The Hoaruseb Pride

Xpl-44 Movements Xpl-37 & 38 2004 - 2011 Eco-tourism

The Hoaruseb and Hoanib Floodplain groups
The genealogy of the original Huaruseb Pride (below) gives a schematic overview of the composition and relatedness of the group. Xpl-10 (“Sarah” – named after the shopkeeper at Purros) and her daughter (Xpl-25) moved to the Hoanib Floodplain towards the end of 2006. Xpl-37 & 38 (Xpl-10's second litter) remained in the Hoaruseb River and produced their first litters early in 2008. Initially the two sub-groups interacted occasionally, but the frequency of these interactions decreased significantly towards 2008. The male (Xpl-44) joined the Hoaruseb lionesses in March 2007.

Chronology of observations on the Hoaruseb Pride between 2008 - 2011



17 July 2008: Hoaruseb lion cubs. These are the first photographs taken of the cubs of two Hoaruseb lionesses. The extensive rains during the early part of 2008 have restricted access to the area and this was my first daytime opportunity to observe and photograph the cubs. There are three cubs. Two (1 male, 1 female) belong to Xpl-38 and are about eight months old. The third cub (Xpl-37's offspring) is approximately four months old.

30 July - 4 Aug 2008: Following the Hoaruseb Pride. Continuous observations were started again on the Hoaruseb lions. They killed an adult female oryx at 02h12 on 1 Aug 2008. Valuable time has been spent with the lions. The females are getting used to the new Land Cruiser and the cubs are becoming habituated to vehicles.


4 - 6 Aug 2008: Lions catch ostrich.

During an elaborate cooperative hunt in broad daylight the Hoaruseb lions captured an adult male ostrich. Both lionesses and the male Xpl-44 participated in the hunt and they coordinated their stalking roles to perfection. The cubs were fascinated by the ostrich carcass and played with it for hours.

6 - 9 Aug 2008: Hoaruseb lion update. During the past few nights the Hoaruseb lions have become increasingly restless. Although they have killed an oryx and two ostriches recently, there are few prey animals in the river, and the lionesses have been venturing further outside the river area. It is likely that they will move into the mountains or onto the gravel plains in the next few days.

10 - 14 Aug 2008: Hoaruseb lions take to the hills. As predicted, the Hoaruseb lions left the Hoaruseb River in search of prey animals in the granite outcrops south of Leyland's Drif. The terrain they moved in was difficult to negotiate with a vehicle and I lost contact with them during the second night.


2 Sep 2008: Night observations. The Hoaruseb lions are now regularly moving into the mountains in search of prey. They do, however, return to the Hoaruseb River every few days and tourists still see them. But at night they venture far into hills. They killed an oryx in a narrow gorge, 14 km south of the Hoaruseb, on 31st Aug and returned to the River last night at 23h15. I located the male (Xpl-44) on 1st Sep and downloaded the latest data from his GPS collar.


3 Sep 2008: Spiny lesson. The Hoaruseb cubs came across a porcupine early this morning. It was probably their first encounter with one. The lionesses watched tentatively as the cubs harassed and played with the porcupine for almost an hour. Eventually the lionesses lost interest in the game, and when they moved off, the cubs followed.

4 Sep 2008: Images of the Hoaruseb lions.

5 Sep 2008: Hoaruseb lions disappear.The lionesses and cubs moved south of the River into very mountainous terrain. Despite an extensive search over the past 28 hours, they have disappeared without a trace.

Image of a lion spoor under water.
Searching for the Hoaruseb lions 20 km south of the River.

5 Sep 2008: Video clip of Hoaruseb cubs. View a short video clip of the Hoaruseb cubs - intrigued by the forces of gravity at a steep river bank.

