This year the Lion Rangers are partnering with a receiving field support from the National Geographic Society. As part of this partnership, John Heydinger has been connecting with classrooms of students in the United States and Canada. Through this partnership, called the Big Cats Classroom Challenge, students research the desert lions of Namibia and the challenges facing communities as they live together with lions. Check out this awesome video put together by Ms. Holden and Ms. Matsuba’s classes at Prescott Elementary in Alberta, Canada. Thanks so much to National Geographic for setting-up this partnership and to the students for their hard work!
Another early-warning logger tower has been deployed near the Mbokondja homestead in the Anabeb Conservancy. Over the past year-plus, the Mbokondja area has been a human-lion conflict ‘hotspot.’ In October, Desert Lion Conservation led a team of Lion Rangers and Ministry of Environment and Tourism staff in collaring a group of young adult male and female lions in the area. The erection of the early-warning logger tower completes the preparation phase for ensuring that the community is informed about the movements of their resident lions. The software and hardware for the early-warning towers and collars continues to be tweak and is performing better than ever.
Thanks to the community at Mbokondja for working so closely with the Lion Rangers, in particular Nicholas Kuvare for helping organize the community and doing his part to ensure the desert lions remain a viable presence in the area.
Lion Ranger work in rugged northwest Namibia presents an ever-changing array of challenges. Not least of which can be the environment itself. While we were tracking lions in the Hoanib in late November rains fell approximately two hundred kilometers inland. On the morning of 27 November, the Hoanib River unexpectedly came down in flood, almost entirely covering three vehicles, including two being used by the Lion Ranger team. Luckily, no one was injured.
In every cloud there is a silver lining. It was absolutely inspiring to see how the Sesfontein and conservation community came out in force to help retrieve those marooned by the flood and assist in extracting the vehicles. In particular, staff members of the Natural Selection and Fort Sesfontein lodges nearby, Fritz Schenk of Camelthorn Safaris (who supports the Lion Ranger program), and staff from IRDNC provided much needed support. Special thanks go to the Sesfontein community. Over three days a team of thirteen men and women worked entirely without compensation to assist the Lion Rangers and others. This is a special reminder that, though our work can be quite taxing, with the support of local communities and our conservation partners we stand a great chance to conserve northwest Namibia’s wildlife, including the iconic desert lions. Thanks to everyone for their selfless and tireless efforts. Whether it is retrieving stuck vehicles or conserving lions: we cannot do it without you.
The Lion Rangers were working in the Hoanib River this week to check in on an adult female and a maturing younger female (XPL-69 and 79). Working with our tourism partners at Natural Selection and Kunene Conservnacy Safaris, the Lion Rangers were able to safely approach and check-in on these two lionesses. Even though the ongoing drought has depressed wildlife numbers, the two appear to be quite strong and healthy – even killing a young Gemsbok (Oryx gazelle) one evening. Clearly these two have become habituated to tourism vehicles. However, it is important to remember that approaching lions, even in a vehicle, is always a potentially dangerous situation and should be done with trained personnel. There is quite a bit of traffic and the Hoanib and everyone has to do their part to ensure the area’s wildlife remain comfortable.
Throughout September and October, IRDNC’s Rapid Response Team Leaders, Cliff Tjikundi, Linus Mbomboro, and German Muzuma, covered more than 10,600 kilometers in northwest Namibia, working with local communities to mitigate and prevent human-lion conflict. Over this period they responded to five human-lion conflict incidents, helped place six early-warning and satellite collars on desert lions, assisted with full moon waterhole counts for elephants, and facilitated five community meetings focused on information sharing concerning desert lion conservation efforts – among a variety of other tasks. Particular highlights include the erection of a new early-warning system logger tower at Mbokondja in the Anabeb Conservancy, assisting farmers in retrieving cattle who had strayed into Etosha National Park, and helping repair Etosha’s western boundary fence.
Mr. Tjikundi in particular notes the low number of human-lion conflict incidents during the period. This is a hopeful sign but by no means indicates a decrease in the work load of the response teams. Thanks to Cliff, Linus, and German for their steadfast dedication and hard work.
In partnership with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Namibia), the Northwest Lion Working Group is currently piloting a program to directly compensate conservancies for living with lions! Though the project is still in its nascent stages, there is great hope that this will be a paradigm shift in addressing human-lion conflict within communal land in northwest Namibia.
The collaring program draws together years of desert lion monitoring and ecological data to estimate the cost to a given conservancy for having resident lions. The cost is based upon the amount of wildlife a given lion consumes within a year. Because conservancies have rights over game species, for own-use or trophy hunting based upon an agreed-upon quota, individuals of a given game species have a proxy monetary value. Say a mountain zebra (Equus zebra) is worth $100. Because Desert Lion Conservation has been monitoring lion dietary habits for years, estimates are available for the number of zebra predated by an individual lion each year. If a lion kills twenty mountain zebra within a year, the cost to the conservancy is $2,000 (20 x 100). Because desert lions are not confined to particular conservancies, the amount a conservancy receives is based upon the number of nights a given lion spends in that conservancy (lions being mainly nocturnal). So, if the cost of having a lion is $2,000 annually, and the lion spends 120 nights in the conservancy, that conservancy receives $675.53 (.328767 x 2,000 = 657.53424). The rest of the money would go to the other conservancies where the lion spends other nights.
