worst effects of drought and in certain locations, including around the Otjomonbonde and Okahavariona waterholes, game was still visible; albeit in limited numbers. Some highlights included a group of five eland spotted in the southern Omatendeka conservancy, herds of springbok near Otjihapa, some intensive foot-based lion tracking, and cool temperatures at night. Special thanks to the ladies of Otjizeka for assisting us while performing some needed vehicle repairs.

The primary purpose of the visit was logistics planning for 2020-2021. For years a subpopulation of lions has inhabited the area but without comprehensive population monitoring taking place. As was mentioned in an earlier update, the Lion Rangers, in partnership with the University of Minnesota Lion Center, are taking charge of monitoring lions in the area beginning early next year. Watch this space for exciting news about the project as well as updates from the field.

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Checking Early-Warning Towers

MET Large Carnivore Coordinator, Uakendisa Muzuma, at Early-Warning Tower; Anabeb Conservancy.

During a recent field trip through the northwest, we met with a number of local farmers to asses the effects of drought on their livelihoods and livestock movements. This was part of a larger program spearheaded by Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) to examine how farmers are dealing with the ongoing challenge of drought and the potential threats of climate change. MET continues to be proactive in developing new approaches for better understanding the threats facing communal farmers. During these surveys in the Anabeb Conservancy, we checked-in on the status of the two Early-Warning towers deployed by Desert Lion Conservation and the Northwest Lion Working Group. These towers have been placed at key human-lion conflict ‘hotspot’ farms to warn farmers when lions are in the area. Both towers are in good working order and in both cases the farmers responded positively to the tower’s early warning of lions in the area. These towers are a credit to the work of Desert Lion Conservation to continue to develop new ways to limit human-lion conflict in northwest Namibia.

Drought Relief

One victim of drought in Anabeb Conservancy.

Beginning in November, IRDNC put into place an important drought relief program in NW Namibia. With money raised directly from the organization’s supporters, IRDNC staff have been making their way through conservancies hit hardest by drought to engage in a cattle buying program. The goal of the program is to get conservancy farmers to destock during this time of limited grazing so that grasses may rebound in coming years. This will allow for improved grazing, not just for livestock, but for wildlife as well, with important effects on prey and predators across the region. Hats off to IRDNC and its supporters for implementing this important program: it really shows the depth of support for communal farmers during this incredibly difficult time.

Communal farmer and program participant, Henry Mapanka; Torra Conservancy.

New Research Project Announcement

View of the Otjihapa area, one place where the new project will take place.

The Lion Rangers, in partnership with the University of Minnesota Lion Center and the Namibia Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), are excited to announce a new lion population monitoring and ecological research project that will commence in 2020. More than two years of work in northwest Namibia has identified a key part of the lion subpopulation of which little is known. Specifically, along the escarpment area free-ranging lions inhabit communal areas but there is little recorded information about the subpopulation size, density, demography, and ecological interactions. Though it is hypothesized that this subpopulation forms an important link between lions in Etosha and the desert-adapted and coastal-roaming lions further west, this is unsubstantiated. Beginning early next, John Heydinger of the Lion Center and Uakendisa Muzuma, MET’s Large Carnivore Coordinator, are leading a team of researchers to begin collecting data on this subpopulation. This project will be based around the Ombonde River catchment, emphasizing lion monitoring within the conservancies of Omatendeka, Ehirovipuka, Anabeb, and #Khoadi-//Koas conservancies, as well as the Etendeka Concession.

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Lion Movements

Agab Pride.

Low rainfall and sparse prey distribution mean that the desert-adapted lions of the northern Namib have been on the move. In the recent weeks three prides in particular have been highly-mobile. The Agab pride has been favoring the mountainous etendeka area in the eastern Palmwag Concession, not far from the Lion Ranger base at Wereldsend.

Huab lioness.

The Huab pride has been moving between the coast and near Brandberg. Led by two experienced lionesses, this group is avoiding conflict with livestock in the rugged area.

Obab lioness and cubs at the Skeleton Coast.

A lioness of the Obab pride (Xpl-45) gave birth in May and has been raising her cubs along the shores of the Skeleton Coast. The rest of the Obab pride is covering a large range, providing further evidence of the extensive home-range of the desert-adapted lions and unique fission-fusion dynamics of the population.