Video clip: (00'51 / 416 Kb)

(Download QuickTime to view video)

7 Sep 2008: Hoaruseb lions stretched. After an extensive search I found the Hoaruseb lions when they returned briefly to the River. The cubs were in a good condition, but the lionesses were lean - they are clearly struggling to find and kill prey animals. After they spent a day resting in the River, I followed them into the mountains as they searched for prey. But I soon lost them due to the rough terrain.

9, 10 Sep 2008: The Hoaruseb lionesses move far south of the Hoaruseb River in search of prey.

10 Sep 2008: Hoaruseb lionesses struggling. The Hoaruseb females are forced to travel fast distances in search of prey. They have left the cubs in the Hoaruseb River with the male (Xpl-44). These photographs were taken 28 km south of the River and they have not yet been able to catch anything.

9 - 11 Sep 2008: The male (Xpl-44) spending time with the cubs whilst the lionesses were hunting.

11 Sep 2008: Babysitter. Surprisingly the male stayed with the cubs for several days while the lionesses were out hunting. The lionesses returned at 01:30 this morning. There was much rejoicing, but the lionesses had clearly not been successful. They were tired and hungry, and Xpl-37’s paws were bleeding from the long distances they covered over the mountains. If conditions remain this difficult there is a good chance that the cubs may not survive.

12 Sep 2008: Hoaruseb lionesses successful. During their third excursion Xpl-37 & 38 killed an adult oryx in a wash 7 km south of the Hoaruseb River just before sunrise. They went back to fetch the cubs and led them to the kill. After they had eaten the lions returned to the River where Wilderness Safaris were able to observe them for almost an hour.

12 Sep 2008: After eight days the lionesses killed an adult oryx. After they had eaten the carcass the lions returned to the Hoaruseb River.

15 Sep 2008: The two lionesses left the male and cubs in the River during the early morning hours on the 14 Sep 2008. They were successful and caught an oryx 17 km south of the River. Without eating anything they walk all the way back to the River and led the male and cubs to the kill.

16 Sep 2008: The lions ate the entire oryx in one night. The following morning the adults left the cubs in a rocky outcrop and moved into the mountains, but they returned in the afternoon.

The cubs resting in a rocky outcrop
Xpl-37 calling for the cubs
Xpl-38 suckling her cubs

17 Sep 2008: Hoaruseb lions move out of River. The females killed another oryx on the 15 Sep 2008 and they have subsequently not returned to the Hoaruseb.

19 Sep 2008: Feldspar plains. After their last kill the Hoaruseb lions continued moving further south and onto the Feldspar plains, where much of the BBC documentary "Desert Lions" was filmed. At 05:52 on 18 Sep 2008 the lionesses caught an adult female oryx. Without eating they walked 12 km, back to where they had stashed the cubs earlier that night, and returned to the carcass with the cubs in tow.

19 Sep 2008: After resting for two days the lions continued moving south onto the Feldspar plains. Early on Thurday morning the lionesses killed an oryx.

23 Sep 2008: The lionesess and cubs finished their last oryx kill on 21 Sep 2003. They continued moving south and have spent the past two days amongst the granite boulders just north of Sima Hill.

23 Sep 2008: Surf & Turf. Whilst the Hoaruseb females and cubs continued moving further south into the rugged terrain leading up to the Hoanib River, the male (Xpl-44) returned to the Hoaruseb River on 19 September. He followed the course of the riverbed westwards, all the way to the coast, and spent a day on the beach.

28 Sep 2008: Lions return to Hoaruseb River. The lionesses and cubs returned to the Hoaruseb River today, after spending 15 days in the southern mountains and on the Feldspar plains towards Sima Hill. During the 2-week period they did not drink any water, but were successful in killing a number of oryx. On arrival in the River the cubs encountered a newborn elephant calf. They were inquisitive, but the calf’’s mother made sure that the lions kept their distance.

