2007

23 Dec 2007: Hoanib River. Movements of lions in the Hoanib River have increased substantially over the past weeks. After meeting with WWF representatives from Europe, in Purros, on 5 Dec 2007, an effort was made to monitor the Hoanib lions and collect data on numbers, social structure and behaviour. Karen, Trevor and Tammy Nott, and Tammy's friend, Andrew Walker, joined me for a few days. We found the lions between the Ganamub and Obias Rivers and collected valuable date on group structure and numbers. The lions were extremely skittish and all our efforts to dart and radio-collar an adult female, failed.
Lioness on an Oryx kill
Looking of lion spoor in the Hoanib River
Elephant cow visiting our camp
Andrew learning to shoot the dart gun
Tammy & Andrew helping to bait the lions

 

27 Nov 2007: Hoanib Floodplain. After three fruitless days tracking lions in the Hoanib River, I decided to move further west to the Hoanib floodplain. It was a good choice. Three radio-collared lions were located on the floodplain. On 26 Nov 2007 they killed an adult ostrich and the next day they were feeding on an oryx. The founding female of the northern desert population (Xpl-10) was observed with 2 5-month-old cubs, and her daughter (Xpl-25) with 3 female cubs (age: 8 months). The inquisitive cubs approached to within 3 metres of my vehicle, much to the distress of their mother (photos).
Oasis Spring
'The Old Man' - Guardian of the Floodplain
Lions resting in a granite cave
Xpl-25 watch as her cubs stalk the Hilux
Inquisitive cub - 3 metres from the Hilux

23 Nov 2007: Survey of central lions. After the repair of the Hilux the Hoaruseb lions were located and observed. Thereafter a brief survey was done to look for lions in the Hoanib, Hunkap, Samanab and Uniab Rivers. In the Hoanib River 15 individual lions were recorded and identified. These included two radio-collared lionesses. In the Hunkap River 5 lions, of which was radio-collared, were observed. The lioness, Xpl-22, was located in the Uniab River at Swartmodder Spring. She was lactating and, with the benefit of a full moon, careful observations confirmed that she was suckling 2 or 3 very small cubs.

Searching for lions - Kharu-gaiseb River
Xpl-22 near the Uniab Rivers
Xpl-22 at Swartmodder Spring
16 Nov 2007: Wilderness Safaris repair Hilux. With speed and efficiency Wilderness Safaris sourced all the required spare parts, transported the parts to Skeleton Coast Camp by aircraft, and repaired the Hilux. Andrew Milne (Fleet Manager) bought and repaired all the spare parts in Windhoek, and sent the spares with scheduled Sefofane flights back to Skeleton Coast Camp. Louis Nortje, Concession Manager for the northwest, visited the camp during this period and his support is acknowledged. At Skeleton Coast Camp the mechanics, Isala De Sachilombo (nickname: KK), Pascalis Katamelo (nickname: Patat - see photo right) and Harry Olifant (Chief Mechanic), worked hard to repair the Hilux. The repairs included new bearings and CV joints for the two front wheels, a reconditioned front drive-shaft and a new radiator. Camp managers, Ryno Blaaw and Daleen Steyn, provided all the necessary support. I wish to thank Wilderness Safaris and all the individuals mentioned above.
The Skeleton Coast Camp team with the Hilux
Patat, Ryno, Daleen, Harry, KK

6 Nov 2007: Hilux break-down. Problems with the front and back axles of the Hilux had me stranded in the lower part of the Hoaruseb for two days, and it put an end to the lion monitoring. Ryno Blaaw and Daleen Steyn, managers at the Skeleton Coast Camp of Wilderness Safaris, came to the rescue. The Hilux was taken to their camp in the Khumib River where the mechanic, Isala De Sachilombo (nickname: KK), looked at the problems. With skill and meticulous care KK worked on the Hilux for hours, identifying and repairing many additional problems. Parts that needed to be replaced were ordered, while others are being sent to Windhoek by aircraft, courtesy of Wilderness Safaris, to be repaired by specialists. The help and support from the Skeleton Coast Camp staff has been amazing.