The funding to remunerate communities for the lions is being sourced from Namibian and international donors and is being spearheaded by WWF-Namibia.
This program is still very much in a testing phase, but represents an important innovation in tying communities to lions through primarily ecological means. On the horizon is a better estimate for the number of individual lions in northwest Namibia and increasing effort to have more of them collared. Stay tuned for updates.
In late September, Sesfontein Conservancy Rhino Rangers, while on patrol in partnership with the Save the Rhino Trust to combat black rhino (Diceros bicornis bicornis) poaching, discovered the carcass of a male lion near the town of Sesfontein. As is standard practice, Save the Rhino Trust staff informed the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Desert Lion Conservation, and the Lion Rangers who examined the carcass and retrieved the skull for identification – as the body had begun to decompose. While tooth-wear from the skull indicates that the lion was of an advanced age, it is always worrisome to unexpectedly find a lion carcass in the bush. This concern is heightened by suspicion that the lion was poisoned. An investigation by the Lion Rangers and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism was performed. Poisoning of this lion is suspected, though other mortality causes remain possible. There is zero firm evidence to suggest which person may have been responsible.
Human-lion conflict remains a pressing issue in northwest Namibia. The Lion Rangers are working with concerned communities and a diverse array of government and NGO partners to assist communities who struggle living with lions. We thank the Sesfontein community for being willing partners in our work and the Save the Rhino Trust and Rhino Rangers for helping where they are able. Conservation of the lions on communal land will remain a challenge in the years to come – we are always working to move forward having learned from setbacks.
The past four days have been incredibly productive for the whole Lion Ranger team. Led by Dr. Philip Stander of Desert Lion Conservation, the Lion Rangers assisted in collaring four lions in the Hoanib and Mbokondja areas, while successfully identifying a fifth, sub-adult male. Four newly identified lions were termed XPL-121, XPL-122, XPL-123, and XPL-124 by Dr. Stander. The ‘XPL-###’ naming system is a long-standing one of Dr. Stander’s. The ‘X’ stands for the area: the Xhorixas District, and the ‘PL’ indicate the species, in this case Panthera Leo. This was overseen by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism Large Carnivore Coordinator, Mr. Uakendisa Muzuma, who provided much appreciated thoughts and insight throughout the operations.
Rapid Response Team Leaders Cliff Tjikundi and Linus Mbomboro took the lead in area patrols, assisted by Lion Ranger Rodney Tjiuara and community members. Extensive tracking throughout the Anabeb Conservancy provided an important overview of recent lion movements. These patrols were not in response to critical human-lion conflict threats, but rather in response to information coming from community members that lions were resident within the area. This is an important note of progress: communities are working with the Lion Rangers to proactively address lion presence before they become a human-lion conflict problem. In particular, the community around Mbokondja – never known for their tolerance for lions in the past – has been a fantastic partner in providing lion movement information.
Finally, the Lion Rangers were able to erect a logger tower near the Mbokondja homestead. Logger towers are a technological innovation developed specifically for collecting data on the northwest lion population in northwest Namibia. This new system is an important part of better understanding the lion population here, as well as proactively providing information about lion movements to the local communities.
Today members of the Namibia Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation, AfriCat North, Desert Lion Conservation, WWF – Namibia, and the University of Minnesota Lion Center met at Wereldsend Environmental Centre in the Palmwag Concession to discuss progress made and ways forward with the new Early-Warning System for human-lion conflict in northwest Namibia. Progress reports from the field came in from AfriCat, focusing on human-lion conflict along the western Etosha fence, and from IRDNC’s Rapid Response Team Leaders and Desert Lion Conservation focusing upon the western subpopulation. Lots of good and crucial information was shared, including seventeen early-warning and satellite collars being fitted to the western subpopulation and widespread fence repair to better maintain space between livestock and the eastern subpopulation. Proactive planning focused on rolling-out the Early-Warning System at even greater capacity over the coming months, with particular focus on ensuring information flow to all relevant stakeholders for timely incident prevention and response. Finally, the assembled group agreed to support the creation of new position, the Northwest Lion Information Manager, who will spearhead on-the-ground and public information dissemination concerning lion movements and conflict prevention. Lots of good work being done out there!
Across the Kunene Region teams of Conservancy Game Guards, Lion Rangers, MET Staff, IRDNC staff, and dozens of unpaid volunteers fanned-out over 72 hours for the annual full moon waterhole counts. The purpose of this program is to survey the area’s population of desert-adapted elephants. This year particularly emphasized the subpopulation in the Ehirovipuka, Omatendeka, and Ozondundu conservancies along the western escarpment.
Not only are the full moon counts a great chance to check-in on the area’s elephant population, they serve as an important time to engage with effected communities to ensure proper human-elephant conflict mitigation and prevention programs are in-place. Keenly aware of the challenges of human-elephant conflict, and deeply engaged in the lives of effected communities, the Lion Rangers were an integral part of providing ongoing training to community members about counting protocol and elephant safety. These practices demonstrate effective community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) in action. Thanks so much to all who were involved in the roll-out and to the NACSO Natural Resources Working Group for supporting the program.