Obab pride.

Thanks to Dr. Philip Stander of Desert Lion Conservation for field reports and all photos.

Lion Ranger Mid-Year Update

Sesfontein Lion Ranger Pienaar Kasupi.

Halfway through 2019 and the Lion Rangers could hardly be busier. The year has already been full of a great many challenges – as well as some notable achievements. Time in the field continues to increase, as pastoralists take their livestock further afield in search of suitable grazing. Of course, this means wildlife is on the move and the lions are not far behind. The Lion Rangers and Rapid Response Teams continue to grow: we are training another set of communal conservancy Lion Rangers and IRDNC has added another human-wildlife conflict Rapid Response Team Leader. Collaring in partnership with Dr. Philip Stander of Desert Lion Conservation is ongoing. A particularly gracious thank you to Dr. Stander for all his time training the Rangers. For the rest of the year we will continue to work hard in the field, strengthen relationships with communities affected by the desert-adapted lions, and work with the Namibia Ministry of Environment and Tourism to forge sustainable solutions to human-lion conflict. You can learn more about our work in our Mid Year Report.

Desert-adapted lion, Skeleton Coast Park. Photo: Felix Vallat

Thanks to Our Supporters

Desert-adapted lioness in Palmwag Concession. Photo: Tina Vinjevold

All of the work of the Lion Rangers and Rapid Response Teams would be impossible without the generous support of so many different individuals and organizations. Field-work, research, and community-outreach across the rugged Kunene Region is always challenging and frequently a costly proposition. Our entire team is incredibly economical with expenses and is so grateful for those who have stepped-up to support a future for communities and the desert-adapted lions. In particular we want to recognize the contributions by the Lion Recovery Fund to the Rapid Response Teams, the National Geographic Society for training and Lion Ranger field deployment, TOSCO for help across a variety of arenas, the Namibia Chamber of the Environment for kraal materials, Oliver Adolph and Family for catalyzing support of vehicles and operations, and Camelthorn Safaris for operations and field logistics support.

Intensive Field Work

Assisting with lion collaring.

The prolonged drought in northwest Namibia continues to challenge the Lion Rangers and Rapid Response Teams. Pastoralists continue to trek in search of available grazing. This mobility is a necessary, and time-tested, survival strategy in the semiarid and arid northern Namib, but it brings together livestock and lions. From May to July high numbers of livestock were lost to predators in key lion-range conservancies, the plurality of these losses (44%, n=55) occurred in and around the Anabeb Conservancy. The outcome of these losses has been the illegal killing of lions which, thanks to the hard work of the Rapid Response Teams and Lion Rangers, has resulted in three individuals being charged. This time of high activity is pushing all team members – Ministry, NGOs, and communities – to work harder to help pastoralists make informed decisions about livestock movements, and to monitor the desert-adapted lions. From May to July the Rapid Response Teams covered an amazing 19,039 kilometers.

Cow killed in Hoanib riverbed.

This included conflict response work, monitoring, and meeting with community members to find long-term, community-centered approaches to limiting human-lion conflict. This great work should also remind us of the diversity of perspectives on human-lion conflict within the communities themselves. All of the Lion Rangers and Rapid Response Team Leaders are native to northwest Namibia and maintain their own herds of cattle, sheep, and goats. This is truly a community-centered effort, that gives us optimism that continued work will continue to yield positive results.

Cattle near the Hoanib River.

Thanks to Rapid Response Coordinator Cliff Tjikundi for all photos and write-up summary.

New Desert Lion Paper

Desert-adapted lioness near the Hoanib River.

It is important that the perspectives of community members are incorporated into management decisions concerning desert-adapted lions on communal land. Residents of communal conservancies who have to pay the price of living with lions deserve to have their voices heard, even amplified. In late 2017 we surveyed a representative sample of livestock owners in core lion-range conservancies to assess local perceptions of living with lions. Since that time, preliminary results from these surveys have informed management recommendations and actions of the Northwest Lion Working Group. Today we are excited to announce the release of this research, which is being published in the journal Biological Conservation.

This survey is the first of its kind in the area. It serves as an important baseline for assessing the effectiveness of activities to limit human-lion conflict going forward.