The Skeleton Coast Camp's workshop
Ryno and KK working on the Hilux
KK replacing a CV joint on the front axle

24 Oct - 4 Nov 2007: Hoaruseb lion update. Observations on the Hoaruseb lions and work on the lion eco-tourism venture in the Purros Conservancy were continued after a month-long break. The lions were kept under constant observation, but on the eighth day the cycle was broken by a vehicle break-down. During this period, on 29 October, Xpl-38 killed two donkeys, and I worked closely with the Purros Conservancy to evaluate the conflict. The two lionesses (Xpl-37 & 38) are both lactating and they are expecting to give birth at the end of November. The male (Xpl-44) moved long distances along the Hoaruseb River between Purros and the coast. He killed an oryx 5 km from the beach and four different brown hyaenas were observed visiting the carcass.

Xpl-44 moving towards the coast
Radio-collared brown hyaena
A brown hyaena feeding on remains of oryx
Xpl-37 with fresh oryx kill
Elephant near the mouth of the Hoaruseb
Xpl-44 patrolling the Hoaruseb River

30 October 2007: Elephant movements. Elephants were observed in unusual settings during the recent search for lions in remote area.

Lower Hoanib River
Area that elephants crossed to Hunkap
Hoaruseb River - 5 km from the sea

1-13 October 2007: Search for more lions. The expansion of the lion population and the dispersal of individual lions are well documented in this study over the past ten years. A detailed search for lions was therefore done in the remote areas between the Hoaruseb and Hoanib Rivers, and south of the Hoanib River. Evidence was found that lions had moved into the lower Hunkap and the Okongwe areas. These areas will be investigated further.

Searching for lion tracks
Lower Obab River
The Hilux - car, office, lab, & house
Hunkap plains
Samanab River
South of the Hoanib Floodplain

7-28 September 2007 : Continuous observations on Hoaruseb lions. The two Hoaruseb lionesses (Xpl-37 & 38) and the new male (Xpl-44) have been observed continuously for 21 days. During this period they moved to the coast and spent two days along the beaches at the mouth of the Hoaruseb, but they also moved to within 2 km of Purros. They killed 17 gemsboks (oryx), 2 springboks, 1 Hartmann's zebra, & 1 donkey and they moved a total distance of 326 km during the 21-day period. Data were collected on their movements, activity patterns, hunting behaviour, Human-Wildlife-Conflict, and eco-tourism. These findings are essential to addressing the conflict between lions and the local community, and for developing a lion eco-tourism product for the Purros Conservancy.

Day 1
Day 3
Day 6
Day 7
Day 8
Day 9
Day 10
Day 10
Day 11
Day 14
Day 15
Day 16

26-30 September 2007: Elephant researchers. A unique research team, studying the ecological adaptation & genetics of desert elephants, joined me for a number of days in the Hoaruseb River, and helped with the monitoring of the lions. Rob Roy Ramey, Laura Brown (both PhD graduates from Cornell University), and their two daughters, Eva (13) and Anika (11)—, are from Netherland, Colorado, and they have been studying elephants in Namibia for the past three years. I first met Rob and Laura in 1989, when we were attached to Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.

Eva, Anika, Rob, & Laura
Eva - a crack shot with the bow & arrow
Anika - an astute mineral collector

 

September 2007: Impressions of desert lions.

Anika Ramey - age: 11 years.

These drawings were inspired by Anika's experiences and observations on the two lionesses in the Hoaruseb River.

4 September 2007: Lion eco-tourism in the Purros Conservancy. An all-important meeting was held in Purros to decide the future of lion eco-tourism in the region. The meeting was attended by 38 members of the Purros Conservancy, eight staff members of IRDNC, and myself. The outcome of this meeting marked a significant development in wildlife and community-based conservation, and the result of eight years of work by IRDNC and the Desert Lion Conservation, when the Purros community decided to endorse the lion project (see Lion Eco-tourism for more details).

1-6 September 2007: Hobatere lions. When trophy hunting activities along the western border of Hobatere raised concern that the pride males (Xpl-19 & Xpl-20) may be lured out and shot, I rushed out to Hobatere to assist Steve Braine with the monitoring of the lions. We met with the trophy hunter to discuss the importance of the Hobatere males to tourism, and he agreed not to shoot them. Dayne Braine, on his 22nd birthday, darted an adult lioness (Xpl-17) to replace her radio collar (Photos of Xpl-20 by Dayne Braine).