2 -4 Oct 2008: Hoaruseb lionesses heading for the sea. On return from monitoring the central and southern ephemeral rivers, the Hoaruseb females and their cubs were deep inside the Skeleton Coast Park and heading for the coast. They hunted actively and killed an ostrich shortly after midnight on the 3rd Oct 2008. The male (Xpl-44) joined them at 23h00 on the 4th Oct 2008, and they appeared to be moving westwards.

3 Oct 2008: Lions kill brown hyaena. The Hoaruseb lionesses stashed their cubs in a reed thicket and went hunting. When they returned, a few hours later, a brown hyaena was prowling around the thicket. The lionesses stalked towards the hyaena and after a short chase caught it. The male lion (Xpl-44) ran up and killed the hyaena. From the tracks it looked like there had been an interaction between the hyaena and the cubs, but all three cubs were still alive. The stripes on the forelegs of brown hyaenas are like fingerprints - each individual is different. The hyaena was a female, between 3 and 4years old, and belonged to the Hoaruseb Mouth Clan. I have seen and photographed her on several occasions during the past 2 years.

5 -6 Oct 2008: Desert lions. The Hoaruseb lions have continued searching for prey in the lower part of the Hoaruseb River (between 3 and 8 km from the coast). They are moving in extreme habitats (not normally associated with lions) like sand dunes, granite boulders, and over sheer cliffs. More detail and photos will follow – if I can keep up with them.

7 Oct 2008: Rock lions. During the early-morning hours on 6 Oct 2008 the Hoaruseb lions moved south, following a small tributary to the Hoaruseb, that meanders through spectacular terrain with huge sand dunes, interlaced with uniquely eroded granite outcrops.

2 - 8 Oct 2008: Images of the cubs playing in the dunes.

8 Oct 2008: Sand dunes. On several occasions (mostly at night) the Hoaruseb lions were observed climbing to the top of a sand dune (estimated 200 feet), walking along the crest of the dune, and then sliding down the slip-face. The cubs, in particular, appeared the have a lot of fun and played on thedunes for hours. Can you spot the lion on the dune (photo far right)?

Can you spot the lion?

8 Oct 2008: Hoaruseb cubs. During the past three months (up until this evening) the Hoaruseb cubs have been observed for 1012 hours. Apart from the ecological and behavioural data collected, the time also served as an investment towards future tourism in the Hoaruseb River. Unlike most other lions in the Desert population, which are weary and shy away from vehicles, these cubs are essentially growing up alongside the research vehicle. They are learning to accept and trust vehicles, which will be of great benefit to the tourism ventures in the Hoaruseb area. Move your mouse over the photo to see the cubs play.

9 - 10 Oct 2008: Cape fur seal. The lions reached the coast shortly after midnight, after numerous unsuccessful hunts, and continued moving along the beach in a southerly direction. A remarkable event was observed at 04:00; they spotted a Cape fur seal lying on the sand close to the edge of the water. Xpl-38 fanned out to the left and Xpl-37 stalked towards the seal, hugging the edge of the surf. She rushed up and grabbed it. There was quite a commotion (it was difficult to see what was happening in the darkness), but she suddenly let go of the seal and it made for the water. Xpl-38 then rushed into the water and grabbed the seal, but she too backed off suddenly. The seal must have bitten her during their skirmish in the surf (1 – 2 feet of water) because she had bleeding wounds (albeit superficial) on her leg and torso. Both lionesses walked up and down that section of the beach for a while, looking for the seal.

Remarkable co-operative hunting. The two Hoaruseb lionesses hunted actively in the dunes to the north and south of the Hoaruseb River and a number of hunts on springbok and oryx were observed. The Flash animation (below) gives an accurate reconstruction of a hunt on a small group of oryx in the Hoaruseb River. The stalking roles and co-ordinated movements of the two lionesses are represented by the red dots. The duration of the hunt was 42 minutes and the distance covered by Xpl-37 (the lioness on the right wing) was 3.2 km.

If you click on any of the yellow numbers (below) you can view a photo taken at that point.

