Beginning in early July, a male lion was making his presence known in the upper Ganamub river area of the Sesfontein Conservancy. While his presence was undoubtedly exciting news for the tourists visiting the new Natural Selection lodge at the Ganamub-Hoanib junction, it was obviously concerning for the many families keeping livestock in the area. Over a week five cattle were killed by the male within 11 kilometers of a settlement. Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation’s (IRDNC) Rapid-Response Team led the Sesfontein Lion Rangers in responding to the incidents. Working for days in the rugged Hoanib and Ganamub rivers the Lion Rangers and Rapid Response teams were able to positively identify the male lion and work with the local communities and Desert Lion Conservation to develop a plan of conflict mitigation. Following the presence of the Rangers and Response teams the lion actually left the area on his own, likely headed downriver towards the Skeleton Coast National Park. This allowed the Lion Rangers and Response team to work directly with Desert Lion Conservation to collar four lions in the Hoanib and nearby Okgonwe areas of the Sesfontein and Puros conservancies. Throughout this process the active engagement of the conservancy leadership and community members was critical.
During the week of 11-17 June, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) directed a multi-organizational team including the Tsiseb and Sorris Sorris conservancies, experts from the University of Minnesota Lion Center, and support staff working with Desert Lion Conservation, in responding to a series of ‘problem lion’ incidents around De Rest farm near the Ugab River. In the early-morning hours of 16 June, Ministry officials destroyed a six-and-a-half year-old male lion at the farm. The lion was shot in response to repeated incursions and following days of attempts to alleviate the situation using non-lethal methods.
Early in the week this lion and a pair of lionesses, raided stock at De Rest farm, killing 27 goats and sheep, as well as two donkeys inside a kraal – this loss represents a substantial portion of the household’s livestock. Each of these three lions had been previously fitted with collars by Desert Lion Conservation, a long-time partner with MET in monitoring Namibia’s iconic Desert lion population. In January, the two lionesses were fitted with newly-designed satellite and RFID collars; the male had earlier been fitted with a VHF radio collar. This group of lions is well-known to local MET officials and Desert Lion Conservation, as well as conservancy staff and local tourism operators.
The following ran in The Namibian on 24 May, 2018.
HUMAN-LION conflict is becoming a hot-button issue in north-western Namibia. Reports of Kunene lions killing livestock and being translocated or destroyed have generated considerable national and international coverage. Social media, in particular, has followed a predictable pattern: Farmers are intolerant. Lions are disappearing. We are destroying our natural heritage. While many of the reports are credible, they miss the forest for the trees.
Today staff from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC), the Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF), Deustche Gesellchaft fur Internationale Zuzammenarbeit (GIZ), and the University of Minnesota Lion Center, met in Swakopmund for a progress report and planning session on human-lion conflict issues facing rural communities in northwest Namibia. This meeting primarily functioned as an update from last September’s Northwest Human-Lion Conflict Management Meeting.
Over the past week the Lion Rangers were joined by Garth Owen-Smith and Craig Packer for site visits to the Ombonde, Khowareb, and Hoanib rivers in the Etendeka Concession, and Anabeb and Sesfontein conservancies. The site visits had a host of purposes, chief of which was to have a better sense of lion movements throughout the area.
Garth Owen-Smith, who has been instrumental in the development of community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) in northwest Namibia guided our small group through the various catchments. A veritable fount of information on the region, Owen-Smith provided insight from his deep experience to help us better understand the long-term trends effecting northwest lion conservation. In particular, Owen-Smith’s longstanding close relationships with the local communities allowed us to better understand the long legacy of local antipathy towards lions, but also the strong identification of rural residents with wildlife and the need for conservation. Owen-Smith remains a key supporter of the work of the Lion Ranger program.
Over the first two weeks of June, conservancies across Kunene are participating in the annual Northwest Game Count. The largest road-based game count in the world, the NW Game Count brings together hundreds of conservationists to take stock of wildlife numbers. The purpose is to ensure that communal conservancies, their support organizations, and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism all the best possible information when it comes to monitoring wildlife and setting quotas.
In each participating conservancy, Conservancy Game Guards join with MET and NGO officials to retrace standardized routes marking a representative sample of conservancy environments and topography. The expertise of all involved is critical to ensuring the counts are thorough, accurate, and standardized across years. Luckily, NW Namibia now has a core of committed conservationists with a deep knowledge of the landscape and wildlife. Of course, we are always learning and each year the NW Game Count brings unexpected surprises.