24-30 August 2007: Hoanib lions. The western section of the Hoanib River was surveyed next, to complete a full assessment of the river system. Trevor, Karen, Jason, & Tammy Nott joined me on the 24th, and brought much needed fuel, food, and drinks. Mr & Mrs W. Swanepoel joined us on the third day. During the period a minimum of 15 lions used the Hoanib River, in the area between Dubis and the coast. There were 1 A male, 1 A female, 3 SA males, 1 SA female, and 1 large cub east of the Mudorib junction; and 1 A male, 2 A females (Xpl-10 & 25), and 4 small cubs towards the west. The two lionesses - Xpl-10 & 25 - that gave birth to cubs in the Hoanib floodplain during March 2007, are still there and at least four of their cubs have survived.

16-24 August 2007: Problem lions in the Hoanib. Some lions that live around the eastern section of the Hoanib River have regularly killed livestock in the Sesfontein and Anabeb Conservancies during the past year. The local people and livestock owners have - legally - shot 9 lions, in protection of the livestock. The Ministry of Environment & Tourism, as a result of the ongoing conflict, issued two trophy hunting permits for this area, with a substantial proportion of the income generated by the trophy hunting going directly to the two conservancies. The hunt took place in late August 2007, and for eight days I worked closely with the Namibian professional hunter, Keith Wright, and his client, Dan from California. It was important that the right "problem" lion be shot, rather that a pride male from a stable pride nearby. The hunters were conservation minded and approached the hunting of lions in the area responsibly and ethically. They did not find a suitable lion to hunt. This was due to the mountainous terrain, broken vehicles, and very skittish lions...

Mountainous terrain near Sesfontein
Another break-down
Carburettor problems

 

23 August 2007: King of the Desert. An adult male lion, with a remarkable history, was darted in the Hoanib River. "Xpl-3" is the only surviving member of 11 male cubs born in September 1998 that marked the recovery of the lion population. At the age of nine years he is currently the oldest male in the Desert population, and is in remarkably good condition. This was his fifth immobilisation (right), and photos of Xpl-3 during the previous fourth dartings are shown below. This was also the first darting using a modern bow & arrow.
1) Nov 1999 - 14 months 2) Feb 2001 - 2 yr 3 mo 3) July 2002 - 3 yr 8 mo 4) Dec 2004 - 6 yr 3 mo

16 August 2007: Stranded for seven days. It took seven long days for help to arrive. Wilderness Safaris kindly sponsored the spare parts and delivered them to the broken-down vehicle in a tributary of the Hoaruseb River.

11 August 2007: Vehicle breakdown. After several months of hard field work the project Hilux broke down in the Hoaruseb River late on 10 August 2007. During the past week there were carburettor problems, the front drive shaft Universal joints seized, the CV joints began breaking, and finally, after a particular difficult night following the Hoaruseb lions, the springs on the rear back wheel snapped in half.

The Hilux a week ago!
The Hilux today!

28 July - 10 Aug 2007: New lions in the Hoaruseb River. I returned to the Hoaruseb River to continue monitoring the lions and develop the lion Eco-tourism product, and found the river is still surprisingly wet after the late floods in May 2007. I found the two young resident lionesses 5 km from the coast and with the full moon started a night-time observation cycle. Much was the surprise when an adult male and female joined them one night. The new lions were skittish and obviously not used to people and vehicles. After three nights I managed to dart the male lion (now Xpl-44) and fitted a radio collar. The lions were kept under observation (approximately 20 hours per day) for eleven days.

Inspecting his paws after tracking him for 3 days
Immobilised lion - Xpl-44
Xpl-44 three days after the darting
Xpl-44 with the two Hoaruseb lionesses

24 July 2007: Gai-Ais Telephone - a test of human nature (2). (See the notice on 26 June 2007). I returned to the Gai-Ais telephone almost a month later. There were several new entries in the book. Not only was the N$ 10.00 still there, but three of the passing visitors had also left some money and an accompanying message in the book. There was now almost N$ 50.00. The new question is: what amount of cash will be too much for a visitor to resist?

