The Agab Pride

Xpl-17 Xpl-18

An adult lioness (Xpl-17) of the Agab sub-group was selected for the second GPS collar. She is the oldest lioness in the pride and has been the subject of intensive monitoring since 2001. She was fitted with a UHF Download GPS collar, programmed to record GPS fixes every 15 minutes during the period of activity (see GPS collars for details).

Disappointingly Xpl-17 started killing livestock at Bergsig and was shot on 13 July 2008. She was an important lioness with high reproductive success. She reproduced five litters, at a mean interval of two years between litters, and assuming the two 2-year-old male cubs will survive, Xpl-17 reared eight cubs to adulthood (see genealogy chart below). The allegations that she was in a poor condition and were unable to fend for herself, are incorrect. The photograph below shows good muscle tone and the series of photographs of her teeth (further down) also suggest that she was healthy and in good condition.

 

Muscle tone and condition at death
Teeth - 2001
Teeth - 2004
Teeth - 2005
Teeth - 2007
Teeth at death - 2008

6 Aug 2008: Shooting of Xpl-17 revisited. It is necessary to re-evaluate the shooting of Xpl-17 at Bergsig on 14 July 2008 in order to understand why a communal conservancy that generates significant financial benefits from wildlife and tourism shot an important breeding lioness. The problem, however, is complex and needs to be considered sensibly and from different points of view. We need to learn from the incident and improve our efforts to ensure the long-term conservation of Desert lions.

The Bergsig community
The lioness
Reporting error - 1
Conflict between lions and local people is a serious problem. When lions kill domestic livestock and move close to settlements, as was the case with Xpl-17, the local people are understandably scared and angry, and they have the right, by Namibian law, to shoot the lions in defence of themselves and their livelihood. Lions cannot be protected or conserved at the cost of the local communities; it can only be achieved when the benefits that local people derive from lions, out-way the costs of sharing their land with lions. Xpl-17 was an important breeding female in the Desert lion population. She had two dependant male cubs (2 years old), and a sub-adult lioness accompanied them during the conflict at Bergsig. They lived in a prime tourism area and were habituated to vehicles, which made them important lions for tourism. During the past three years, Xpl-17 and her offspring where observed regularly by tourists from Palmwag and Wilderness Safaris Rhino Camp. Xpl-17 was in excellent physical condition and her dentition had remarkably little wear. Because of their experience, the prominent roles they play in the hunting strategies, and their reproductive success, lionesses, like Xpl-17, are arguably the most important individuals in the lion population. Due to her status in the Agab/Uniab Pride, and in the population, an expensive GPS radio collar was fitted to Xpl-17 in February 2008. The individual(s) from the Torra Conservancy that reported the incident to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, painted a very different picture of the problem, when compared to the points that I have presented here. It was apparently reported that a very old and emaciated lioness, unable to hunt or fend for herself in the wild, entered the Bergsig village to kill donkeys, chickens and dogs, and that the lion is a threat to the people of Bergsig. Based on this information the Ministry of Environment and Tourism acted quickly and appropriately by issuing a hunting permit, and then instructed the local trophy hunting concessionaire to shoot the problem lion without delay.
Reporting error - 2
Torra Conservancy
The individual(s) from the Torra Conservancy did not share the same information with me. When I proposed to them to dart the lions and relocate them back to their normal home range (+- 80 km), they declined the offer since they had applied to the Ministry of Environment & Tourism for a trophy hunting permit for two of the young lions (1 male & 1 female). I explained the background and importance of Xpl-17 to the Torra Conservancy, informed them that she carried a GPS collar, and that there is an agreement among the major conservation bodies in the region not to hunt lions with GPS collars (there are only 4), and then asked for their consent to dart and relocate Xpl-17. They agreed, but on the condition that I have to wait until after the two lions (re: the hunting permit) had been shot.
The Torra Conservancy is one of the most successful communal conservancies in Namibia and it is to be expected that the financial benefits they receive from tourism and lions are significantly higher than the financial losses caused by lions.

Concluding points

1) Lions are large charismatic predators, they are a threat to livestock and most people are afraid of them. Even with the benefits from tourism, local communities cannot be expected to accept and conserve lions overnight – it is a slow and involved process.
2) Individuals may not always act in the best interest of the group, or the Conservancy, in this case.
3) The shooting of Xpl-17 was a mistake because a) she was an experienced and valuable breeding female, and b) she was an asset to tour operators like Wilderness Safaris, and therefore also to the Torra Conservancy.
4) Improved and more regular communication with local communities and conservancies is needed.

14 July 2008: Xpl-17 shot. After all the efforts to solve the Human Lion Conflict incident, consider the needs and expectations of the Bergsig community, and save the lioness with a GPS collar (that I have studied and observed for nine years), Xpl-17 was shot late this afternoon. The three remaining sub-adult lions are still at large and there is little hope of them returning to their normal home range without the guidance of Xpl-17.

8-13 July 2008: Human Lion Conflict at Bergsig. A group of four lions started killing livestock around Bergsig, Torra Conservancy, on 1 July 2008. I investigated the problem on 2 & 3 July and found that after killing 3 donkeys, 2 goats and 3 dogs, the lions had moved off. But on 5 July they returned and continued killing livestock. I returned to Bergsig on 8 July and spent five days/nights, with hardly any sleep, trying to solve the problem and to assist the Bergsig community. To my surprise I discovered that the lions were from the Agab Pride and that an adult lioness with a GPS collar was present. I proposed to the Torra Conservancy that I dart the lions and relocate them back to their normal home range (+- 80 km). They declined the offer since they had applied to the Ministry of Environment & Tourism (MET) for a trophy hunting permit and wanted the lions to be shot. In accordance to Namibian legislation, MET issued "problem animal" trophy hunting permits for two lions (1 young male & 1 young female), and they informed me of the development.

Since there is agreement among the major conservation bodies in the region that desert lions with GPS collars (there are only 4) are not to be hunted, I asked the Torra Conservancy to allow me to dart and relocate Xpl-17. They agreed, but only after two lions (re: the hunting permit) had been shot. Awaiting the outcome of the trophy hunting, I am currently monitoring the situation and have observed Xpl-17 for 42 hours during the last 3 nights (10-12 July).

 

Known home range of Xpl-17 prior to fitting the GPS collar
Fitting of the UHF Download GPS collar

Real-time animations
The movement patterns of an adult female (Xpl-17) of the Uniab/Obab Pride are presented below using Flash animations to represent real-time events. Click on the PLAY button to start the animation. The timeline is constant at 2.5 seconds per day (24 hrs). When the red dot moves quickly across the screen, it accurately represents the speed at which the lion covered vast distances.

Period: 1 - 13 July 2008. Prior to being shot on 13 July 2008.

Period: 16 - 30 June 2008.

Period: 1 - 15 June 2008.

Period: 16 - 31 May 2008.

Period: 1 - 15 May 2008.

Period: 16 - 30 April 2008.

Period: 1 - 15 April 2008.