18 - 20 Oct 2008: Continued behavioural observations. Whilst the cubs are happy and playful, the lionesses are struggling to catch enough prey to feed them all.

18 - 21 Oct 2008: Hoaruseb. The Hoaruseb lionesses and cubs were located at the Clay Castles and behavioural observations continued. The lions are in good condition, but wildlife numbers remain low in the River and Xpl-37 & 38 have to work hard to provide enough food for themselves and the cubs. They are constantly on the lookout for prey and hunt throughout the day.

20 Oct 2008: Towards the Khumib. For more than 72 hours the lionesses hunted (day and night) in the lower part of the Hoaruseb River, but had nothing to show for their efforts. They stashed the cubs and ventured north towards the Khumib River. This is a new & significant development; for it is an area that neither they, nor their mother (Xpl-10), have previously explored or utilised. Also see GPS collar - Hoaruseb Pride for latest animation.

21 - 22 Oct 2008: Towards the Khumib– Part 2. The Hoaruseb lionesses hunted amongst the broken hills and gravel plains leading up to the Khumib River. During the night of 21 Oct 2008 as they lay on a high ridge, scanning the area for prey, the lights of Wilderness Safaris Skeleton Coast Camp were visible in the distance. Later that night they killed an adult female oryx in a narrow gulley. Both lionesses walked 17 km back to the Hoaruseb to collect the cubs and then returned to the oryx.

20 - 24 Oct 2008: Return from the Khumib.

24 Oct 2008: Back to the Hoaruseb. After consuming the oryx carcasse the lionesses and cubs returned to the Hoaruseb River, where they met up with the male (Xpl-44). Despite being well fed the lionesses still hunted at every opportunity.

4 Nov 2008: New video clips. View two short video clip of the Hoaruseb lionesses in the dunes and the cubs playing.

Download QuickTime to view video clips
(00'34 - 316 Kb)
(00'44 - 832 Kb)


8 Nov 2008: Lions loose condition. The Hoaruseb lions were located in the River, near the Amp’s Poort road. The numbers of wildlife utilising the riverbed remains low and the lionesses have lost condition during the past week. They are still lactating and the lack of a regular and reliable food source is taking its toll. Although the condition of the cubs has not deteriorated - they are still suckling - they have clearly not had a good meal for several days. The male (Xpl-44) stayed with the cubs whilst the lionesses were hunting.

16 Nov 2008: Conditions improving for Hoaruseb lions. On returning from the Hoanib, the Hoaruseb lions were observed for 24 hours. The lionesses hunted relentlessly, throughout the day, and they appear to be coping with the difficult conditions.

17 Nov 2008: Hoaruseb cubs. Despite a few scars, visible on “Tan” and “Crimson”, the cubs are in good condition.

8 Nov 2008: Hoaruseb observations continue. The situation in the Hoaruseb River is more complex (re: News report of 16 Nov 2008) and detailed observations have continued. The lionesses are hunting actively during the heat of the day, expending a lot of energy, without any returns thus far. Xpl-38, and possibly also Xpl-37, appeared to have stopped lactating, and neither lionesses allowed the cubs to suckle during the past 12 hours.

21 Nov 2008: Vehicle problems in the dunes. Whilst following the lions into the dunes in the lower Hoaruseb River, the Cruiser unexpectedly ran out of fuel. On the third day of being stranded, Wilderness Safaris came to the rescue.

25 Nov 2008: Weaning of the cubs. The Hoaruseb cubs have entered a new facet of their lives as the lionesses finally stopped suckling them. The cubs are challenging the weaning process, but Tawny (Xpl-38), mother of the two older cubs, is enforcing the new rule with controlled aggression (notice her facial expression in the two photos below - bottom right). Fortunately, large numbers of oryx have now started utilising the Hoaruseb River to drink and feed on the green vegetation. The lions have been able to catch prey regularly and they are all in good condition.