Sandstone shelters at Gai-Ais Spring
Telephone in one of the shelters

19-25 July 2007: Follow-up on lion that attacked vehicle. Due to the growing tourism pressure and walking trails in the Ugab River, the lion "Miles" (Xpl-16) that attacked the research vehicle on 24 June 2007 (see below) was located and observed in an attempt to understand the reason for his unprovoked attack. The lion was observed for 45 hours and his movements were followed, by means of spoor reconstructions, for another 6 days. These observations and information acquired from local people in the area suggest strongly that the lion had been harassed by the local tour operators based at the Brandberg.

14 & 18 July 2007: Namib-Naukluft Park. Briefly visit the northern section of the Namib-Naukluft Park to asses the suitability of the area as lion habitat. At the current growth and expansion rate lions may soon disperse to the southern Namib from their northern strong-hold. The Kuiseb, Gaub, Tsondab, and Dieprivier Rivers were visited. The habitat and prey distribution appeared to be ideal for the desert-adapted lions of the Kunene region, but a more detailed evaluation is needed.

10-12 July 2007: IRDNC Quarterly Planning Meeting. Attend the IRDNC Quarterly Planning Meeting held at Wereldsend. Present a talk to the Conservancies and IRDNC staff on the progress of the Desert Lion Project and in particular on the Lion Eco-Tourism Project in the Purros Conservancy.

28-29 June 2007: Etosha Centennial Symposium. The following talk was presented at a scientific meeting held at Mokuti.
The Ecology of Big Cats in Etosha - a perspective on evolution and conservation
Aspects of the ecology of lions, leopards, and cheetahs are presented, based on studies carried out between 1980 and 2003. The data are evaluated against social evolution theories, and are discussed in terms of wildlife management and conservation. The demography of lions, leopards, and cheetahs suggests contrasting land tenure systems, and data are presented on population dynamics. Direct observations on the foraging activities of the three species reveal that they hunt mostly at night. Lions hunt in groups and co-operate. Individual lionesses repeatedly occupy the same position in a co-ordinated hunting formation. Under the semi-arid conditions of Etosha, group hunting and co-ordinated co-operation by lions are the most important variables influencing the outcome of hunts and therefore also per capita food intake. Despite the resource and reproductive advantages for leopards in maintaining exclusive home ranges, the degree of home range overlap is substantial. Human Wildlife Conflict is arguably the biggest threat to lion, leopard, and cheetah populations in Namibia. The spatial and temporal patterns of conflict with people along the borders of Etosha are presented and the conservation options for the three species are discussed. Excerpt of Keynote presentation.

26 June 2007: Gai-Ais Telephone - a test of human nature (1). Some years ago, long before satellite communications, someone placed an old broken telephone at an isolated, but beautiful viewpoint in the northern Namib. Visitors found it amusing and often left interesting messages in a notebook that was kept next to the phone. At some point the telephone was stolen, but it was soon replaced and the tradition continued. Today there are at least two such telephones in the region, and one is in an old sandstone shelter at Gai-Ais Spring. On 26 June 2007 I left N$ 10.00 and a message in the book. Would the next visitor take the money?

24 June 2007: Lion attack vehicle. Shortly after dawn on 24 June 2007 an adult male lion launched and unprovoked attack on the project research vehicle. The lion, nicknamed "Miles" (Xpl-16), may have been harassed by tourist vehicles, because the attack, where he shredded three of the vehicles tires, was unprecedented. During the attack the lion was darted. The movements and behaviour of the lion are being monitored in an attempt to determine the cause of his aggression.

The immobilised "Miles" behind a crippled research vehicle A piece of the lion's mane got hooked on a sharp object when he bit the front tire.

12 - 27 June 2007: Lions in the Ugab and Huab Rivers. Two weeks were spent surveying and searching for lions in the lower Huab, Koigab, Ugab, and Messum River systems. The spoor of four individual lions were located and followed, and one lion was darted and radio-collared. Interesting observations during this period include: a leopard at Scott's Bridge in the Huab River, a leopard killed a steenbok in the Abba-Huab River, 3 cheetahs at Gai-Ais Spring, 2 cheetahs 5 km from the sea in the Ugab River, an adult male kudu on the beach at the mouth of the Ugab River, and a common duiker 4 km east of Branberg West in the Ugab River.