A big hand for MET, IRDNC, and Namibia Nature Foundation staff for ensuring the count is operating smoothly. Thanks also to the myriad lodges and tourism organizations for volunteering vehicles and staff. Of course, none of this would be possible without the conservancies taking ownership over wildlife and leadership to ensure that species are sustainably conserved.
Over three days we were joined at World’s End by representatives from the German development bank KfW, GIZ – who consults the Namibian government, WWF-Namibia, and staff from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET). The topic of our extended discussion was how to unify approaches to human-wildlife conflict in northwest Namibia, with particular emphasis on integrating the Lion Rangers and early-warning systems. Following on the heels of an extended MET review of infrastructure needs to address human-wildlife conflict, the whole group focused on aligning resources to serve the needs of Kunene communities. Surveys from core lion-range conservancies clarified the scope of the challenge faced by rural communities. Due to the recent drought, many conservancy residents are suffering from decreased livestock herds; oftentimes affecting households at an order of magnitude greater the annual income.
Photo from NACSO
On 25 May a report came from Orupembe Conservancy that two lions had killed a pair of donkeys. All human-lion conflicts are cause for concern, however, this was especially disconcerting as it is nearby where a male lion was recently collared, though he was translocated out of the area.
IRDNC Human-Wildlife Conflict Rapid Response Coordinator Cliff Tjikundi, along with Desert Lion Conservation’s Rodney Tjiuaru, and Lion Ranger Linus Mbomboro responded to the reports passed along by the Puros Lion Rangers (Orupembe Conservancy borders Puros to the north). Upon arrival, the team was met by twenty armed members of the Orupembe and Sanitatas conservancies, engaged in tracking the culprit lions. With an array of knives, spears, pangas (machetes), and even an old firearm or two spread among the community members, the situation appeared critical. Quickly the response team was able to secure a meeting with the group, to discuss possible, hopefully peaceful, ways forward. Continue reading
For one month, the Puros Lion Rangers, in partnership with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) and IRDNC monitored, tracked, and reported-on the movements of a male lion heading north through the Puros Conservancy. Previously unaccounted for, this young male had been making his presence known by raiding cattle and donkeys along an identified human-lion conflict hotspot corridor. Starting in Ganamub and heading north his movements were closely tracked, though he was often a step-ahead of the Lion Rangers. Moving through the rugged Puros mountains, a combination of vehicle and foot-based patrols followed this male as he made his way towards the village of Puros, on the banks of the Hoaruseb river. What made this lion particularly difficult to track was its unwillingness to return to a kill the following day. Generally, lions will return to finish off a carcass – providing both trackers, and, potentially, angry farmers, a better chance to account for the lion’s whereabouts. Difficulty accounting for this lion was further exacerbated by the (much needed) rains which fell in Kaokoveld during the middle of April. For two weeks the Hoaruseb was in flood, keeping the Lion Rangers from accessing all areas where the lion was thought to be residing.
This past week Desert Lion Conservation, in partnership with the Lion Rangers, IRDNC, and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, erected the first Early-Warning System tower at Driefonteine in the Torra Conservancy. Based on pioneering research by Dr. Philip Stander, the Early-Warning System integrates new innovations in GPS-collar technology with critical community-development progress made in the form of the Lion Ranger program. The goal is to provide farmers at human-lion conflict ‘hotspots’ with relevant information about lion movements in their area. Driefonteine has suffered from human-lion conflict incidents for more than twenty years, and was thus identified by both lion monitoring data and community survey information, as a critical location to have an Early-Warning System in operation.
On Friday, 27 April, the Honourable Minister of Environment and Tourism, Mr. Pohamba Penomwenyo Shifeta, visited Driefonteine where Cliff Tjikundi of IRDNC and some of the Lion Rangers presented the working capacities of the Early-Warning System. A crucial knock-on effect of the System is to support strong relationships between Ministry officials and local farmers as they work together to combat human-lion conflict. We thank the Minister for his visit and look forward to continuing to work closely with MET.
Alfues Ouseb, Gisela Ouses, and Nick Steenkamp stand by their new Early-Warning System tower.