The research vehicle was bogged-down for two days in the Ugab River.
Gai-Ais Spring
Folded marble in the Ugab River.

10 May 2007: BBC Natural History Film. Owen Newman & Amanda Barrett have just completed an extraordinary film on the "Desert Lions".

16 April 2007: Improved database - Lion ID Sheets. The Mac database used for monitoring is continuously being reviewed and improved. Records of individual lions have been modified to produce up-to-date ID sheets, to assist with quick and accurate identification of lions in the field (see examples).

12 April 2007: Cubs in the Hoanib Floodplain.

Monitoring of the two lionesses (Xpl-10 & 25) in the Hoanib Floodplain continued during a visit by Hayley Smith, producer of the BBC series, Wild in Africa. On 10 April Xpl-25 kill an oryx near Auses spring and two cubs, approximately 6 weeks old, were sighted. During the same period 4 cheetahs (1 female & 3 sub-adults) were found on a fresh carcase of an adult male oryx.

(Photo - right/H Smith)

8 April 2007: The legend of the Hobatere Males continues . The occasional movement of lions from Etosha to the desert population is well known, but when two young males (Xpl-19 & Xpl-20) dispersed from the Aub River to western Etosha in June 2005, everyone was surprised. They settled and established a stable and prolific pride, on the Hobatere Lodge, where Steve & Louise Braine monitor their movements closely. On 4/5 April 2007 five sub-adult lions were immobilised to collect blood samples and individual data. Each lion was also given an inconspicuous mark to aid individual identification and monitoring.

Dane Braine of Hobatere Lodge in action, collecting data & comparing dentition.

(Photo - far left/D Braine)

20 March 2007: 2007 Research Report completed.

The 2007 Research Report - "Behaviour-ecology and conservation of desert-adapted lions" was completed after several months of data analysis and writing. The contends of the report have been added to this Web Site under the relevant sections. The full report is also available for download, as a pdf file (1.2 MB), under the Products section.

15 March 2007: Death, rain, and life...

A radio-collared lioness (Wpl-25), from the Hobatere pride, was found dead near the main road to Opuwo. She died in the prime of her life (5 years) and may have been shot by a passing vehicle. Floods have occurred in the Hoaruseb River due to heavy rains in the catchment areas. The flooding has made the river impassable. Monitoring efforts were turned to the Hoanib River and the Hoanib floodplain. Two lionesses (Xpl-10 & 25), that settled on the Hoanib floodplain in September 2006, both gave birth to cubs, sometime between January and February 2007, on the western edge of the floodplain.

5 February 2007: Vehicle repair & Funding

After 5 weeks the field vehicle is finally in working order. Extensive repairs were done to both axles & drive-shafts, amounting to N$ 12,350. Eric Stander, Robert- Belgo, & Aaron (photo) are thanked for their help. DUNLOP, Namibia, donate 6 new tires. Due to the recent expansion of lions to the coast it has become necessary for the field vehicle to drive in thick sand. DUNLOP continued their support by providing a set of suitable sand tires. TOTAL, Namibia, continued their support to the Kunene Lion Project by providing sponsorship for 2007 of fuel and lubricants for the field vehicle, to the amount of N$ 41,550. Mr Mntuwabantu Nduvane, Managing Director of TOTAL, Namibia, is thanked.

23 January 2007: Data analysis.

With the field vehicle out of order, time was spent developing several database programmes to aid the analysis of research data (click to view enlargements)
Ecological monitoring database
Lion ID database
Lion immobilisation database

15 January 2007: Vehicle breakdown.

Late in December 2006 the research field vehicle broke down north of the Hoanib River. After a lengthy struggle, the vehicle limped into Henties Bay, the nearest town. Here it was dismantled to repair the front axle, rear axle, and the drive-shaft. The damage to the rear axle was extensive and the vehicle is still not operational.

DL